Print vs Online: Performing Arts Marketing and Tough Decisions


Should it stay or should it go. The never-ending quest for helping non-profits balance reaching a mass audience without breaking the bank.

Should it stay or should it go. The never-ending quest for helping non-profits balance reaching a mass audience without breaking the bank.

I’ve done a fair bit of work for non-profits, which in turn tends to make my end of the compensation rather non-profit, that said, sometimes non-profit work offers more creative flexibility and opportunity, more area where there’s a potential for art-meets-design, as opposed to a majority of corporate work, not that you can’t find balance and no two projects are the same.

For the past several years I’ve handled art directing my alma mater, SUNY Oswego, overall performing arts branding and design, which has included literally hundreds of pieces both in print and web pages. Every year gets a different brand or feel, sometimes it’s based on the season’s general programming, sometimes it’s based on balancing a color palette between the artwork end of things I do, such as the posters that I created, which I posted about here and here.

With ever shrinking budgets for the arts, we’re reaching a point where some decisions need to be made in terms of cutting. Myself, and the performing arts hard-working director along with their staff, are trying to figure out the best route to still deliver the marketing message to the mass audience, while scaling back the pieces done in the past.

These are not easy decisions, such as the calendar I design every year (above) is also doubled-up online, additionally the online medium handles things better, such as when shows get added or dropped, times or locations changed, and so on. Printing up five-figures of calendars is an expensive proposition, though they’re a big hit. They can be seen all over campus, usually a month or two off, too bad there’s not someone on staff that can go around turning their pages. Still, it’s visibility that runs around both the campus and also around the community in coffee shops and bookstore, it’s visible, and eye-catching. The question though is how does one weigh this verses shifting the entire operation of the calendar online.

The online version, due to the college’s web site have draconian rules about what can and cannot be done, demands that whatever is put into the college’s web pages strictly use their own outdated branding and rigid templates from more than half-a-decade ago (which is 100 years in internet years), is problematic to say the least. While I not only believe in branding myself, am a zealot, preaching from the mount of it’s must, it’s virtues, giving talks on branding, where this conundrum arises is the college has it’s own branding for a web site which, in my opinion, pretty choppy blocking uninteresting branding at that, so off is the college’s web site from everything that it doesn’t even match the branding of their own pieces for their various publications, but this would be a rant best saved for another time. For now I’ll state that most arts organizations continually evolve their branding which, doing so not only is self-evident, it’s what most major performing arts places tend to do years or bi-yearly. Due to the college’s very closed-off limited scope of page design, the performing arts pieces both myself and the team put so much work into, get completely stripped down and lost once they hit the college’s web site, this collisions of sorts is jarring to the viewer. 

Potentially, this is both a good and a bad thing if the performing arts organization did away with the printed calendar, nobody would know the wiser, even though I’d feel a death of common sense and aesthetics in the college’s performing arts calendar stuck in some pretty boring templates. But the next question is, how will people know to look for said calendar. We do use for emailing when events are. The downside of this, however, is the key demographic in the area of the campus are not the most online savvy. One could send a postcard to remind the mass audience about the calendar of performing arts events, that said, is that sticky, would people hang a postcard, regardless of how great I design it, to remind them to go to a web page?

These are some of the issues an art director faces where, there truly is no easy choices, and not necessarily everything is within your creative control.