Watch the Interview
July 10, 2018
Using An Effective Integrated Marketing Communication Mix In Nonprofit Organizations
Interview with Dr. Clark Greer
Clark Greer is the founder of Clark Greer Communications, LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on assisting nonprofit organizations with marketing communications and public relations. He holds a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California, and a doctorate in Communication Studies from Bowling Green State University. Clark’s full-time job for the past 20 years has been as a communication professor specializing in public relations, strategic communication, TV news, and communication research. In addition, he and research colleagues have published nearly 20 studies in academic journals, and have presented more than two dozen papers at research conferences.
Here are some of the question we will be addressing during this interview:
1. What is IMC (integrated marketing communications)?
2. How is IMC different than public relations and advertising?
3. How have digital communication platforms changed the promotion landscape for organizations?
4. What steps do organizations need to take when developing an IMC plan?
5. Many organizations use social media. How might they improve their use of those tactics?
6. You and I recently discussed a couple of essential components in communications. One of those is storytelling. How does it work and how can organizations implement it?
7. Another element we talked about was thought leadership. What is it and why is it important?
8. How are you using IMC tactics for the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra?
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to this edition of The Nonprofit Exchange. Today, we’re talking about that topic we call marketing. Marketing is, the older I get, the more complex it gets, but the more important it gets. It’s an area that we do not regard with enough importance, those of us that run nonprofit organizations. Russell, how are you doing today?
Russell Dennis: Beautiful day out here in Denver, Colorado. Partly cloudy. There is lots of activity taking place out here. We have folks that have been talking to me who are running nonprofits and are struggling to get the word out on what they’re doing. It’s hard to get support if nobody knows what you’re doing. I’m glad that Clark is here to share with us some ways to increase that visibility. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, Clark?
Clark Greer: Yeah, that’s right. That sounds nice. We’re out here in Virginia. I wish I was in a little bit of a cooler spot right now.
Hugh: We were out on the parkway night before last, and it was in the mid-50s. It was luscious. Clark, we like to impose upon our guests to define who they are. Tell a little bit about yourself. You have this organization that you run to do marketing specifically targeted to nonprofits. You and I, however, met in one of those nonprofits where you serve on the board. You and I met there, and we started conversations which led to this interview. Talk about yourself and what has led you to this place to do this very specific thing that you do for nonprofits.
Clark: This is like the digest size of this instead of a full version. I actually started out in radio when I was in high school. It clicked with me to do communication and spend several years on radio, doing radio news. Ended up ultimately picking up a graduate degree in broadcast journalism from a big university on the west coast. Ended up working in corporate communications, advertising, public relations, marketing communication, organizational communication, different types of organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit. About 20 years ago, I started teaching higher education. That is my full-time gig is teaching in a university. I have always liked to do things for organizations. When my wife and I moved to this area, I said, “Should I work at the orchestra, symphony orchestra that does anything marketing or organizational comm.” We went to a couple of concerts, made some connections, and that’s where I am today.
Hugh: Love it. It took me only a couple of conversations to determine that you had a very unique perspective on marketing. What is the name of your organization?
Clark: Something that is not real creative, but it’s Clark Greer Communications. It was easy to come up with it. Then I could put my name out there, and it’s easy to remember that. For me, as I get older, remembering the name of the company is a lot easier.
Hugh: You’re a professor. You teach communications.
Clark: I do. I have taught for about 20 years in three different institutions in the country. I taught interactive media when the web was just getting going back in the ‘90s. I have taught public relations and strategic communication, and television news. A little bit of everything.
Hugh: We are going to explore this in the interview at some point. I had a pivot in my understanding of how you construct campaigns to let people know about the organization. We are specifically focused on the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra at the moment. When I moved here, people said, “Oh, we have an orchestra?” There was a big gap in awareness, even though the orchestra has paid for ads and they have a Facebook page and all of the things we customarily do. There is a large portion of the community that didn’t know about it. You were interviewing me about strategy. I had just recently done the first planning session for the board of the symphony. You interviewed me, and you said, “I want to give value to others in our newsletter and publicity.” Speak to that element a minute. We will unpack that throughout the interview because that is a unique perspective.
Clark: I think the temptation is in market communication or PR or whatever we are doing is to make connections with our constituents and followers. In the case of the symphony or other performance organizations, it will be people attending or donating. Organizations have different types of needs. One temptation is we are going to advertise it, and we are going to say, “Here we are, come to whatever, or donate.” If it’s a nonprofit that does construction in a community for building, it’s “Come and see us.” I think what’s really important is to help the organization be relevant to the people they are trying to reach. That is what we are trying to do in different ways. A lot of it is promotion because we are trying to have everybody in this area know who the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra is. That is a big chore because it isn’t just the community, but there is surrounding communities. A lot of things we have to deal with. We are trying to give value back to people, so instead of just saying, “Come to our concerts,” it’s “How can we serve you as a community and an organization? What are the things you need that we can help you get better at?”
Hugh: That is such a different perspective. Here is a mistake I see commonly in social media. “Buy my stuff. Get my program. Let me coach you.” They are pushing their stuff rather than saying how I can provide value, how I can give you value. What is it you need? Having a conversation. One of the points that Russell commonly brings up is when we are interviewing people as donors or board members, find out what their passion is, find out what they want to do. When you said, “I want to create articles like this about strategy,” we teach people why it’s important. I would say that 90% of nonprofits I talk to have no strategic plan. What is your number, Russell?
Russell: It may be higher than that, as frightening as that seems, because about 82% of these organizations eventually go under. It’s a system. It’s who do you know, what are you bringing to people. It’s about the cause we are working toward. That is the place where people get disconnected. Where are people at? You have to meet the people who you want to support you where they are so your messages have to be placed in the right places as well. If you’re not conversing with people where they are, or talking to them about what matters, you become part of the greater chorus of noise that is out there.
Hugh: There are some obstacles here. There are so many messages people get every day. Clark, we now have a strategy that we are working on, and we will be doing the first level of clarity at the board meeting in a couple weeks. That gives you a foundational document to then work from to do some messaging. Strategy is important for your work as well, isn’t it?
Clark: Yeah. Let me just take 60 seconds, and I can talk about where we have come in the last year with the symphony. That might help provide some context for people listening or watching right now. We did a survey of who the people were, the characteristics of the people who were attending the concerts. Using the symphony’s mail list, we did a mail-out survey. They filled these things out. We did some number crunching. It gave us a better idea of perspective. We had to understand where they were coming from. More recently, you have jumped in with being able to look at the overall strategy. Where is the organization heading? Then paralleling that, and I know you and I have had conversations, and it has helped to be on the board to get some other input, but to look at it from a communications standpoint, everything is parallel. What I am trying to do from a communication perspective really needs to tightly fit with what’s happening as far as the organization, direction, financial attendance, programming, goes into what a performance organization does.
Hugh: There are people who think that symphonies are dead. I’m finding there is a real resurgence in people coming back to church, people coming back to arts events, people wanting to find meaning in their lives. There is a service aspect to the performing organization, isn’t there?
Clark: Yeah. When I was doing some initial research, I wanted to see what the tone was- For the classical arts is what people think of as symphony. It doesn’t have to be. There are small to large orchestras in the country who are doing pops and mixtures and interactive things. It’s just staying relevant. I am not sure if that is necessarily the reason why because you still have age segments that you deal with. It tends to be an older population, which I guess I’m now part of. You always think about, I’m still 28 years old. That is the case. My wife and I love music. She is involved with the symphony also. We go to symphonies. We lived in a city in another part of the country several years ago, where we had season tickets. We would look around and say, “We do see some young people, but it’s people bringing their grandkids.” You have to think long-term about how you can morph into something that doesn’t sacrifice your principles as an organization. I think music, classical music and what orchestras do, is as much education as it is entertaining people. How do you stay relevant in those things is what’s important. Bringing in younger people. I’m not talking about kids necessarily, but a middle-aged population who would really become interested in the orchestras for different types of reasons.
Hugh: There is interest there. I went to dinner with some people I didn’t know and sat at the end of the table with people I just met. One is a filmmaker out at Liberty in the cinema department who came from the BBC. High-level filmmaker. The other side of me was a young photographer, friend of our former board member and photographer Michael. His wife was a school musician teacher. She said, “Oh, we would love to have more interaction with the symphony. We would love for the kids to know more about it because they are eager for that kind of connection.” That is part of what we are putting into place with the strategy for the symphony is how we go back to the fundamental programs that people think we can’t afford to do anymore, but we really can’t afford not to do them anymore.
Clark: Exactly. If you look at one of the things that I have dealt with in teaching my students and when I work with organizations or individuals even sometimes, like you said, I typically deal with nonprofits, is what is the primary age segment that you really feel like this is the group we want to work with? You look at the fringe areas. If you have people who are 45-55, there are some characteristics like longevity in an area and ability to sponsor or donate or interest in the arts and find out where they are coming from. They also have children. One thing the Lynchburg Symphony does, and they have been doing this for a while, through some very generous funding of some foundations, is to do music in the schools. I think what you can do is you are not necessarily ignoring other age groups, older or younger. What you are doing is you have a core group and find ways of branching out to them through family members and those types of things.
Hugh: Underlying this marketing thing, there is your expertise of teaching communications. Russell and I work with nonprofits and have done so for a number of years. I don’t know about you, but in 31 years, there has never been a circumstance where communication as a problem hasn’t come up. People think communication is an “it.” It’s an announcement in the church bulletin. It’s a flyer. Really, communication is the backbone of your plan. You have to communicate, but you have a system to communicate. What I see happen over and over again when I do strategies with boards is what I call a new architecture of engagement. People develop a new kind of relationship. Let me test this piece with you. My take on communication is the foundation is in relationship, then you can transfer information. Otherwise, information doesn’t transfer from one person to another. Talk about communication as the overarching thing of marketing and all of what we are doing here.
Clark: Is that going to me or Russell?
Hugh: You. He will give you questions later.
Clark: Communication is really important, not just because I work in it. Obviously I am a little biased. I think communication is important. When I worked in corporate years ago, I would look around, not necessarily the organizations I worked at, but I would get information and I subscribe to newsletters. I would see in the news where an organization or company would cut back its public relations or its community relations or whatever because they thought that was expendable and they didn’t need it. The problem is people have to know you are there all the time. In advertising, it’s top of mind awareness. When you go to the grocery store, you see things all the time. There are companies you see advertising, and you say, “Wow, they have been around for decades. They are stable from an economic standpoint. Why do they advertise?” It’s because there is always competition. Even in what we are doing in nonprofits is you have a lot of things that are competing for donor dollars, for sponsorship, for organizations that have foundations. You have to show yourself as vital and relevant in that community. We are dealing with things on a different level. It comes down to the sustainability of the organization.
Hugh: There are a lot of tidbits in what you just said. Russell, what are you hearing here? Russell gives the real hard questions. I know you are formulating some stuff for him to comment on. I just demonstrated poor communication when he didn’t know the question was for him. Russell, what are you taking in there? You have some sound bites you want to play back.
Russell: Communication starts with how you talk to each other in the boardroom. That kind of spreads. It fans out from there as a nonprofit organization. It’s really easy to get stuck in the room and forget that the message has to fan out. There is a slightly different language you use for potential board members or advisors than you use for volunteers or donors or everybody has their different language for the same message. Communication takes a lot of work in that regard.
The one thing that was bouncing around through my mind as we were unpacking that, I was thinking about both of you starting to work with the Lynchburg Symphony and starting to put the strategy and pieces together. What’s one thing you found out that was most surprising about- What did you learn that they were not doing that everybody missed?
Clark: It’s hard to say one thing. I guess my goal is when I look at this, and I think Hugh just alluded to it a few minutes ago, is you show up and say, “You have a symphony here in this town?” One of my goals is I want everybody to know the symphony is here. That takes the place of- We call it integrated marketing communication. I will structure it briefly. Years ago, you have advertising, public relations, marketing, communication. They operated in silos. The last few years, it has come together under IMC. Because a company may sell a product, and at the same time they have to do public relations. What is your attitude toward that? What are you saying? The same thing would be true for nonprofits like the symphony. You have to approach people on different levels multiple times.
We use a mix of traditional media. We do things like direct mail. We do a lot of things digitally. We are doing more with social media. We do a lot on Facebook. We are doing some more things with other types of social media that I think will help. It is a building process. You can’t do everything all at once, and it has to be strategic. I don’t just want to jump and try something. The things we are doing today for communicating is over the next year, here is what we are going to do, and here is how we are going to do it. I have a big plan of the major things that usually revolve around concerts, but they can’t just do that. You can’t do a concert and people forget about you. We find ways of encouraging people to stay connected. We are doing some interesting things.
Something is coming out this week. I am a little off the wall sometimes about ideas. I try to do something that is fun. We found that we were doing some testimonial videos of community leaders. We had one that had over 2,000 views. People love to look at videos. We know that from research. You can see what the status of an organization is when they do social media. Even webisodes and things like that. People love video. We are going to do something that is a little bit different. One of the things that we noticed because you were talking about where do you start, what are some of the things that are gaps. One of the things is we can have followers. We don’t do poorly on followers. We want to increase that of course. But we want interaction and engagement, where instead of people just looking at something, we want people to look at it repeatedly and tell their friends to connect with us. That is how it spreads out, exactly what you were talking about.
Hugh: A lot of themes came out there. Contrast the difference between marketing and PR.
Clark: It depends how you look at marketing. Pure marketing, a lot of it is business. It deals with pricing, product distribution, product development based on what a particular area needs. The idea of a market is usually where a company is, or it could be a fast food place or anybody selling something, the area in which they sell those products or provide those services. Then you have market trends, which are broader. A lot of it is the business side of it. How much do things cost over time? What are people using? They are product/service-based. Marketing people who are watching this may say, “That’s not purely it.” It gives us that idea.
Public relations is trying to develop relationships with your constituents. It could be customers. It could be attendees. It could be donors, like Russell was talking about. It could be volunteers doing things. Russell hit the nail right on the head. You have the central message, but you communicate it in different ways to different avenues to those different constituents. That is exactly what it is. For public relations, you want to have things that are ongoing relationships where people rely on you to provide them with things in the community.
An orchestra is more than a concert. What are we doing? I guess I can talk about it. We are now getting it out. We are going to be starting an instrument program. We are hoping that people in the community will donate instruments that have been in the closet or attic for years that either they or their kid played. You know there are some kids in our community who would love to get involved in music. We are just at the beginning phases this month to do some information. Next month, we will do the campaign in conjunction with National Back to School Month. We try to find some themes we can wrap our promotions around. That is one thing that will be coming up that our community will be hearing about here in the next few weeks.
Hugh: We got a new logo for the symphony. They think that’s the brand, like most organizations. That is the image. Underneath that is the statement of the brand image. Who are we? It’s that brand promise. What is it that you get? That is an important part of your marketing, isn’t it?
Clark: Sure. When people see the logo, they will think things of it. In fact, when I teach these things about image development and maintenance, I will put up images on the screen and ask them what they think of this. I always put a variety of things. I know what their response is going to be because I read the news, and I know what people’s attitudes are to certain organizations and companies. I put those up and say, “What do you think?” I say, “Okay, here’s the thing. That’s the logo. It represents the brand. What is behind it? Who is it? What are their products like? What is the quality? What kind of services do you get?” Those are the marketing tangibles and intangibles, like your attitudes. When you see a logo, and you attach everything to it, you have to make sure you are maintaining the identity of what stands behind it. That is where your public relations come in. When people see it, do they have a good opinion or bad opinion? What do they think? If they look at something and say, “Wow, that’s a wonderful organization,” good. Now what that does is that tells people this is what this brand is all about. That is just an identity piece, but it does represent what that organization stands for.
Hugh: To have all of the stakeholders understand that because all of your team members are parts of your brand. They represent your brand.
Clark: They do.
Hugh: We have seen major companies, airlines in particular, that one of their employees is guilty of brand slaughter. You drag somebody off an airplane. That is big damage to the brand.
Clark: We use those as examples when we talk about crisis communication. Here is how this happened. How do you deal with it? How many of you would like to be the public relations director for this company? Nobody wants to do it. Here’s the thing. With crisis, organizations at some point will hopefully have problems and not a crisis. If it’s a crisis, you are talking a whole different thing. There are different situations people get into. Crisis is a whole different ball game. What happens if you have good relationships with your constituents, if something comes up, or when it comes up, is that if you already have a positive image and relationship with your constituents, it’s much easier to go in, if the organization handles things the way they should and say, “This is an issue. We will fix it right now.” In history, we have seen good and bad examples of that. That is why companies and organizations have to think broadly of an employee representing the company.
I tell students that. When you do an internship from this institution, when you are out there, you are not just doing an internship, or when you get a job because the person who hired you knows where you went to school, you realize you represent them. When you do an internship someplace, you have to think about, “I’m not just here doing a job for me.” They’re not really in the auspices of the institution. Or if it’s an organization, somebody who is doing fundraising or development, maybe the relationship is different than an employee, but still, people know you are attached to that organization. How you handle yourself and respond to situations is crucial.
Hugh: What it opens up for me is we think of marketing only as external. I’m thinking that we have a lot of nonprofits where the board isn’t as engaged as they want to be, as the leader wants them to be. Plus we are not fully in tune with those rubrics you were talking about. What do we stand for? What is our brand promise? How do we make decisions? How do we come together and represent the organization and community? There is a piece internally.
Russell, you and I have worked with a number of organizations. In your 11 years for the reservation, you have multiple chiefs. Was there reidentifying of some of these anchor brand identity pieces with a new leader? How did you adjust to that? How did the people inside get informed of what that was?
Russell: The tribal council meetings were open to everyone. Different groups on tribal council and different chiefs have different priorities. The key for me was to be, and I learned a lot, familiar with the overall culture and the history and to keep my eye on the things that were most important for the people in the community to provide them the best service I could possibly give them. There were key needs that people had as far as services, whether that was utility services, education, housing. I had to keep my eye on the big things. Provide affordable housing, make sure people had access to education and health care through our health clinics, make sure our facilities for cultural purposes were in good shape. It’s really keeping a focus on what the people in the community need.
This is the challenge that leadership is up against. It’s about the people that you serve. This is how I was able to keep my wits about me in the face of a lot of changing political climates. It’s really important to have that DNA so that you know what the most important things are. There is just really- If you can do that, you can keep your eye on the prize. I think something that a lot of organizations overlook, even in the face of that, people will look at your message, you do the best you can to be clear about who you are, but people are going to make decisions on your brand. They may interpret what you’re doing completely differently. People will brand you if you don’t brand yourself. People will brand you. It’s inevitable that people form their own opinions.
One of the things I was also thinking about as we have been unpacking this is putting the message out there and being consistent and being true to yourself. I was curious as to some of the things that you guys put in place as you built the strategy that were not there before to make sure that the messaging is clear across all of the platforms you deliver. Clear and consistent.
Hugh: Clark has seen the strategy. He wasn’t there that day. He had a poor excuse. I think he was in Europe.
Clark: I had to go 6,000 miles away to avoid a meeting.
Russell: He is checking out the other symphonies.
Hugh: Your point is as usual on target, Russ. We don’t know who we are. We can’t communicate who we are because we haven’t drilled our values. We started talking about guiding principles. How do we make good decisions in this container? We also drilled down on why we exist. We think sometimes the arts are expendable. It’s a leisure activity. But really, if you look- When somebody wants to move into a community for a corporate job or a teaching job, they ask about the arts. Is there a symphony? Are there these arts groups? It’s a backbone of the community in many ways. It’s an essential part of a healthy life.
Clark, what you’ve read from what we have developed so far, it’s in the process of getting tweaked in the next couple weeks, do you want to respond to some of what Russ was talking about? What are your ideas about taking what we have created so far and helping us with that and then taking it forward and communicating externally? I think communicating internally. We need to remember who we are internally.
Clark: Employee communication or organizational communication. There are different entities of that. Sometimes it’s employees, and sometimes it’s volunteers. There are different relationships between people who are involved inside. One of the things that is important is to make sure that everybody inside, as you were saying, understands what the message is. One thing we will be developing, and I do this on vacation, so don’t tell my wife I did thinking, she says that you’re not supposed to think on vacation.
Russell: She doesn’t know about this broadcast.
Hugh: It’s our secret.
Clark: Don’t tell my wife that I actually thought. It’s good because when I’m home, I’m doing stuff. The day to day work. When I’m on vacation, I can clear my mind and think a little bit. One thing I wrote down, and I keep notes on my Smartphone, I moved from taking notes on paper to jotting notes on my phone, that way it doesn’t get lost, I hope. One thing I said is, “What is the message?” We have to have a central message. I think that will come out of that. The thing about strategic planning and a strategic communication plan with that and a marketing plan, they don’t happen instantly because- The other thing is they can’t happen too fast. Some of the things we do with communication, I need to think about doing next week. A lot of times, we get in a hurry, and we want to be intentional. We want to know where we are headed and why. As we work over the next year, it evolves into something that we know exactly what it is. Having a center of communication was top on my list. What are we trying to say? Who are we trying to reach? What is the core message that we have? Who are our constituents we want to reach and their characteristics? Now we can mold that communication plan around who those people are.
Hugh: One of my principles I teach organizations I work with is at the end of the meeting, I use storyboards. I have two storyboards up. One is an action plan. What are the tangible actions we are going to do? Who is the champion? When are they going to do it? We tend to talk about all of these great things, but we never assign it to a person or give them a deadline. That makes sure it gets traction.
The other board is a communication board. We have come up with 90 minutes of some important work. Don’t you think somebody needs to know something? It’s a specific message. We take that for granted. We just think it will go to the world. When we start thinking about what the specific messages are, who needs to know, and who will tell them, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t think they need to do that.
One project, I was working with a law firm, and they had dismissed a partner. I said, “Let’s do this communication board.” They said, “Nah, everybody will know.” I said, “Humor me.” They hadn’t told his secretary. They hadn’t told the bar association. They hadn’t told the magazine subscriptions and all those periodicals. They started drilling down. There was a lot of people that needed to know something. We had to assign somebody to do that. We don’t think about communication as a process, as a connection, do we?
Clark: No, that’s exactly right. I think companies that do well, I haven’t worked for a lot of companies, but I have worked for a number over the years. I’ll give you an example of the positive side of what you were talking about.
I worked for a big hospital on the West Coast many years ago in their PR department. They were very good about informing employees. They wanted to make sure everybody knew all the time what was going on. They would do every quarter an 11” x 17” and another panel of that with pictures and captions to the department so that everybody could see what everybody was doing. And everybody loves pictures. This is all pre-digital, so everything had to be in print. Along with the paychecks is once a month, there was a stuffer, 8.5” x 11” double sided, with little snippets of information going on in other places of the facility. It was a big place. I always felt I was well-informed. You were informed on capital development. Every year, they did an annual report. I helped with some videos when I was there. They would show the videos in small group settings, and there would be an administrator who would do a Q&A. They had different levels and layers of information that people constantly felt they were being communicated with. The department I worked in produced some amazing stuff. I think it’s because we had the freedom to do it, the support to do it, and we all felt we were a part of an organization even though it was huge because they did such a good job communicating.
Companies today that we see that are really successful, they are the ones who do interesting things with employees. Some of the tech companies that have been on the news over the past ten years, people feel comfortable, they know each other. It’s when those things don’t happen where organizations can get in trouble. You have to start with your employees or volunteers, etc.
Hugh: Absolutely. That is part of the culture creation.
Clark: Yes, it is.
Hugh: I am going to give you back some stuff in case you are grading my understanding. Integrated Marketing Communications, that is the umbrella for all of this.
Clark: Yes. It’s everything. It includes everything that years ago would have been separate. It has marketing communication, advertising, public relations, anything that a communication functions. Because it has the word ‘marketing” in it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s traditional business marketing. Although it could include that. Somebody goes out and buys a car. You want to make sure they’re happy. You want to make sure they come back in two years to buy another car or tell their friends. Everything is connected. Now we are not dealing with traditional print and broadcast media like we were doing or direct mail although we still might do those things. The world is changing. We have 24/7 through social media and websites and digital content. You have to do different things. That is what is tying it together. Digital has brought those different fields together.
Hugh: It really has. We see people do things poorly. Speak to that side of it a minute. The biggest mistakes people make in their communications and integrated marketing, including social media. What are the biggest negatives that you see out there?
Clark: You and I have talked about this. I think I might have actually included it in the article I wrote for your magazine. One thing is assuming just because you put it out there, people are going to see it. One issue that organizations need to do is find ways of driving people to the social media. You can have some really creative, nice things. Maybe people will share it. It’s like having a great website and nobody knows you exist. Sometimes it’s traditional media, and it’s using different ways. In advertising, radio and television. We would call it cross-promoting. A local TV station runs an ad in a newspaper, or they may run a preview thing on a radio station. That has changed a bit because of digital. Basically, it’s finding different ways to communicate with your constituents so they know you’re there. That’s a big problem. The first solution is we can do a social media site. Great, how are people going to find out about that? Hadn’t thought about that. That is part of the problem: trying to get people to do it. You have to be consistent about posting. I’ll post today, and then whenever. People forget about you. It has to be constant. If you are going to make a commitment to social media, it’s a big job to do that. Anything digital, like websites, Oh, I did my website. When did you last update it? Two years ago. Okay. That’s not going to work. If you’re committing to digital communication, that’s one of the biggest problems is realizing now you have committed yourself to a lot of time and energy to come up with things that are fresh and interesting for your followers.
Hugh: We want to track our success in seeing how many followers we have. That’s like how many hits we have on a website. He said, “Hits is an acronym. It’s how idiots treat success.” You don’t want hits; you want conversions. You want people to do something.
Clark: Yeah, what are people doing with that?
Hugh: We want people to enjoy the symphony. We want them to enrich their lives. They do that by attending concerts. There are other ways. We are expanding our volunteer pool. I say “our.” I am not part of the board, but I can declare here publicly that I am inside because I have been invited to be a guest conductor this year. Russell, I don’t know if I shared that with you, but I get to do the Christmas gig in the newly renovated Academy Theatre, which was a vaudeville theatre in the old days. Here’s an interesting fact. It will be the first time in history that we know of that the theater will be integrated. It hasn’t played to an audience since the time it was segregated. We have the first concert in there during that opening week. It’s a multiple pleasure.
Of all this stuff we have unearthed, do you have one of those reflections or a good question for Clark before we go to our closing segment here?
Russell: This is all exciting stuff. As a symphony, the opportunity there is to bring the next generation into music because this is something that is being taken out of the education system through funding or other things. I commend the symphony for doing that. Donating instruments, keeping people interested, bringing them into the fold to keep that next generation, to keep adding fuel to the fire as it were because there is a lot there. I feel it’s important to get people the tools they need once you put the strategy together so that everybody is singing off of the same sheet of music. If the symphony can’t appreciate singing off the same sheet of music, who can? Everybody has the same things to work with. For the different types of media, they all have to work together. Different audiences are in different places. Your younger people may be on various social media platforms. It’s getting an understanding of which mediums are going to work best. Instagram is starting to explode. That’s why Facebook acquired it. Just to have people see different pieces of music and those types of things will probably pique their interest and teach them things about classical music. Here in Denver, we have the Denver Performing Arts Center, and we have the Colorado Symphony and theaters where plays are conducted. That integration and partnership among different people, the opera house is down there, really helps. That collaboration and cooperation is a good thing as well.
It’s a constant thing to create the type of communication that is going to get the message out to people. That’s important. Traditional media is not dead. There are a lot of things with broadcast, with radio, everything is working together. It’s figuring out where the people you want to reach are and getting to them. I know you’re early in the process, but what are some of the tools that you guys have created up to this point that your staff can use to get the message out about the symphony?
Clark: We are trying to use both traditional and digital. Some types of media, especially for a small market and small organizations, are a little harder. Television and radio, because of the cost. We are increasing our media relations, and we have had some really good response from local media of helping to talk about things we are doing. It’s finding interesting things that maybe they don’t know that much about. Part of that, like you’re talking about, traditional media is not dead, it’s just organizations have to inform and educate the media. They are one of your publics. Letting them know here is what is coming up.
One of the things we just implemented on the website a month and a half ago is I added a newsroom. The newsroom will have, right now we have just a few things up there, but it will have articles from the newsletter that will be posted throughout the month. We will take our major articles. It will have all of our press releases. What we want to do is create from a media relations side the idea that media can go there, and they will see what is happening and connect with it. We are getting more into Twitter. People use Twitter a lot for media and news sourcing. We are trying to build those types of things so we can be a resource for the local print and broadcast media.
Hugh: This Integrated Marketing Communications that you’re educating us on today, how will you communicate the importance of what we’re doing to the board, for instance?
Clark: I think organization, I like to do big picture. I can do the little things. I really enjoy that. I’ve had a great time, this little thing with the tuba is coming out here this week, and I hope you like it.
Hugh: I think it’s a great idea. Before we stop, I want you to talk more about that. It’s a brilliant idea.
Clark: It will be up on Facebook here in the next day. So what I like to do is I like to look at the big picture. That’s why you and I talk frequently, or communicate about direction. That’s important. I have to get a sense of where we are headed and what the organization wants to do. I won’t go into an organization and say, “Hey, these are all my ideas.” That’s not how things work, especially today. Things have changed a lot. You have a lot of collaboration between organizations and companies and their agencies, their consulting firms. It’s about the organization. What I’m trying to do is serving you with my background and things I think are going to work better. What I try to do is look at the big picture. What are the things we absolutely need to do?
This year, we know we have five upcoming concerts, I believe. We are doing five concerts over the year. I look at that and I say, “All right, there are certain things that need to be done.” We will always do media relations. We always do direct mail. We do social media. In between that is other little things we are going to be doing, like we talked about the instrument donation. I’d like to see us have more relationships with other local nonprofits and organizations. We are looking at one aspect of that. Had some conversations with an organization who has a lot of social media followers. It’s a great organization. You and I talked about sharing resources and doing things when we visited a few weeks ago. I think that helps everybody, especially in a small market. It really makes for a unified community. Essentially, even though we are doing different types of things, we are all here to service this town and to find the best ways we can of making this place better. That’s really what we are all about. Sometimes you can partner up with people and do those things, or at least do things in cooperative ways, maybe not official partnerships, but do things that help each other to help the community.
Hugh: Absolutely. We are a social benefit organization. Nonprofit is a dumb word. Talk about the tuba just a minute before-
Clark: Okay. I like to periodically come up with some wild ideas. I got a tuba. I have had this tuba for three years. I played tuba for about 35 years. I have played in orchestras. Nothing official. There are people who are far better equipped than me. I am not a degreed professional as it relates to that, but I do enjoy playing. I have played in community bands and things. I really enjoy it. I have this tuba. My wife named it. She is a harpist. My wife is the harpist for the Lynchburg Symphony. She has a couple harps. She has named her harps. She finds out that every harpist names their harps. She named my tuba. I said, “Let’s have some fun for social media” because we want to increase engagement. We found out over the last year that people love to watch videos. Most of them are storytelling videos. I made a little video to promote the new newsletter that is coming out this week. I did a promo, and 400 people have watched it. Oh, wonderful. People love videos. You read all the data on this stuff. Even things that don’t really have a message more than “Come and look at this.”
We personified my tuba, so he has his own episodes. His name is Merlin. What we are going to do this month is each week, because it takes so long to produce these things, they are a minute and a half, but it took me four days to produce these segments. We shot stuff. It takes an hour and a half to do these things. I have a very good friend who is an old radio guy, he is not as old as I am, but he has been in radio a long time. He teaches in that area. I said, “Would you do a voice for me?” He did the voice of Merlin. It sounds great. This month, each week, we have something that acquaints people who follow us with who Merlin is. Next month, we are going to take Merlin to different places in the area and shoot a picture of him in a setting. We are going to ask people where they think Merlin is today. We can do these things three or four times a week. We are going to start engagement next week. One thing Merlin likes to do is listen to music, anything that has to do with tubas. One thing, next week, we are going to ask people, “Merlin needs some new stuff for his mp3 player. What songs would you recommend that Merlin would listen to?” I don’t know what kind of a response we will get; I hope people will respond to these things. I’m doing something that is a little different. Hopefully it’s fun. I think we could cross the line where this is goofy, but I think it has produced pretty well. It’s an interesting thing. It needs to have a disclaimer at the end. It will be real fun.
Hugh: It’s inter-generational. It will involve the board, too.
Clark: What we are trying to do is we are trying to branch out and we are going to ask the board to communicate it when it’s posted, to invite friends to listen, to invite other people to do these things. It’s not just a one-off post. It’s a “Tell your friends about Merlin. He’s coming back next week for another webisode.” He will not be on all the time. It takes too long to shoot these sequences and edit them, but he will show up probably around Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and holidays and whenever else to make an appearance.
Hugh: You heard about Merlin right here, folks. Merlin the Tuba. We have two minutes left.
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What do you want to leave people with? A thought or a challenge or some perspective.
Clark: My voice is giving. That’s what happens in the summer. I go four months without talking. I can’t do it. I think one thing is knowing who your target audience is. When I say “target,” that’s usually about a ten-year range. It will get you in the ballpark. You need to know who your people are, how they think, what they think of your organization, and then give them things that help them. Don’t just promote yourself. It’s part of it. But do things that help them, help the community. I think it’s understanding what’s in the minds of your constituents is the best place to start.
Hugh: Well, Dr. Clark Greer, wonderful tidbits, wonderful, useful information. Russell, thank you for your faithful attendance and helpful perspectives and good questions. Thank you.
Clark: Thanks for having me.
Russell: It’s always a pleasure. It’s about creating an experience for everybody that is involved with you. That is what Clark is doing with the symphony. That’s the thing to remember with marketing. We are creating an experience for all the people we are serving.
Hugh: Thanks, Clark.
Clark: Thanks for having me.