COLLABORACTION – RESEARCH!
Collaborating on Market Research and Getting a Bigger Bang for Your Buck
Having recently lead more than a dozen collaborative arts research projects, I was thrilled when I learned that CollaborACTION was this year’s theme at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference! It used to be that when I suggested to an arts organization that they partner with another arts organization to do their research that my idea was met with an almost audible eye roll. Well, times have changed. More and more often arts groups are working together and with their funders to do collaborative research.
Collaborative research is my very favorite type of work; the benefits always exceed expectations because, 1) you spend a lot less, 2) you learn a lot more, and 3) you create synergy, strategy, and success!
To highlight the benefits of doing collaborative research I asked two recent clients to share their thoughts. These folks were the Oregon Bach Festival (OBF) and the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Association (MSOA). During 2008-2009, OBF chose to invite 12 partner organizations to share in a research project as part of a grant from the Paul Allen Family Foundation. During 2007-2008 the MSOA partnered with the Gallo Center for the Arts (GCA) on a regional market study and community survey funded by the Irvine Foundation.
Key Benefits of CollaborACTION-Research!
1. Spending Less
Communities like Orlando, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Eugene have recently brought arts organizations together to buddy-up on research. A research study that might have cost one arts organization alone $25,000 to $50,000 was shared across 12, 20, and even 50 organizations. You do the math. The research collaboration between the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Association and the Gallo Center allowed the partners to do a much larger and much deeper study that produced regional results for them to share, as well as separate confidential results for their specific organizations—all at about half the cost of going it alone.
Collaborative research projects are welcomed by funders and many community cultural plans encourage it. Working together shows funders you are taking resource sharing (a timely hot topic in our field) seriously and making their research investments go a lot farther.
“We had accomplished a few successful collaborative marketing promotions that paved the way for something larger, more substantial, that could have a deeper impact. Concurrently, the strategies of our city’s visioning process sought to encourage collaboration, so there was an opportunity, and our OBF Partners research project seemed like the right fit.”—OBF
“The Hult Center could never have done this alone and it provided interesting specifics about our audience, plus as a major organization, my participation might have encouraged someone else to take part in the project.”—Hult Center, OBF Partner
“After years of anecdotal stories about who is in the region, what they are interested in, and how much they are willing to engage in MSOA and Gallo Center offerings, we both thought it best to combine our resources from an Irvine Foundation Capacity Building Grant and analyze our data together and launch a Central Valley Entertainment Survey together.”
2. Learning More
In addition to the enormous economy of scale, buddying-up to do research means that you are not learning in a vacuum. You get a bigger bang for your buck. In Modesto, California the partners discovered together that the better survey question to ask of the community was along the lines of “What drives your entertainment interests” versus “Which do you prefer, Beethoven or Bono?” Also, the finding that are revealed about your organization and your audiences are put into context; you get a broader understanding of your arts market in general and how to better distinguish your place in it.
“Had the Hult Center not taken part in this, I would not have known that Eugene Ballet Company should be one of my primary partners. We are now planning three cooperative sales programs in the upcoming seasons; a direct result of this project.”—Hult Center, OBF Partner
“By combing our resources, we were able to analyze a much larger area with a more in-depth study that we could not have done separately. Likewise, we were also able to expand our own research beyond the survey to further test some of the project ideas that came out of it through focus groups.”— MSOA, Project Director
3. Creating Synergy, Strategy, and Success
For collaborative research projects involving many organizations, the inclusion of small arts organizations, other leisure destinations such as zoos, botanical gardens, and historical sites, and community organizations often sheds light on new opportunities and synergies between organizations that had no working relationship or in some cases didn’t even know one another! In every community in which I have worked on collaborative research, new relationships have blossomed and led to win-win marketing strategies. A prime example of this is in Memphis, Tennessee in which very successful and strategic marketing-oriented alliances have been built between Opera Memphis and New Ballet Ensemble, Ballet Memphis and community organizations, Voices of the South and youth-serving community organizations, among just a few examples.
“By working on the data collection and findings together, both of our organizations were able to have open discussions about how each could respond to the market. In our particular case, both the Gallo Center and the MSOA presented several genres. After discussing the findings together, we both realized which organization could serve the community best depending on the particular needs and desires found in the analysis.”
An example of this in Modesto was in family programming. The Gallo Center was able to very successfully present family programming with lower fixed costs and higher net revenue than the MSOA. This led the MSOA to redistributed its family programming budget toward more intimate school offerings and hands-on community projects that provided the same community impact.
“For me, the biggest benefit was in creating or deepening relationships with my peers. It was really energizing having 12 colleagues in the same room working on a project. And because it was cross-disciplinary, we were able to share our reactions and responses to the data, learn about each others’ audiences which helps us create synergy as well as points of differentiation between us.”—OBF
“There is now more of an atmosphere of ‘hey we can do this!’ For example, after the project the Bach Festival and two University of Oregon museums created a weekend-long World Harmony Project that successfully cross-marketed our programs.—OBF
Parting Reflections on Collaborative Research
“To have a successful project you must believe that as arts and cultural organizations, we are all in this together. The driving goal should be to make the community a great arts community. If we do that, there’s a greater chance that all will benefit. It takes leadership, commitment, participation. Like anything else, it’s always easier to do nothing which gets us nowhere.”—OBF
“The sayings of ‘success breeds success’ and ‘the rising tide floats all boats’ are very much a part of fruitful research collaborations and certainly was the central them in ours. We are both serving the same community and need to work together in ways that allow us to move our work forward and into more of the homes we collectively serve.”—MSOA Project Director
I encourage those of you reading this to come the National Arts Marketing Project Conference to hear about bottom line results of the marketing and development strategies that the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Association employed based on the research! They’ll be presenting their collaborACTIONS!
To learn more about the benefits of collaborative research contact directors at: