Because editorial content isn’t paid for—at least not directly, for the most part—it is generally more credible than advertising. Traditional public relations efforts add value to marketing by getting journalists to pay favorable attention, helping to generate third-party testimonials from the third parties we call the media.
When we say that word-of-mouth is the best marketing, we pay tribute to the power of third-party testimony, 3P for short. And where there was once a divide between traditional public relations, in the sense of media relations, and other ways to win friends and influence people, it is now a line drawn in wireless air.
Whose advice do we value most when deciding where to eat, what movies to see, what books to read, where to go on vacation? Pity the professional critic when there is a civilian reviewer in every seat. It is easy to get sucked into the 3P on Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, and TripAdvisor.
But in a class by themselves are those who actually know us. And this type of personal 3P—true word-of-mouth—is even more important when we are thinking about doing something for the first time, out of our comfort zone, or at the bottom of our bucket list.
Case in point: My interest in spectator sports faded away in college, but 30 years later a close friend (who spent his youth in the former Yugoslavia) is turning me into a soccer fan.
Professional soccer has been targeting the non-traditional audience known as Americans for some time now. Making it harder for the soccer marketers, I don’t read the sports section or attend games played by the home teams (not even our literarily named Super Bowl champs). There is no soccer mom in my life. Articles, ads, mailings, and emails wouldn’t have found me. But I happened to hear about the Liverpool-Tottenham exhibition match in Baltimore last July and dragged my soccer-mentor friend down from New Jersey.
In my first post [“It’s Free!”], I wrote that the worthy goal of attracting non-traditional audiences has muddled the question of to-charge-or-not-to-charge. My tickets to the exhibition match, permit me to note, weren’t comps.
To many residents of culturally rich metropolitan areas, going to an opera or an orchestra concert or a play or a museum would be just as foreign as watching a soccer match was to me. And in the same way, 3P will work for cultural presenters targeting non-traditional audiences.
Identify members of the segments you seek to attract—African Americans, Latinos, Whites (in the case of an African American museum, for example), New Americans, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millenials, GBLTQs, you name it—with an existing connection to your organization. Conduct focus groups with them and with their family members and same-segment friends. Experiment with the ideas that come out of these sessions, including ways to support and recognize participants who become unofficial ambassadors.
This unofficial, unpaid, unsupervised status is essential to preserving the power of 3P. It is not a pyramid scheme. It is more like an ant colony.
You will also want to reinforce the cultivation of a non-traditional audience through 3P by partnering with cultural, business, media, and social service organizations, local and national, for which that segment is a core audience. The leaders of these organizations are likely to be key influencers who can make introductions to others, 3P-style.
And what of your product: the music you present, the plays you mount, the art you show, the stories you tell? I will share some thoughts about product, audience, and organizational identity in next week’s post.