7 min

Marketers today do much more than sell tickets.

You also make choices that have the power to effect meaningful change in your organization.

Take your marketing materials. They likely serve as your most visible communications. But how well do they connect your audiences or visitors with your institution’s values? Do they reflect commitments your company may have made to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?

Daniel Acosta, Advertising and Sales Manager at The Dallas Opera, and Andrea Cuevas, Director of Marketing and Communications at Hartford Stage, offer advice on how to activate DEI goals in your marketing strategy. Follow these four steps to help turn your organization’s commitments into actions.

Connecting your DEI goals to your marketing plans requires intentional effort.

1. Start with your budget

Connecting your DEI goals to your marketing plans requires intentional effort. It starts with deciding where you’ll spend your marketing dollars.

“You’ve probably heard, and maybe even used, the lowest hanging fruit strategy,” Andrea said. “But what about the concept that your budget is a moral document? For profit-driven marketers, it can be challenging to hold those two ideals at the same time.”

When planning your budget, ask the following questions:

  • Does your advertising buy include diverse media outlets?
  • Do your vendors and partners advance your diversity goals and share your values?
  • Are you equitably compensating your consultants?

Not every effort will reap immediate results. “It can be daunting to think of working with someone new,” Andrea said. “But the time and energy you put into it is an investment for both of you.”

“It’s important we communicate with our brand in a way that reflects our organization’s values.”

2. Ensure your brand reflects your values

Your organization’s brand is more than the logo, colors and fonts you use. It’s also the voice, images and experiences people encounter when interacting with your institution.

“It’s important we communicate with our brand in a way that reflects our organization’s values,” Daniel said.

Brochures, postcards and emails must show more than how you want to be perceived. They need to communicate a truthful, authentic message.

Keep these questions in mind:

  • Who is represented onstage or in the audience?
  • Are you showing a true version of your organization?
  • Do your materials reflect the diversity of the communities you serve or the community you want?
Several passengers and crew members wait out a storm in an airport terminal lounge in a scene from the Dallas Opera production of Flight.

Make sure your marketing images, like this photo from the Dallas Opera production of Flight, communicate a truthful, authentic message of your organization. Photo by Lynn Lane.

“We should not tokenize groups or individuals for convenience to say we have diversity when we don’t,” Daniel said. “When members of the community start to see themselves in your audiences, staffs, on the stage and in your space in an authentic way, the organization will start to be more reflective of your community. Representation matters, but truthful representation speaks volumes, even if it’s not exactly where you want to be.”

Ask important and sometimes uncomfortable questions about your marketing copy and show descriptions. Think about whose point of view you use to tell the story.

When making decisions about how to represent marginalized communities or cultures, pay attention to who has a place at the table. If key voices are missing, consider how to include their perspectives.

“Representation matters, but truthful representation speaks volumes.”

3. Craft different messages for different audience segments

Make sure you’re reviewing your messages regularly. Ask yourself whether the words and phrases you use remain the right choices for your organization. Do they make sense to the audiences you want to reach? One message or ad may not fit all.

Reconsider phrases that could have the opposite effect of what you intend. Describing packages as the most affordable might create perceptions that others are too expensive. Calling attention to Casual Friday options could suggest there are days that require fancy attire.

Program names also have the potential to be alienating. The term young professional is subjective. Who qualifies as young or professional? Who may feel excluded?

“As communicators, let’s start to think more about our program names and their descriptions,” Daniel said. “They might be creating barriers and preventing a more equitable workspace or art space.”

Beware of insider language. Words commonly used in arts and culture campaigns, such as subscription or single ticket, may confuse new audiences. Consider aligning with other industries. Use universal phrases, such as season ticket package or individual performance ticket.

“Put yourself in a new person’s shoes,” Andrea said. “Ask yourself what information they need to create the best, easiest experience.”

“Put yourself in a new person’s shoes.”

4. Remove barriers

Finally, attract new audiences by centering accessibility. Removing obstacles that cause barriers for some adds value for all.

“When we create intentional opportunities and access for the most marginalized people in our society,” Andrea said, “we are all able to benefit from those changes.”

For example, many performing arts companies switched to digital programs to save money or reduce contact during the pandemic. But digital programs provide other benefits, too. They help those who use screen readers or translation services. Everyone can learn more about a performance in advance.

Listening to the needs of your community is not a one-time exercise. You’ll need to set up a consistent feedback loop. And you won’t be able to change everything overnight. Instead, create a list of short- and long-term goals. You will always have limited resources, including time and energy. Be mindful of where and to whom you offer them.

“Be open, lead with empathy and ask questions,” Daniel said. “Be flexible and creative to evolve your strategy.”

•     •     •     

Daniel Acosta and Andrea Cuevas shared these insights as part of Tessitura’s DEAI learning series. Their webinar was adapted from their presentation at the Tessitura Learning & Community Conference in Denver, Colorado. Watch the entire webinar and access a list of additional resources.


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