It is undeniable: there is great power in a great story. Whether we encounter them in books, newspapers, conversations with friends and colleagues, or on social media; whether they are in physical or virtual space — we are confronted by a multitude of overlapping stories in our daily lives. But how do you use the power of a story for arts and culture? What are the benefits and the challenges? During a recent panel held on the Sotheby’s Institute-Los Angeles campus, we gathered arts professionals skilled at employing storytelling to achieve their goals to share their thoughts and strategies. Here is a round up of the advice shared by Kim Glann (Director of Communications & Marketing, Ford Theatres), Andres Rivera (Marketing Project Manager, House of Blues Foundation), Paul Ulukpo (Media and Digital Content Producer, artworxLA), and Erin Aubry Kaplan (Writer / Journalist).
It all starts with you
How do you choose what stories to tell? For Erin Aubry Kaplan, a published author and writing professor, the answer lies within: “Stories are like small concentric circles, with you in the middle...but it’s never just your story — it’s a story about a people and community.” As Erin explained it, there is power in understanding your own story, but more importantly in understanding how it fits within the larger circle of the stories around you. The challenge comes in the “balancing act” — holding your own as a writer, but at the same time plugging into the many different stories that are part of the larger narrative you create. In her own work, Erin found that it is the stories imbued with a personal meaning that resonate the most with her audience and create a meaningful connection.
Artists want to tell their stories
A sustainable career as an artist necessarily involves getting your work in front of an audience. This was one of the reasons that Andres Rivera turned to marketing, realizing that he needed a platform to share the content he was developing or, as he explained, “to come out of his shell and connect.” He found that the most effective means is by applying the concept of design thinking — putting the user in the middle of the process, and by being authentic. Understanding the values he shares with his audience, asking the “why” instead of just selling a product or a concept, allows him to tell the stories that have the power to cut through the noise and connect. And it’s an approach that has been working. The annual “Hip Hop Gives” benefit that he organizes is expected to reach nearly 600,000 people this year, all through constituent-focused marketing.
How to reach a diverse audience
How do you get the attention of an audience in a vast city filled with arts and culture? If you’re Kim Glann, directing marketing and communications for a 100-year old performance venue in LA that serves a diverse community of 10 million people, you do everything. As Kim explained, “My job is constantly about experimenting and I’m always solving a puzzle…thinking how do I reach this community?” What Kim found in her experience is that every community is different and wants to be reached in a different way. Not everyone reads the same newspaper, is on social media, or interested in the same things, so there cannot be a one story or one approach solution. The key is to really understand your audience and create an authentic, sustainable relationship with those you’re trying to reach. Another important factor in Kim’s work? Making sure that marketing and programming are closely intertwined, because no matter how good the story you craft to connect with an audience, if you’re not offering what they want or need, your marketing efforts will be futile.
Telling a story with visuals
In a vast sea of stories that seems to get bigger every day, how do you make sure that yours stands out? Paul Ulukpo uses the power of visuals: telling a story through images rather than words. But it’s not that simple. You need to be well equipped with a skill set that includes a plethora of tools — from photography to film to graphic design to lighting — in order to craft a visual story that is effective. And just as with any other storytelling, you have to know your audience in order to frame the composition in a way that will resonate with them. As Paul explained, the focus is the same across all media, “trying to get that uninformed viewer to take that extra second to trigger their mind and create the emotional tie that might initiate action.”
Written by Alina Girshovich