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2nd November 2012 Sara Lock

Thinking BIG! A guide to strategic marketing planning

By: Stephen Cashman


Master marketing strategy with this in-depth guide to writing and using strategic marketing plans for arts and cultural organisations.

Introduction: About this Guide and Ways of Using It

Nature and purpose

This publication is a guide to building and using strategic marketing plans for arts organisations. Originally commissioned by Arts Council England and published by the Arts Marketing Association, with the second edition supported by the Scottish Arts Council, it has a deliberately wide-ranging set of purposes. These are:

  • to enable readers to understand the basics of strategic marketing planning
  • to generate the ability, understanding and interest to create and implement a strategic marketing plan (SMP) for their own organisation

Strategic planning, strategic marketing and indeed most disciplines characterised as being ‘strategic’ tend to have a concern for big things and big issues. This results in a focus on big, long-term trends and factors with potentially big implications and consequences. In turn these demand a response devised by thinking big about big ideas (hence the title).

But ‘big’ doesn’t have to mean ‘daunting’. This guide starts from the view that, given the appropriate circumstances and ways of working, any organisation is capable of big, large-scale thinking about its marketing – regardless of that organisation’s size, resources or artform specialism.

The resulting publication is intended as not so much a desk-bound guide, but more as a practical resource. As well as detailed explorations and explanations of the major steps involved in strategic marketing planning, Thinking BIG! also has a set of worksheets, activities and exercises that can be applied to your organisation. These worksheets will form the core materials and elements of a strategic marketing plan, so by completing them you can build such a plan for your organisation.

To assist the rapid location and use of some of the key issues involved here, a set of icons or symbols are used throughout to highlight different sorts of materials.

The main body of the text will take you through the stages and steps involved in building a strategic marketing plan. But just in case you feel you may need a quick reference on these steps, the last page is a set of detachable summary cards that you can remove and carry with you.

A few words on terminology

Because of its origination in the commercial sector, some of the terms used to think, write and talk about marketing can sometimes feel a little alien to the subsidised arts sector. In fact, they might often seem to miss some of the important issues that relate to the arts.

So, to keep things simple, where this guide uses such terms, it assumes that it is possible for them to embrace a range of arts-specific meanings. Hence where the word ‘product’ is used, this is not necessarily restricted to physical and tangible things produced by an organisation. Here ‘product’ is used as a term that also includes services – anything the organisation provides (its ‘provision’) or offers to its various users (its ‘offering’).

Similarly ‘customer’ is going to be used here to refer not only to people who buy things
from an organisation, but also to people who buy into the organisation and its offerings.
Thus ‘customer’ is used as a term that also embraces visitors, users and participants of an organisation’s events, its services and provision.

Using this guide

You may be a part-time employee of a small-scale community theatre company. You could be a newly appointed practitioner working for a medium-scale chamber orchestra. Or you might even be an experienced head of marketing in a major national arts facility.

Whichever is the case, this guide's overriding intention is to offer you relevant and useful concepts, theories, practical ideas and tips that should enable you to enhance your and your organisation's marketing planning. So people new to the field will find that the guide is a resource that helps the build a marketing plan from scratch. Older hands who have seen it and done it all (and may even have a few t-shirts to prove it) may find that this guide provides a means of validating their current practice, a reminder of things they may have forgotten, or even a source of new ideas.

Because it has been devised to meet a range of needs, there are a number of ways of using this guide:

  • You could just start at the beginning and read all the way through.
  • Alternatively you might come to this resource with a particular set of questions and issues.
  • Or you might just want to use the guide as a desk reference - as something you can just dip into when you need to check on a particular subject, concept or technique.

To support this range of potential approaches to using it, the guide is also deliberately non-linear in structure. It's actually modular - you can dip in and out of it according to your needs.

Want to buy a hard copy? Email us and we'll sort that out for you.

Download the guide to read more:
Thinking BIG! A guide to strategic marketing planning (PDF)

| Published:2012

Smart tags: Prosper marketing theatre arts marketing audience development plan Thinking Big Marketing Plan small-scale organisations strategic strategy plan planning organisational development marketing strategy