“There are people right outside of this door that will never get to see what you do, and that is not because they are uncivilized or they are uncultured or even because they are unaware. They just can’t afford a ticket.” —Adam Thurman, Director of Marketing and Communications, Children’s Theatre Company
When I began writing this blog post, all I had was a title. I didn’t even entirely know what an “unmarketable” was, and honestly just thought the title would sound pretty cool. But through a quick Google search, I encountered Adam Thurman’s TEDxBroadway Talk, “Marketing to the Unmarketable,” and my perspective shifted. I began to think. How can we, as advocates for exposure, accessibility, and opening minds and perspectives—as artists in the truest sense of the word—move beyond marketing as a transactional tool and instead utilize it as the artform it is meant to be? How can we focus, instead, on utilizing marketing as a means to provide joy and foster genuine human connection with those whom we seek to interact with? It becomes easy to see our work as commercial and transactional, and as a failure if we don’t sell the numbers we had initially hoped for. Yet through a shift in perspective, we, as publishers and as marketers, can quickly remember why it is we entered into this field in the first place: to further develop our love of literature and share that love with the world.
Thurman discusses three circles of individuals: those who love and purchase our brand, those who we want to love and purchase our brand, and those who may never have true accessibility to our brand but who genuinely “love and appreciate it anyway.” He critiques standard “best practice,” where those who cannot monetarily support our brand do not matter to us as marketing professionals. This practice seems to have forgotten the passion and the heart that is supposed to go into the sales of goods and services; just because an individual cannot afford our product (in Ooligan’s case, our lovely collection of Pacific Northwest literature) does not mean that the individual’s voice does not matter, and does not mean that they will not one day turn around and become an essential marketing asset for our brand. It also doesn’t mean that they have not been touched by the themes of our work, the mission of our press, or the quality of what we produce, though their specific interactions with physical copies may be limited. That following, in and of itself, is the goal of a marketing professional; we want to gain the trust of as many individuals as possible, get them on board with what we’re trying to do, and have them support our efforts through whatever means they can. Gaining that following is a true artform, and is the culmination of authentic, artistic marketing efforts.
It is our responsibility as marketers to move beyond a transactional focus and recharge our efforts toward adding joy to the lives of our audience. Marketing is not about selling people things that they do not need, it is about representing a brand authentically and artistically and maintaining a focus on the company’s overall mission. Thurman perhaps says it best: “Marketing, when fully realized, is a gift. It is something that can reach the heart of others.” Particularly in the arts, we need the support of just about anyone we can find; alienating those who don’t always have a seat at the table will only detrimentally affect us in the end. We need to work on renewing focus on publishing and marketing as an artform, connecting to the hearts of our audience, and ultimately, spreading a love of literature to as many individuals as we possibly can.