Marketing a Niche Art School: Tradition Embraces Technology

By William Wedo, Communications Manager, Studio Incamminati, School for Contemporary Realist Art

Here at Studio Incamminati, School for Contemporary Realist Art, effectively reaching our audience – the community of realist artists – is a constant challenge.

We are a small school (translation: “very limited marketing budget”) based on the atelier concept of learning firsthand from master artists. With conceptual and abstract work dominating the art scene for decades, we inhabit a niche community – one difficult to reach through mainstream media.

Part of our marketing efforts go toward engaging that community with a variety of messages, ranging from student recruitment to donor engagement. However, we also strategically target those unfamiliar with us and the contemporary realist art genre. Those audiences include artists who haven’t made the connection between the skills we teach and non-traditional art careers such as gaming and concept art. Donors also come from that audience.

Just like contemporary realist art, our communications strategy is anchored in time-honored concepts, but driven by the latest thinking. At Studio Incamminati we use the PESO model of integrated marketing to achieve our goals.

  • Paid Media – advertising
  • Earned Media – publicity we don’t purchase
  • Shared Media – social media including content we create and curated content we pass along
  • Owned Media content we control, including our website, social media platforms and events

Our recent Facebook Live event offers a good example of how we utilize the process. While the technology is new the communications concepts are not:

Goal/Objectives. Strategy. Tactics. Measurement. Our Goal was to connect our school’s message with artists. The Objective was to recruit more students. The Strategy was to utilize our content via social media. The Tactic was a six-hour painting demonstration on Facebook Live. Measurement was twofold: social media metrics and, ultimately, the number of student recruits driven by the event.

We needed a signature event (Owned Media) with content that would reflect the school’s brand of quality “contemporary realist art.” Our innovative curriculum teaches traditional drawing and painting skills through the prism of realism – figure, portrait, and landscape still life. However, how each artist uses those skills is left to the individual. Much like a music school or film school, Studio Incamminati believes that mastering the skills of realist painting and drawing is the key to unleashing creativity.

In the world of realist art, painting demonstrations have been a mainstay of education and inspiration for centuries. Artists study the “demo” artist for hours, scrutinizing the brush or pencil work and the manner it is applied. We took the standard live-audience demo and adapted it for Facebook Live (Shared Media). To increase out chances of press coverage (Earned Media) – and at the same time hoping to attract a larger audience – we invited Eric Rhodes, publisher of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, as our model. His personal brand is attached to many artist-centric publications and events that are well-known in the realist art community. By design, it was a mutually advantageous partnership: We would get a larger audience by promoting him as the model and he would offer his own marketing message. That promotion included a series of Facebook ads (Paid Media) through our digital strategist I’m From The Future. We also promoted it on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms and encouraged our students and followers to share the event.

Our brand has always been synonymous with quality. That drove our most important decision – make the event as professional as possible. A smart phone on a tripod was not an option.

Instead, we hired a broadcast team – KeDa Creative Group and Widget Studios – that brought multiple cameras and lighting and sound technicians along with lots of expertise. Weiss Communications, our longtime visual consultant was on hand to support the effort.

To maximize interactivity, we enlisted two faculty members to offer expert continuing commentary – similar to a sporting event. Meanwhile a six-person team of students fielded online comments and questions. We filled the model-break periods with information and promotional spots for the school and to satisfy sponsorship requirements. We developed a minute-by-minute timeline and shared it during pre-production meetings that included everyone from the technical crew to the commentators. This was a full-fledged broadcast, designed for maximum audience engagement.

On event day, our art studio was transformed into a broadcast studio. Coax cables mingled with toned canvases as tech personnel with cameras and lights glided around easels and taborets for just the right shot. All the while, our expert commentators described the painting process and added personal insights and an occasional interview. Our social-media team manned the laptops answering artists’ questions from South Africa to Mumbai to Malaysia. And, even Northeast Philadelphia.

We also created a post-event plan that would promote both the archived versions on Facebook and YouTube. To keep the interactivity ongoing, we are introducing a continuing Facebook feature, Perspectives, that encourages and answers artists’ comments and questions.

The numbers were impressive. Within a week of the event, we logged:

  • More than 15,000 Facebook video views and another 500 YouTube views.
  • 1,700 Reactions, Comments and Shares
  • 6,271 Clicks on the video post
  • 400 new Facebook Followers
  • An Average Watch Time of 4:52:00 for the six-hour broadcast.

Of course, for our audience, ultimately it was about our content – the art. We had a golden opportunity to engage that audience with our vision of skilled, creative art and our special process that creates it. The online comments from artists were overwhelmingly positive. One of the most satisfying was from JT, who connected perfectly with our main message of mastering skills to unleash creativity:

“It’s great to see all three approaches and goes to show everyone can express their own vision better with a strong foundation.”

Time will tell if the event helps us achieve the ultimate objectives of student recruitment. But, until we have to face conversion costs and ROI, everyone involved is just enjoying the camaraderie, learning experience and the simple rush of participating in such an exhilarating event. It’s hard to put a number on that.

To view the broadcast:

YouTube (5:27:33)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRC_u5_4BKY&t=2171s

Facebook archive

Part One (3:56:43)  http://www.facebook.com/TheStudioIncamminati/videos/10155617610604436/

Part Two (1:48:46)  http://www.facebook.com/TheStudioIncamminati/videos/10155617622759436/

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