Arts enterprises universally struggle with developing effective strategies for engaging their audiences. For Hennepin Theatre Trust, we need to reach audiences that may be wildly distinct for our diverse programming … from contemporary musicians to traditional Broadway touring productions to authors — a range of what we call “variety entertainment.” If audiences don’t know about our presentations, they can’t make a choice to participate in them.
To my point about looking outside of one’s own industry, I was intrigued to learn about The BrandLab. This project is a semester-long course that exposes junior and senior high school students to brand marketing, consumer advertising and a wide array of creative services. The BrandLab was created by OLSON, a Minneapolis ad agency, and is supported by Target, Land O’Lakes, Schwan’s Food Service, Best Buy and General Mills, among other Minnesota companies. (Editor’s note: The BrandLab was also featured in an article in the May 24–June 6 Downtown Journal.)
The BrandLab offers detailed curriculum, internship opportunities and class field trips to local agencies, creative firms and corporate headquarters where participating students are able to experience the marketing industry from the inside out. Students are given the opportunity to showcase classroom projects, engage in internships and are also exposed to college-level programs that encompass marketing, advertising and creative careers. Through the BrandLab, interest is stimulated in students and companies develop a diverse and talented pool from which they can recruit the brand managers, marketers and strategic sales representatives of tomorrow who will help them reach our diverse cultural and socioeconomic aspects of our community.
The BrandLab is expanding from a pilot program to several schools throughout the Twin Cities, beginning with South and Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and Arlington High School in St. Paul.
Of course, inclusive and forward-looking practices frequently make solid business sense. By creating a pool of diverse, savvy marketers, these Minnesota-based companies are also creating the means by which they reach the diverse markets of today and tomorrow.
For arts organizations, the lesson from the BrandLab is that it’s not just about WHAT we offer to the community in terms of programming, but HOW it’s offered. And that may in large part depend on WHO is creating the offer. A more diverse group of marketers within our organizations might just translate into the broader reach we’re seeking.
Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities.