Expert View: 'Channel Management Is A Constant Juggling Act'

We sat down with Jen Martindale, Chief Marketing Officer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts


Jen Martindale is the CMO at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), which is widely regarded as one of the country’s most innovative arts institutions. During her tenure, YBCA has become a cultural incubator, focused on igniting the public imagination and spurring societal movement. 

From publishing the annual YBCA 100 list and launching one of the first 'pay what you can' membership models, to overseeing YBCA’s highly lauded rebranding, Jen’s efforts have achieved record-high participation at a time when traditional arts institutions are struggling for relevance. Jen spent several years as a Vice President at advertising powerhouse Leo Burnett, where she led brand strategies and campaigns for major packaged goods, retail, and entertainment clients. Jen left agency life in 2013 in order to help expand the marketing expertise of nonprofit C-suites. Before joining YBCA, she was in a marketing leadership role at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Ahead of her presentation at the Chief Marketing Officer Summit this May 24-25 in San Francisco, we sat down with Jen to talk all things marketing, from multi-channel marketing to personalization.

What approach have you taken to social media and how are you measuring your success? (brand awareness, clicks, shares etc.)

Because YBCA is an arts institution with only one physical location (San Francisco), we use social media to help a global audience experience our brand. For us, social media is not transactional, and we don’t primarily use it to drive ticket sales. We use it to create traction for our movement, which is to use art and culture as a tool for social change. With that goal in mind, I can’t stress enough how important video is. From broadcasting events and programs in real-time via Facebook Live to partnering with media platforms like Wired Magazine or NPR to create exclusive content, we’ve doubled-down on video. With that in mind, we’re looking at success metrics around views, shares, and overall reach.

How are you successfully managing (and optimizing) a multichannel brand presence?

Channel management is a constant juggling act. Last year, my team executed marketing campaigns for over 120 events and programs, in addition to brand building campaigns. As a non-profit, our marketing budgets are stretched to capacity and we have to make hard choices about where to invest.

We derive significant revenue from ticket sales, so being able to track the impact of each touch point is crucial. What’s driving conversion? Our event marketing campaigns always include a combination of email, search, and retargeting across both websites and social media.

We use broad reaching, high impact channels like print, outdoor, and transit for sustained brand building efforts that don’t need an immediate-term conversion. And as the marketing landscape continues to lean into earned media, we are prioritizing press outreach, social media content, and growing our footprint on platforms that help us tell provocative stories, such as

What measures are you taking to personalize your outreach? (localization, customer profiling etc.)

YBCA recently partnered with a D.C.-based political research firm to create our psychographic-driven audience segmentation. We’re ultimately trying to create a movement, so we felt it was important to use researchers that really understand coalition building instead of traditional marketing research firms. We are not trying to find the typical 'arts patron'. We’re trying to find people who want to create change in the world, and then give them art & culture as a tool to do it. We’ve started to apply these segments to our audience database through an ongoing process of surveys. By understanding each audience member’s human motivations, beliefs, and worldview, we’re able to put them on the right path to deeper engagement with our institution.

New technology adoption and transforming staff practices can be a tricky process - what tips do you have to make this a success?

We’re so lucky to be based in the most innovative city in our nation – San Francisco. Technology is an everyday part of this city’s culture and livelihood. YBCA is located just a few blocks from Twitter, LinkedIn, Google’s downtown office, Salesforce, and, just to name a few…Not to mention a plethora of start-ups and digital lifestyle brands. This proximity, the relatively small size of our local Marketing community, and the fact that we’re a non-profit, have all made it easier for us to build relationships with these companies, and to stay in-the-know as their offerings evolve. That said, we have the same challenges as any other marketing team when it comes to new technology. We get comfortable with something that works, and don’t want to walk away from it in order to experiment with something new and unproven. But in order to deliver the YBCA brand, which is all about being on the leading edge of culture, we have to be early adopters. Sometimes that’s worked in our favor, with things like Facebook Live. Other times, not so much (I’m looking at you, Vine). So if your brand strategy claims to be innovative, there is a real need to help the organization walk the talk.

How do you maintain brand loyalty and meaningful engagement in the over-crowded digital space?

To me, the heart of this question transcends the digital space. How do brands maintain loyalty and engagement, period? Because if you’re not doing it offline, you’re certainly not going to be able to do it online. At YBCA, we’ve put our brand purpose at the center of our business model. We exist to be a creative home for civic action. We use art as a blunt instrument for social change. Because we’re a contemporary art center, we’re in a state of constant, conscious evolution in order to remain on the leading edge of culture. We move fast and experiment. That means we must be ruthlessly consistent with how we deliver the brand. We practice the mantra 'People always know what to expect from YBCA, but they don’t always expect what they see'. People are willing to come along on the ride with us because they understand and believe in our purpose.

You can hear more from Jen, along with many other industry-leading marketing executives, at the Chief Marketing Officer Summit this May 24-25 in San Francisco.


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