Photos courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA).

2017 AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference Recap

Jennifer Martindale of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco gave an inspired talk at the 2017 AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference on how their marketing department evolved into an innovation incubator, which shifted their entire organizational model and reimagined the role and relevance of marketing.

Upon starting her new role as CMO of YBCA, Ms. Martindale spent a lot of time asking questions. Her goal was to transform the institution from the inside out, and she believed that a change in the role of marketing could drive innovation.

By asking staffers what their core beliefs were and what got them up in the morning, she was able to come up with some general themes. They talked a lot about culture and how culture precedes change. Cultural shifts require a collective leap of imagination. That insight led to the idea that YBCA could be more than an art center; it could become a cultural incubator. They changed their mission to generate culture that creates change. Their brand promise was to be a creative home for civic action. This completely refocused their efforts and their approach to everything.

First they attacked the problem of membership. In a city that is one of the most expensive on the world, how do you drive membership when most have a hard time paying rent? They came up with a Pay What You Can Membership option, which tripled their membership.

They turned their focus on advocacy and opened up their doors for voting. They worked together as individuals to live the brand on specific issues like “Yes on S” to support the hotel tax for the arts and the homeless. They brought in artists who taught classes on how to use art for social change. They supported art for women in a program called “Changing the Ratio” in order to increase the ratio of women in the arts.

In order to help shape the future of culture, they came up with the YBCA 100 – celebrating the innovators, provocateurs and thought leaders who are using their platform to create cultural movement. This led to the YBCA 100 Summit, which brings together the 100 to share the urgent questions that drive their work. It also led to the YBCA Fellows program, which brings together creative citizens from across the Bay Area to engage in a yearlong process of inquiry, dialogue and project generation, exploring and responding to questions that emerged from the YBCA 100 Summit.

Using art and culture to inspire community transformation, they came up with the Market Street Prototyping Project, where they invited members of the community to give ideas to help transform Market Street in San Francisco. They chose the best ideas and prototyped them and put them on the street to test and learn from them. The best ideas will be part of San Francisco’s permanent installation in their 2018 renovation.

So how did YBCA completely transform its approach to marketing? Ms. Martindale says there has to be the will to change. And that change starts with training and development. Marketers only spend an average of 3.8% of their budgets to train their people. She recommends a higher investment, along with more prototyping and iterating. Launch and see what happens. Have a constant, conscious evolution – it’s not one and done.

Marketing can be the intelligence center of your organization. YBCA has proved it is possible. 

Kelly Callahan-Poe draws on deep client & agency experience with a digital focus to energize brands with impactful marketing communications.