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New York City Ballet’s Media Evolution
Episode 18

New York City Ballet’s Media Evolution

CI to Eye with Karen Girty

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Karen talk about the organization's rebrand, video production efforts, and how Art Series helped transform the makeup of their audience into nearly 50% Gen X and Gen Y-ers.

Erik Gensler: I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. You know, I’m a huge fan of New York City Ballet’s marketing, so thank you so much for being here.

Karen Girty: I’m not a podcast listener, and I’ve never done a podcast, so this could be aa disastrous experiment on my part, but we’ll- we’ll go for it here.

Erik Gensler: Well, until six months ago, I’d never done a podcast either I’d like to go back ten years ago, where I saw the marketing for New York City Ballet begin to look very different. I’m curious what was happening on the inside of the organization that led up to that, that change, and I would say evolution.

Karen Girty: Oddly enough, I started there ten years ago, and I’m not saying that that’s what it was, because I actually didn’t hold the position that I currently do when I started at the company in the summer of, what was that? 2007. I think the company was starting to kind of take a look inwardly at their operations. And the first big thing that I think happened probably 10 years ago was Paula Scher coming in and rebranding the company, and that kind of opened the doors for change. I should say that that company has created some really amazing marketing campaigns leading up to that point in time. I mean, I’ve been working in this industry since the mid-90’s, and I happen to be, my first job in the arts was for, a ballet company in Pittsburgh that just happened to be, directed by a former principal ballerina from New York City Ballet. So, for me, you know, all roads led to this company. It was kind of Mecca for me. And of course, as a marketer in those early days in my career, I was constantly looking at the campaigns that they did. I feel like that, that groundbreaking one that was around New York City was amazing. You’re talking about Darci Kistler in the, in the pond in Central Park, or Wendy Whelan, Philip Neal I think got, in front of the Chrysler Building. You know, it was very iconic.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: I always thought “Wow, they’re really doing groundbreaking and different things in the marketing space for the arts.” There’s been a history of amazing photographers working with a company as well. But I think when Paula came in and we looked to rebrand, it was funny, we kind of laid everything out on the table from the company, of the past I don’t know, it was like 10 or 15 years or something, and it was apparent that there wasn’t a consistency in the kind of logo mark identity, for one reason or another. I couldn’t even really weigh in on what that was, but Paula came in, very pointedly and very quickly, kind of got to the root of what the institution was via conversations mostly with Peter Martins, our Ballet Master-in-Chief, about what he felt the company stood for. And what energy it gave off. You know, we’re very New York-centric. That’s what we always say about New York City Ballet. Kind of, like, we, emulate energy that is this urban you know metropolis, and she quickly assembled a handful of marks, that she presented to the company, and, and we settled on one, which is obviously the one that we’ve been using since then. But I think the bigger thing that was, a little groundbreaking about that particular rebranding was it wasn’t just a mark in, in Paula’s eyes I don’t think. I think she really thought of it as a system of photography style that went with it. and that was of course very controversial. You know for me, it was very, dramatically cropped images of ballet dancers which is kind of a no-no and an unseen thing. For me of course, you know, I chopped the head off my first photo in probably 1996 of what is now my you know my life partner. (laughing) So that was pretty shocking then, also, so I, you know I’d always kind of worked on the edge that way. But for me looking professionally at ballet images for, you know, at that point in time it was almost two decades, it was so refreshing to see it kind of a new energy pushed into it-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: … and a new way of seeing and it really bringing you closer to kind of, I guess the body itself. And of course it was met- it was a little controversial because you know there are people who are just purists who want to see the fingertip, the point of the toe everything, and so that was a definite stretch for the company to move through that process and then to roll that new identity out. but I do think that in some ways as difficult as it might have been during that period of time, it really set up kind of an openness and a willingness to look at the way we position the company publicly in, in new ways that we probably didn’t really embrace for another two or three years.

Erik Gensler: So you rolled out with that initial campaign with the, the new typography, you had that really amazing initial photo shoot, and what do you mean in two or three years. What happened? What happened from that initial rollout? What was the next step?

Karen Girty: I think there was a little bit of a recoil moment if I can be 100% honest, with the institution, because it was so daring-

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Karen Girty: And so, we shot that first campaign that rolled out with Paula’s, Paula’s Mark: with who, someone who was very young photographer at that time, his name is. I’m sure he’s a super talent now. I have not worked with him again, since then. But he was working for the Met Opera at that point in time and there was an in-house graphic designer who had known him and brought him in to shoot that first campaign. And after that, and that was it, that was also sent on a system that Paula had created that was a duotone system. So while most people see our identity right now is strictly black and white, which is purposeful, there was actually a series of I think it was four duotones that went with that. There, they were all rooted in black though. So there was a brown black-

Karen Girty: There was a green black, there was a red black and there was a blue black.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: we’d kind of been working with this black and white photography and so it was decided that we wanted to kind of reverse course on that and just show some really vibrant, vibrant images and that’s when we started working with Henry Leutwyler. So for a number of years we were kind of shooting a little bit more traditionally again, on seamless, –

Erik Gensler: Seamless?

Karen Girty: Seamless backgrounds-

Erik Gensler: Oh, oh.

Karen Girty: … for photography, which we did with Nick as well, but I think if you, you know you hearken back to those earlier campaigns where they were out on the streets or in Central Park-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: … or you know, at The Cloisters, in any number of landmarks in the city, . I think most of this, part of this was also kind of a technology or a need because of the, the, the transition to digital, to the graphic designs. You could silhouette them, you could use them whatever what you wanted to, so that’s one of the biggest pluses I guess of shooting on a, on a white background. So we start working with Henry and we did it a number of shoots, I think this was probably around, this is a year later, in 2008-2009, and he started to kind of become part of the family and was shooting a number of campaigns for us. And so we were simultaneously moving into a strategic planning period for the company. It’s, you know, it’s not a secret that there were deficits that were starting to creep up. And I think prior to, I think it was a year before I started, it was the set, the 2006/7 season there was kind of like a ding-ding bell where subscriptions drop below 50% of revenue in the house in the attendance. So I think it was that, it was the deficits, it was kind of, you know, a company in it’s 60s, taking a look back at who it is and what the relevance is to, to the art scene and to the city itself. And we went through a strategic planning process. . there were a handful of committees that were formed for that. And it became very, obvious that and this is such a, a term that is used so much now and has been used so much in the past couple years, that we had to tell our story again. You know with every year that we passed of, you know George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins running the company-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: … we had now, at this point in time passed for, you know decades, there was the concern that the public didn’t know who they were, the general public. Obviously the dance-going public does and a Broadway public does, but I think with every year that passes you start to worry about those things. Plus we are an art form, we’re an organization whose bread and butter of the work that we create is very esoteric, kind of, heady, and it’s not your general kind of you know, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, it’s not, we’re not putting the warhorses out there on the stage.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: There’s a complexity to what we do and how we offer it. And so, I think people were also, you know, surveys and research that we had done you know, those were kinds of things that we were hearing. You know, everyone loved the company, everyone, there was artistically speaking, but there definitely was a need for kind of, explain what we do I guess a little bit. So coming out of that we thought, “Okay, well we need to tell our story a little bit more.” And we also kind of honed in on kind of what I, what I say is, look, this is a little freaky in the ballet world, are people’s attraction to the dancers. Right? and here we are, a company of 100 you know, beautiful people in peak physical condition, who are athletes and artists. And the company itself is so, interesting and in that Peter Martins always calls it, “We’re homegrown Everything we do is organic.” So we make our own dancers, we make our own ballets. And, so we were sitting on this wealth of talent in the ranks of the company of people who really, intimately knew the institution, intimately knew the works that they were, you know, that they were performing, and we thought we should be using them as, as brand ambassadors for the company. And so all of this work kind of led to the digital work that we do at City Ballet but also to the launch of the three-year brand marketing campaign where we kind of introduced all 100 of the dancers from principals down to core as, kind of the individuals they were, rather than the, the roles or the characters that they may play on stage. So stripped down, out of costume, out of tiaras, out of false eyelashes, out of diamond earrings, out of tunics and tights and we kind of put them into the public eye as the dynamic kind of youthful and vibrant artists that they are. it was really inspired by was the, the looks that are naturally put together by the dancers in a rehearsal studio. So we kind of started with that and the clothes came in with the dancers but then we also had stylists there that brought in what we thought were kind of ballet-friendly fashion pieces. And so a stylist each year, each of those three years, would put together looks for each of the dancers and so they definitely were rooted in this kind of rehearsal-

Erik Gensler: Uh-huh.

Karen Girty: … ballet aesthetic but a lot of them were-

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it was so beautiful-

Karen Girty: We went for a different, a different way of portraying the company.

Erik Gensler: I thought that was ground-breaking. I really, I mean, like, “Have you seen that before? Was that the first time anyone’s done that?” The sort of humanizing visually the individual dancers as beautiful people. (laughs)

Karen Girty: I mean you never want to say never cuz you-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: Like how could you actually know-

Erik Gensler: Right, right.

Karen Girty: … exactly what’s going out-

Erik Gensler: Right. There’s NO new ideas, right?

Karen Girty: … all the time. But I feel like in America it was new for sure. And I think, whereas people may have focused on their artists before, it was really ambitious ’cause it was three years-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: … in the company’s life to get through just did the plentiful ranks of dancers that we have. And it was very important for us to kind of have every single one of them participate.

Erik Gensler: I feel like that was almost the turning point. That, that so the mark led to then, I feel like that, plus, and which we can get to later, your videos were, were just like a turning point. So I’m interested, to back to what else came out of that strategic plan.

Karen Girty: Well, it was definitely, like I said, the need to tell the story, the, what- leveraging the artists, and also kind of taking a look at, I think one of the big, the, the next biggest things that came out of that was assessing our pricing structure and our access points for the theater. You know, I think, it’s no secret that as arts organizations we’re all struggling with audience development, you know, dwindling audience in some ways. but at the same time it’s weird because we’re all working often times, I mean obviously this is not the case across the country, in every market now, because people operate in different spaces. We operate in one space, and it is almost 2,600 seats. And let’s be honest, not every program is built for that type of an audience, and it shouldn’t be.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: It’s funny, when you look at retail, it’s like you have people forecasting trends and understanding, like, “Hey, this is the line of 15 shoes that we’re putting out this year from Nike and this one you know is going to go gang busters, so we’re going to put this into production at this level. And this shoe is a more niche shoe, or serving a certain type of, sport, and it’s not going to produce the same sales results.” They don’t produce the same amount of shoes across the board.

Erik Gensler: It’s such an interesting way to look at it.

Karen Girty: You had to kind of start to think about ways to from a programming perspective, you know, just because we have 2,600 seats to sell, 150 times a year, doesn’t mean we’re going to sell it every single time.

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Karen Girty: So that wasn’t the way that the company was looking at their budgets at that point in time either. And so part of that was going into a process, which, we used a consultant, TRG Arts, a familiar name for a lot of people who would be listening, I’m sure-

Erik Gensler: And Joe’s on my list. Yeah.

Karen Girty: We did, you know, a very heavy data-driven analysis of our, of our sales points, our, our house-fill patterns, you know, these are going to be very, familiar things that people, you know, listening are very familiar with. So we looked at, I think it was seven or 10 years of data, across the board. And we spent that next, that next year, I think I spent probably from September through May, right after coming out of strategic planning, analyzing this, and building a new pricing structure for the house. and at the time they called it a static demand-based model. Because there are, you know, so many performances that we’re dealing with and so many of them are so different every night. It’s not the same where we’re going into the house six times a year for a week or two and putting on six different productions. At that point in time we were still dealing with like every night was something different-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: … in that theater. And so it was kind of driven to kind of keep the, the, the work down and to make our house work for us as we sold more.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm

Karen Girty: So the house made more as we sold more. We had way too many price points, so we halved that from 10 to five. And then we based upon the fill patterns and the demand in certain sections of the house, we realigned where we were placing those five price points. And that was twofold, not only in an effort to fill the house more optimally and to use our inventory more intelligently, but also to provide access points. At that point in time it was very I guess de rigeur for every arts organization to say, “Tickets start at $20”. But those seats were all up in the back of the theater. We were guilty of that as well. The cheapest price point was upstairs. And when we made this change, our cheapest price point is now available in every single section of our house, as you move from our orchestra all the way up to the fourth ring. and so the company’s always been one that has been interested in keeping access to New Yorkers. And so that, that, that guided that principle for sure. So I think those were the biggest three things that came out of that strategic planning process, that we’ve kind of been building on ever since.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that’s, that’s really cool did you see. You know, you said you went in with, with, with some deficits and then when did you to see the, the numbers start to change?

Karen Girty: Pretty quickly. you know the company started firing on a lot of cylinders, a lot of new cylinders, in conjunction with each other. So it wasn’t just me down in the marketing department doing my own thing and the press department doing their own and the development department doing their own thing. We were really, you know, we had marching orders and we were all kind of moving forward together on a number of fronts. you know, I don’t know if I’m telling tales out of school or should be, but I think we were charged by the board at that time to come in to get rid of the deficit by I think it was fiscal ’15. We did it a number of years before that.

Erik Gensler: Great.

Karen Girty: And, and we’ve been running positively ever since. So I would say two years before ’15 or maybe it was three years before fiscal ’15.

Erik Gensler: And so how many years was that from coming out of the strategic plan?

Karen Girty: We came out of the strategic plan in the beginning of fiscal ’10. So we had five years to get there. I think we did it in two.

Erik Gensler: That’s amazing. I think we can’t talk about your marketing over the last 10 or years without talking about video. And I feel like you’re, I know that you were one of the first organizations to double down in your investment in video. And the quality of your video was above and beyond, I’d say the average, for, you know, for a very long time and I think you started to get a lot of attention for those videos. I’m curious, did that come out of the strategic plan? How did you originally staff for and budget to create those kind of a videos and what, what the evolution of that has looked like?

Karen Girty: I think the first time that the company stepped into this, this world was in a very, grassroots way. It was prior to my being there. I think it was during the 2006/2007 season, there was a dancer in the corps, her name is Kristin Sloan, who’d been kind of exploring these areas on her own and had run a blog and a number of different things. And she was injured unfortunately, and so she was, you know, I don’t want to put words into her mouth but I think she was trying to kind of channel her energy, into alternate interests from dance because she couldn’t, she couldn’t be dancing.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: And that was the year that Peter Martins launched his brand-new Romeo and Juliet. So that was the spring of 2007, which was a huge thing in the city. I mean there was a lot of money put behind it, there was a huge marketing campaign for it, and an agency came in and worked on the creative. And in tandem with that, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it, I don’t know if it was- I don’t know if it was parallel or truly you know or truly an organic effort together but Kristen had pitched the concept of creating some making of videos for Romeo and Juliet. and they were very low budget, but you know they were kind of the first of their kind in that sense for an arts organization. And that’s really what sparked everything and so unfortunately Kristin had to retire. she wasn’t able to come back from the injury. Peter Martins is kind of very interested in harnessing talent where he can, and he kind of offered her the position to come in and start to focus on this for the company. So for a number of years, it didn’t actually even sit in the marketing department. It was a one-person, then a two-person team that reported directly into what was the General Manager at the time. So a little, a little broken in that sense. Kristin had very quickly I think was probably within two years, uh moved on to start her own, creative agency. And in, and in kind of like again like a perfect timing kind of kismet way, there was another dancer, who was focusing on this kind of, same kind of activity, in that video-producing space. This happened to be Ellen Bar. And actually one of her very good friends, who’s also in the company, Sean Suozzi, they had just kind of taken on this big labor of love of a contemporary re-telling of Jerome Robbins with Jazz.

Erik Gensler: That’s such a good video.

Karen Girty: Full-length movie (laughs).

Erik Gensler: I’m sorry.

Karen Girty: Really. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: I have a DVD. Not a video.

Karen Girty: And so, they, produced this piece …

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It’s amazing.

Karen Girty: … by themselves, in conjunction with the Robbins, Foundation and a lot of other supporters. And unfortunately, it’s the same with Ellen, was that she was struggling with a chronic injury that was, it became very apparent that it was going to end her career. So Peter brought her in, as the number two and I would say that you know, it was probably if I’m remembering this correctly, right around the same time that we were coming out of the strategic plan. And so the institution had determined that even though there was a lot of belt-tightening that was going on and budgets were being trimmed and we were making sure that we were doing everything as efficiently as we could, from an expense standpoint, that we were going to invest in content creation on the video side. And so, just after that I think then Ellen came aboard and we started focusing on it a little bit more and we kind of just grew content year after year after year. Started with repertory trailers and you know it since has grown to kind of concept trailers to screen tests to television commercials, you name it, it’s a, it’s a, priority of ours to capture the content that we can use, and we’ve created a, a very, very healthy library that now serves social, serves our website, you know, serves any manner of ways in which the company markets itself now.

Erik Gensler: How has that department evolved in terms of staffing how to get into the weeds a little bit, how are you, what does that year look like in terms of capturing all of this video, who are the players on the inside, who do you bring in externally?

Karen Girty: At this point in time, when Ellen started, it still was not in the marketing department. And I think at some point in time, I actually don’t even know when I can’t even remember when the role that I currently have was given to me. It was somewhere, it was before Ellen had, had- had joined the team. And, within a year or so after that, our executive director decided to, to wisely roll that effort into the marketing departments. So the marketing department became the marketing and media department. It’s still very lean and mean in the sense that the people that we keep on staff, as full time has grown exponentially. You know, we started with one, we grew to two and we’re still at two. We’re actually changing right now, to kind of a three-person team. And there’s a straddle between our media production efforts and our general creative services design area, on the production side for that, but, so now I guess it’s going to be a three-person team. And Ellen has sadly since left the company. She’s moved abroad or is about to move abroad with her husband, on a unique opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. So we, we’re about to be a three-person team in that area. But I think the key and you know I really credit Ellen for this is, kind of the harnessing of the indie film scene in New York City. And the amazing amount of talent that’s out there on this front, right now. And so we really do bring in the, bring in the directors, and the DPs, and all of those types of people on a case-by-case basis as we move through the season, based upon the projects that we’re working on.

Erik Gensler: So her role is more of producer?

Karen Girty: Yeah, I would say primarily.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: But there are moments when both of those what were currently internal producer stepped into director positions and did certain content. There’s obviously a strategy piece of that-

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Karen Girty: … that, that works very closely. We sit down every year and kind of determine how do we want to grow, what content do we think might, might be getting tired. You know, do we want to introduce something new? and the, the beautiful thing about it is because we are capturing so much, we’ve been able to be really nimble with creating new content. You know, we’ve just rolled out something called Anatomy of a Dance, total rebuff in the New York Times, but you know, like you said, no new ideas, but you make them your own. and it’s really about leveraging footage that we already that we already have “in the can” and just bringing the dancers to do VO and they literally talk about those moments on stage that we’re watching. And so that was a very kind of like low-barrier-to entry-piece of content that added, that we added to our arsenal recently and people love it. So it’s just now, you know, it’s the, it’s the initial investment, when things were kind of getting cut otherwise. We, we never touch those lines. In, in fact, they grew substantially over the past five to seven years and it’s kind of entrepreneurially thinking about how we can leverage those assets that we are capturing to, to constantly put new things out.

Erik Gensler: This could be a controversial question and you don’t have to answer. Do you spend more money creating video or buying print ads?

Karen Girty: Oh, well, it’s getting kind of close.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Karen Girty: It’s getting kind of close. but I think we’re, we’re probably still spending more money on print ads.

Erik Gensler: But it’s about to cross.

Karen Girty: Well, I like to look at it more as we’re spending on digital rather than what we’re spending on print.

Erik Gensler: Fair.

Karen Girty: Those numbers are definitely kind of converging as well. We’ve also taken a look at print in a very different way in the marketing mix too, and we do a lot of, kind of, I don’t know, someone could maybe potentially say, “What a waste. I can’t believe you’re doing it.” But I’ve never had the luxury of running kind of institutional brand I, ads, and I think it’s a very important thing for the company at this moment in time, and so we do run high-level brand ads. we started with, you know, for very inexpensively though, so I don’t want people to think that we’re spending all this money doing this, because we aren’t. you know, we started with full pages in Vanity Fair and Vogue, Wall Street Journal Magazine, Times Magazine, and they’re subscription basis only, not their full distribution, so that’s how economy there rolled out. But we’ve been doing that for a number of years and it’s interesting, ’cause you get people noticing it. You’d be, “Oh, my God, I saw this … ” so I think it’s just that layer upon layer of the mix of building the brand and the important thing for the company right now to remain culturally relevant and hot. For lack of a better term.

Erik Gensler: Uh-huh.

Karen Girty: But we recently increased those this year to spreads in Vogue and Vanity Fair and W, as well. We do that in September, and then we do, we tend to hit those when we come into performance periods. So we’re, we’re experimenting with print in certain ways as well, and I don’t think it’s necessarily taking away from any of the other efforts that we’re doing, because we’re constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul to move, to grow on the digital front.

Erik Gensler: It’s strategic branding and positioning and I think, you said, and touched on it earlier, that a lot of ballet companies are very, you know, chestnut based or have certain rep that, there’s a lot of storybook ballets and you have a very different program in calendering, so there is no way you can individually promote each ballet. It just doesn’t work. And so I think you’ve been really creative and thoughtful about how you’ve packaged them and I think that ties into this idea of branding, so I’m curious to hear you talk more about how you think about that and how you approach a season and, and how you got to the point of just owning the fact that we’re not going to promote this individual ballet but we’re going to do this instead.

Karen Girty: Yeah, it’s kind of the stuff of nightmares, actually-

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Karen Girty: … when you really, really think about it, you know, because you’re kind of forced to assess value of certain things, but at the end of the day, that’s the way we budget as well. you know, so it’s a very layered approach, in the sense that, you know, the, the senior team in the department will get together and we’ll, you know, even though we’re not a story ballet company, they are the door-openers for audience development for us, like they are for anyone else. And so, they definitely race to the top as far as what we call mini-campaigns. They sit separate and apart from our institutional brand marketing during the year, because that’s, ideally what we do, you know, we ha-, because we have so much product and such different product, there has to be that layer of institutional brand identity that’s out there. It c-, it can become a curse sometimes too, because you have to be careful you’re steering people into the right thing. So we let different channels do those kinds of things. So we think about, all right, so what is, you know, what are those big marquis product, products that we have during the year to elevate up and spend money against? What are, you know, again, as I said before, we create, all of our ballets in house and so we’re probably putting more new works on the stage than any company in the world, so those tend to get elevated as well. So we think about the new works and then we might think about, like, just pure audience favorites.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: That we know, you know, bring in the people.

Erik Gensler: So you put money behind them.

Karen Girty: Mm-hmm or we’re making sure that we’re making mention of them-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: … in, you know, as, as you layer down the marketing mix and you get to like, say, your, your banner ads, you know, we kind of think about the things those, those hits, like all of those things I just talked about. We think about how we make sure we’re at least mentioning them and there’s, there’s- everything might not get an equal hit across all of the spends in, in the different areas, but, but it’s very kind of broken down in steps and stages. And then of course our, our website, our digital properties, and our social feeds are really the ones that we rely on to support everything.

Erik Gensler: So when you’re thinking about, say, your videos, for example, are you thinking about them as audience development or really is the, the mindset, “We’re going to use these to, to put butts in seats.” And you know, is the, is the educational team or the, the programming team, I’m curious to know their, involvement, if any, in, in how you think about video.

Karen Girty: Yeah. I mean, how we use them, I would say all of the above.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: But it’s definitely an initiative that sits squarely in the marketing and media department. we create separate videos for educational initiatives and those types of things.

Erik Gensler: That family series, the new cartoon one, I love. I love the old one too, but-

Karen Girty: It’s really great.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, yeah.

Karen Girty: You know, we really kind of, when we, when we’re looking at digital properties, you know, we’ve, we’ve amassed this, again, library, not only of raw footage, but just of content that we re-purpose, evergreen, every, every single year, that a ballet comes back, so we have our library of rep trailers, we have our library of Anatomy of a Dance, we have, we, we mine that footage for what, what we use as video clips. we shoot, but then when we kind of look at the season, so we literally, again, it’s always so complicated. We look at, like, this stretch of, you know, October through May and we literally mark, “Okay, we have content for this ballet, we have content for this ballet, we have content for this ballet. We’re going to do concept pieces for these works this year. Where are the holes?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: And then we fill ourselves in, so the idea is to have at least every single type of program that is on the bill for any given year, to have a piece of digital content that can support it. And ideally, we try and have every single ballet have some sort of digital content. So when we’re think-, when we’re looking at those types of, of pieces that we make, that’s kind of how we figure out those things are.

Erik Gensler: You presented at Boot Camp, I think it was three years ago, about your, your video and one thing I remember from that presentation was you stepping away from the need for each video to be a literal representation of what’s going to be on the stage. And I think a lot of marketers still struggle with that, where the idea of evoking a feeling or evoking, using the music or, you know, I think, I might be saying this wrong, but you were doing a Sufjan Stevens’ Ballet and you didn’t know what the music was going to be yet and so you had dancers go to the beach and you picked a different Sufjan Stevens song.

Karen Girty: It’s born out of pure necessity.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Karen Girty: The energy of the company is very much like this bustling city. We’re a freight train and the, the planning timelines are incredibly short and so we don’t have the luxury of being able to have a year’s worth of build-out for costumes, for music, for a-, for any of those things that traditionally an arts organization can cull to create a marketing campaign around. So, you know, the necessity for us to kind of try and figure out how to elevate those very important ballets of ours that have yet to hit the stage, and we have absolutely no (laughing), and we have absolutely no assets to work with, that’s where that’s kind of come from.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And you accept it.

Karen Girty: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Rather than fight it.

Karen Girty: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Which I think is very liberating. It allows you (laughs), you know, it allows you to, to, to do a lot more. What is marketing’s role in programming? How do you collaborate with, with that team?

Karen Girty: That’s another new thing that has kind of come out of the, the, the strategic plan as well. you know, coming out of that entire process, the first executive director was hired in the company’s history. So before, our artistic director, our ballet-master-in-chief actually oversaw all artistic and administrative duties.

Erik Gensler: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Karen Girty: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: That’s fascinating.

Karen Girty: Yeah, pretty, pretty intense.

Erik Gensler: And in, I’d been talking about that for a long time. I think that’s so important, because it’s such a massive, massive responsibility and it’s sort of an old-school-

Karen Girty: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: … concept that you have this general director that comes in and can manage all the administration and all the artistic product. It’s like almost superhuman. Anyway.

Karen Girty: Well, that, coming out of that process was when it was determined that it was time for, to, to like relieve Peter of that massive responsibility, so he could really focus on, on the important, which is, you know, the artistic and that’s when, Katherine Brown was hired, which was in December of, I guess, 2009, very end of the year there. and they really truly did work as a team, so coming out of the strategic planning process and Katherine Brown coming on board, she kind of created what has been one of the most amazing positions in the organization and a luxury that many don’t have and this is someone that literally is just focusing on numbers.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: And there’s business development to that side of things too, but this is someone who is, this is a position that was focusing strictly on the finances, you know, the sales numbers, those kinds of historical trajectories, and models were built for us to try and figure out how to optimally put our programs together. Now obviously at the end of the day, it’s an artistic endeavor and Peter Martins controls that 100%, but the models that have been built try, obviously use years and years of data and sales information to try and best as possible, which is never 100% certain, ’cause there’s a million other variables that get laid over it, to determine how a program is going to do at the box office. And so when we’re looking across a year, that’s really been happening for the last three or four years, and so, with the advent of that, marketing has become much more involved in kind of the feedback process, and to Peter Martins’ credit, he very openly, like many other things and many other activities in that building in the last 10 years, welcomed change and progress and new ways of looking at things and new ways of doing things and so, we kind of take that model and we layer over it and it, and it kind of highlights where we think we might have some trouble, you know. And then of course, just because we think a per- a program is going to underperform, you have to take a look at the artistic merits of that program too.

Erik Gensler: Sure. Sure.

Karen Girty: And, and that’s when we changed our budgeting process as well. We adjusted for those things. But there, I would say there are tipping points, where we might come out of a kind of that modeling session and be like, “God, we might have 10 trouble points here and how do we get five of them down?” And, or “How do we bolster some other activities, you know?” And so, Peter’s very open to making those adjustments. I think we’re very respectful in what we ask in that front, too.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: Oftentimes I will have a list of things that I might go in to, to comment on and there’s always one or two where I like preface with, like, “If you want to punch me in the face (laughing), please feel free to punch me in the face, because I fully expect it at some point in time.” Of course, he would never do that, but, it’s you know, obviously, just a turn of phrase there, but, he’s really open to kind of taking a look at those numbers and making adjustments, to a certain extent, without, without ever compromising the artistic product.

Erik Gensler: So, example would be, like, “Okay, here’s the proposed permanent calendar. If we added three more Nutcrackers and re-jiggered this program around and did one less night of this and one more night of this, we think we can meet the budget. So is that what you mean? Like, using historical data of like, modeling the season and seeing where the problems are-

Karen Girty: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: … and then, with the understanding of, you obviously need to, want to present these programs. I think it goes back to your original point. There may not be an audience every night for this particular program of 2400 or 2600 people. Is that what it looks like?

Karen Girty: Kind of. You know, that model shows, and a lot of it, as we’ve been working with it year after year after year after year, certain trends come out. You know, it’s kind of like, you know we now are not longer a pure mixed repertory company where every single night is literally different. We’ve looked at things like where the sweet spot is for the number of ballets that we should put on a stage, because that’s an economy as well.

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Karen Girty: Do you do 80 and spend this much or do you stick to 65 and not damage the product, you know, because think that’s really the foundation of what New York City Ballet is. We look at, okay, what’s the sweet spot for how many times a program should go? Is it three? Is it four? Is it five? Is it six? you know, you have tiers of ballets that you puts A’s, B’s and C’s together that will yield a certain b- box office revenue. Nutcracker stays completely out to the side, because we can do nothing with that. It is what it is. We are maxed. We do 47 public performances every year plus two school performances every year. So we can’t sit here and say, “Let’s add a, you’ll beat the Nutcracker.”

Erik Gensler: Okay.

Karen Girty: so it all has to live in the, in the repertory realm.

Erik Gensler: Got it.

Karen Girty: So there are a lot of ways that we look at that, but there’s also phenomenon that you n- might necessarily not be able to see from a model, because that’s obviously always based on kind of number of times a ballet has gone, the, the box office that has hit with that, what other ballets are put with it during a certain year that may drag it down or lift it up, a lot of things in there, but we also have to worry about, like, okay, well, you know, what does a Friday in January do versus a Friday in October versus a Friday in May? You could layer all of those things over, for any, any given day of the week and any given time of the year. And that becomes a factor in how it affects the way I have to budget that performance out. you know, obviously you have to consider the strength of your subscription series that come in there and whether those can pull things up or not. But there’s just so many different factors that come into play and we, and with every single year that we kind of take a look at all of this data that comes to us and see new trends, we’re able to kind of put another nugget in front of Peter that says, “Okay, when you’re programming, somewhere in your mind keep, keep these six things-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: … in the forefront.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And I don’t think that compromises the artistic quality at all.

Karen Girty: No, I think we found that it hasn’t. And of course there were people, you know, when we wanted to abandon the rep program, there are, you know, data has driven these decisions.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Karen Girty: Because when you think about like, you know, the beloved New York City rep where you can come in any given night and watch a, a different program every single evening or if you have a, a ballet that you absolutely love, you can come on three different nights and see twelve different ballets with that one ballet on those three different distinct nights. You know, there was a little bemoaning of that, but, the, because people loved to come and see these things four times, but they don’t want to see the same program four times. The data didn’t support it.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: And so we were able to actually take that and inform those decisions and actually say, “Well, in reality, that’s not the way that our customer is consuming us anymore.” And so, you know, you try something and, you know, you’re allowed to fail, figure out what that is, but we’ve, we’ve made smart decisions based solely rooted in data and, and it seems to be okay so far. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: And you have a full-time data analyst who is running these models.

Karen Girty: Correct.

Erik Gensler: And that was a new position that Kathy created when-

Karen Girty: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: … when she started.

Karen Girty: A person works very closely on any number of projects with all departments, but definitely as a, as a partner of mine and I actually take that modeling informs the beginning when Peter’s putting a season together and then, you know, I’ve been there for 10 years now, so I know behavioral patterns for certain things outside of the data that I will then budget a season and then I’ll take that model and bring it in back at the end again and kind of sanity check with the things that I have kind of felt.

Erik Gensler: Does it usually hold up?

Karen Girty: Yes, it helps me double-check things where maybe something will stand up that I didn’t notice for myself. So it’s like two routes that kind of converge into, you know, in three different parts that converge into one to actually come to the annual box office revenue budgets.

Erik Gensler: It really echoes a lot of the things that a lot of the very smart people who have, you know, sat in that chair have said from Jill Robinson talking about pricing and data to Paula Scher talking about brand to people talking about the importance of video and you’ve set up a structure that is very modern and is very, you know, I’d say it’s a very drug from that strategic plan. A new version of, of an arts organization and, and focused on some of the challenges of a legacy organization, meaning a theater that, you know, I think before Netflix, before the internet, before all the different distractions we have, it was easier to fill a 2600 seat theater every single night. People would pay to sit in the fourth ring, because, not like they could watch something on Netflix that night. So-

Karen Girty: Well, that’s a whole new layer. I mean, let’s just talk about the dwindling audiences over the last, you know, three decades. Then you layer all this other stuff on that’s been in the, been only in the last, in the most recent decade, like it’s just, you know, could have been a recipe for disaster.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Tell me about the culture in the organization. We, we, we’ve touched on and it sounds like Peter has a growth mindset, where he’s open the change, you learn from things that don’t work well, you learn from things that work well and adjust and I think those are the healthiest kinds of organizations. I know your team has a number of former dancers working on the admin side that, that you’ve mentioned. What’s the culture like there?

Karen Girty: Well, I think you have to kind of look back at the institution to begin with, because that kind of drives the spirit at this point in time. it was always maverick and always ground-breaking, and so that is, at, at kind of like the base line that is a tenor that lives in that building. I think, you know, you bring someone like Katherine Brown in, who has a very entrepreneurial mindset and values those around her having that same kind of mindset, and I think that sparks change and interesting initiatives that wouldn’t normally be there. And then you couple that with someone like Peter Martins, who has been running the institution since the early ’80s, still being open and engaged and willing to continue with that kind of maverick spirit and you’ve kind of got this, this kind of, you know, recipe for change and for forward movement.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Karen Girty: I think those are, those are the biggest things that I have felt, in my time there, and certain since 2009, 2010, you know I always and I’ve said this to you before, I think, I don’t take for granted that some of the work that I’ve done and the initiatives that I value and the structure that I’ve built there, I wouldn’t have been able to do in probably any other organization in, in the country. You know, with the support and, you know, to some extent the budgets to do it. You know, we are not rich on that side, by any stretch of the imagination. We do a lot with a little.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: Because obviously, we’re biggest compared to many in the country, but, I think that’s part of one of the most wonderful things of my tenure there is understanding that I stumbled upon this perfect storm of opportunity and at an institution that was willing to take all that on, in many different ways, and have it be successful on that front.

Erik Gensler: I think a, a framework to look at that through and a program that I think is super-cool and fun to talk about is your Art Series. could you talk about the, the Art Series, how that came to be, what it is and what it’s done for the institution?

Karen Girty: You know, it’s interesting, again, we talk about that strategic plan coming out of that and, and everything is timing. there was a creative agency, DDB, that came to us and was like, “Hey, listen, we want to do some pro bono work for the cultural and we want to do it with you. Would you be open to that?” And so it opened a series of conversations. there were many, many ideas tossed around, you know, including the creation of, of black wellie boots, with pointe shoes on the sides of them that we would that we would then create branded content, where people would run around the city in the run with them om and then you could buy them at the theater.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Karen Girty: and I’m like, “That’s really great, but I, you know, I think we need to, to do some other work first” and so coming out of that access mindset, that re- that strategy mind that, that, that re-pricing strategy mindset. And then also, the need to audience develop. that’s where Art Series was, was born. The company has, within its DNA, the collaborative efforts of many, many, creative genres. You’re talking about choreographers, you’re talking about composers, and you’re talking about visual artists, that have come through those doors in any, in any way, shape or form, over the course of its history. You know, Balanchine’s you know, very, very tight collaboration with Stravinsky, Peter’s love of contemporary art, where in the ’80s, during an American Music Festival, he brought, like, any big name that you could think of that was in the arts scene in New York City at that point in time, they created or donated a work that represented, I think it was new 10 ballets during that period of time. It was ’82, I think, or ’83, the first American Music Festival he had? and so there were certain kinds of things. You know, he invited to come in and work in the building, and so we were just having brainstorming meetings with them. And they started pulling nuggets out of all of these things that I was kind of putting in front of them and shaping towards one direction of “Let’s, let’s, let’s audience develop, let’s create, you know, let’s, let’s illuminate the fact that we just created this, what, what at the time was, I think a $25 ticket, that was placed on our orchestra floor. All these things kind of came together and formed what was Art Series, and the basis of that is collaborating with a kind of up and coming New York based artist in the city, to create a site-specific installation in our theater. We kind of married that with the access price of our lowest ticket and we opened up a handful of performances every year at that price, from Row A to that last row, up in, up in the fourth ring of the theater. and it was a way to kind of build on itself, because we were, again, kind of trumpeting that we have this price point. You can come here and experience these things. It just doesn’t have to be on this night. You can come back again. So, there was strategy based around all of it, but we launched it, we’re now going into our sixth year. So we’ve had five years, and I give a lot of credit to the kind of the brainpower of DBB harnessing the information that they were being given by us internally, but I also really, give a lot of credit to the first artist that came in to work with us, which was a Brooklyn collective, called Fail. And they really came in and embraced the concept and took it to, like, a level that we never thought it could be. And so this, this is a site-specific installation in a space that houses a permanent art collection-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: That was curated by MOMA when the building opened in the mid-’60s-

Erik Gensler: I didn’t know that.

Karen Girty: … yeah, and so, again, this is something that is within us. We didn’t make this up, this isn’t something that we slapped on top of the things that we do, it’s, you know, it’s in the history of the company. And so, this artist comes in and works for us for, creates this site-specific installation that the commission has given to them, it sits for six weeks in our theater during our winter performance period, and during that time, we have three performances where we, we open up the house, like I said, at our cheapest price point for every single seat. So we don’t put that seat, they don’t, we don’t put those houses on, on sale in the summer when the rest of our box office opens.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: Then we narrow cast market to a very specific audience and we cross-pollinate the artists’ audience with our audience and it’s really become this very big community-building thing, and very much kind of a cultural event, I think, in the winter in New York City now. you know, it stretches us, it stretches them and for me, you know, everyone’s always chasing after that illusive younger audience, you know, member and I just couldn’t bear to have my staff sit and brainstorm about how to bring 30 into this performance and 20 into this one and 40 into this one. I was, like, “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it big.”

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: “And we need to get, you know, over the course of the six-week period, 7,500 of the right demographic with the right audience.” And I think somewhere in the back of my mind, because dance is a performance, is a performing art, it’s also a visual art. So we saw the connection there and like people who consume visual art here in New York City, stumbling upon us somehow, in a way, and then discovering a brand-new art form, kind of is the same. and so we’ve been doing it for five years. We get, the retention rates on the people that come in, that, what we call new file for an Art Series performance, are heads and shoulders above the regular retention rates of people returning from people who just find their way to us via our regular marketing or from whatever way they found themselves to us and if they attended a performance for the first time. I mean, we sit around, like a 1 to 2% average on retention rates for that type of audience member. We’ve seen as high as 12%-

Erik Gensler: What?

Karen Girty: … in the Art Series in the last five years. And it just depends. Again, there’s a lot of variables that go into the success of those, that retention work too. Recency, frequency, you know, relevancy, all those types of things. and so, but it’s just kind of, it’s been really rewarding to kind of build a program from the ground up, provide these wonderful opportunities for these artists in the city to take over what is probably one of the greatest public spaces in New York City with large-scale installations that they may not have the opportunity to do otherwise. and then to cross- just to watch the kind of cross-pollination and the community-gathering of, of both types of audiences come together.

Erik Gensler: I remember building the audience for thinking about a Facebook campaign the first year with you and, I think we were targeting down to the zip code and band that somebody liked (laughs) to try to find that, that demographic and I mean, not that, you know, obviously, there are so many factors that come into that, but I know that you’re doing outdoor environmental advertising down in the neighborhood and partnerships with bloggers and-

Karen Girty: … and we do everything that we can to hide it from everyone that comes to our

Erik Gensler: Right. (laughing)

Karen Girty: … any the other day, because we, we don’t need them to come there on these nights.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Karen Girty: It’s created some really wonderful evenings, and like I said, there’s kind of like this really great energy around it and also, you know, it’s, we talked about how to activate our space in general at Lincoln Center, you know, on any given evening and now, while we only have these three particular Art Series evenings in the winter, the entire energy of the theater for six weeks in changed-

Erik Gensler: Totally.

Karen Girty: … with these art installations that come in.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Karen Girty: And so, not only, so it’s also serving to kind of, you know, again, activate the space for the audiences that have come through there during that period of time otherwise.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Also the, the party, the alcohol and the take-home. Can you talk about that?

Karen Girty: Sure. Part of the, we, you know, it’s kind of a “Come all ye” at the end of the night. You know, we invite everyone in, we elevate our curtain talks, we, we program specifically for those nights. Our curtain talks are geared towards the audience, and then we kind of invite everyone to stay after for, you know, for a beer and some music and, you know, sometimes the parties rage on till kind of late. We’ve had very interesting people come in and DJ for us, just by, via the personal relationships with the artists that have worked with us. We’ve two members of LCD Sound System, DJ, we’ve had, the drummer from the Strokes DJ, we’ve had someone from MGMT in and, and we had Will Butler from Arcade Fire actually perform at one of the after-parties one of the nights. (laughs) So you kind of never know what’s going to happen there. And then we’ve had some really great other DJs that, that, that are, you know, that, that come into the space too. Just, so there’s some energy, there’s just a welcoming energy. And then part of this is that you are able to come together but then leave uniquely with something that everyone that was there had, so it’s called our takeaway and the artist creates a small takeaway that is reminiscent of the installation that was in the space. So we’ve had scarves, we’ve had hand-painted wooden blocks, we’ve had, books with posters that pull out, you know, any number of things and the artist controls all those things. They really kind of come in and own the whole situation.

Erik Gensler: I bet those blocks are collectors’ items now.

Karen Girty: They were very, very quickly on e-bay after (laughing), afterwards.

Erik Gensler: All of this work around audience development has, we’re going to have to talk development for audience development and marketing and analysis has impacted the make-up of your audience, if you’re sharing data around that.

Karen Girty: Yeah, it was interesting. ‘Cause when we did, when we working with TRG, and our, our, our re-pricing and our re-scale, we also did a patron analysis and, so we had kind of a baseline, which hadn’t been done for a while, I think, in the institution and so, you know, you fast forward five years and you kind of want to see what all these things have done and so, we did embark on that same type of research and kind of compared exactly what we did then and how we approached that data gathering, you know, like I said, plus five years beyond and we did notice changes in our audience. You know, we were, you know, dance skews younger I think in general, relatively speaking. So we had the traditional bell curve that most organizations I assuming see, that kind of peaked at the 55 to 65 range. Five years on, when we took a look at the numbers again, we now have an M curve, that make up our audience, and so we’re looking at our first peak in the M curve being the 30 to 35 year range-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Karen Girty: … and an equal peak hitting in that same 55 to 65 year range.

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Karen Girty: So, you know, that’s a big change, . I think now, what we’re trying to figure out is, “Okay, what’s the dip in the, in the 40s, because, you know, where we saw that steady progression up, we’re now seeing that come down in the middle again. So, we’re trying to get a handle on that, but I think the biggest takeaways from it that, you know, you can assign numbers to it is that our audience is now almost 50% comprised of Gen X and Gen Y.

Erik Gensler: Wow!

Karen Girty:
Gen X and that Gen Y segment group by 17 points, but when you take a look between these two, the biggest growth was in Gen Y and we went from 5% of audience share in Gen Y to 17% of audience share in Gen Y.

Erik Gensler: I mean, between all those programs and the brand and the video and the Art Series, that, I mean, it makes sense. You made it a company that younger people want to go to and it’s a really powerful case study of what marketing and strategy and, and identity can, can do for a, for a very traditional art form. I’d like to talk just briefly about, you as, as, as we wrap up here. I’m curious where do, where do you look for inspiration as a leader?

Karen Girty: With the exception of a short stint at a commercial ad agency that’s still focused on live entertainment, I’ve always worked in the not-for-profits and oftentimes, I feel like that could be a very sheltered and insular kind of, it can breed a very sheltered and insular viewpoint. And so for me, I make sure that I am, always looking outside, mostly at media companies and understanding the trends, on that front, and I try and I’m- kind of imbibe a little bit of that energy in the department that I build. I don’t think that you have to come in working in this department loving ballet. You know, it’s not a prerequisite. I don’t and I will, I will champion people who know nothing about it, as long as I think they bring a skill or talent or viewpoint that can be valuable to the institution. And so, I’m constantly looking outward rather than inward and of course I follow what’s going on in other, you know, arts organizations and trends and marketing that they’re doing too, but I really try and take my cues from, from the outside world.

Erik Gensler: What do you think you’re really good at and what’s one thing you’re working on improving?

Karen Girty: There are times when I really hate how many people I have to manage and the growth that has occurred in that area, for me in the last, you know seven years, and so, I’m, I’m the kind of person that also stays very much in touch with the day-to-day work. I struggle sometimes to, to balance that dichotomy of now having an almost 20 person department, with one, two, three, four, five, six, seven different teams and making sure that there are people at the head of those teams that are very capable and that, that I bring in, because I want them to do good work and I want them to further the institution, and the pull, the tug and pull of everything else that goes on in the institution that I have to keep myself involved in, from the artistic side, from an administrative side, you know, and all of the changes that have come down the pipe, with New York City Ballet in the last, in, in, in my time there. I struggle a lot these days with time management and being able to make myself available at the right amount to the people that are working underneath me, being able to make sure that I’m involving myself in a way … I don’t like to sit in a room and have someone ever ask me about an activity in my department and I can’t intimately respond about it. And I know that happens- in many, many places, and so that is something, you know, it’s hard, it’s hard to manage those things.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Gary Vaynerchuk said, “A good leader has to be in the weeds and in the clouds.”

Karen Girty: Yes.

Erik Gensler: So you have to big picture, be innovating and thinking, but you have to be able to get dirt under your fingernails.

Karen Girty: Yeah. And how to manage that so that you also are also letting the people you’ve hired underneath you to do what they need to do.

Erik Gensler: Right. It’s not easy. I know. Well, what is something you think you’re really good at?

Karen Girty: I’ve always walked the line of kind of, the left and the right, as far as brain is concerned. So, I’m an incredibly creative person, I’ve spent a lot of my time, in this business art-directing, concepting, campaigns, but I also pride myself on the, the abilities I have on, on the financial side, in budgeting, and I think it’s hard to have both of those things. Yeah. So I think I do that well.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Okay.

Karen Girty: Actually there’s plenty of people who might tell you otherwise. (laughing) But-

Erik Gensler: I think you do that well too. So, we’ve come to the final question. This is your CI to Eye moment and the question is, if you can broadcast the executive directors, leadership teams and boards of 1,000 arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Karen Girty: I mean, look, I think everyone has to find their own path and their own unique way within their organization, in, within their, within their job in that organization, and also within that market in whatever part of the country or the world you’re in. I think that for me, it’s really about, and this is going to sound really corny, but it’s a, you know, it’s so easy in this in- in this, in this industry with challenged resources to come from a culture of no and that can start at the lowest level and go all the way up to the top of the le- of an institution and I think the most important thing is to start with a yes, and work to why it can’t be, rather than start with a no and, and, and kill something immediately. I think that’s why City Ballet has been, as successful it has been in recent years. And I think the other thing too is something that I take away from my work there every day, don’t try and be something that you’re institution isn’t, because you’ll smell it a mile away, and so you have to be authentic and true to what, you know, your institution stands for and what your, what your charge is from a mission perspective. I think those are two things that, you know, at the very highest levels, people should keep in sight.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Well, I am a huge fan. I think you’re one of the, the best marketing folks out there and I’ll make you blush when I say that, but I mean, the proof is in the pudding, and I thank you so much for coming here and talking to me.

Karen Girty: Thank you.

About Our Guests
Karen Girty
Karen Girty
Senior Director of Marketing & Media, New York City Ballet

Karen Girty is the Senior Director of Marketing and Media at New York City Ballet. Under her leadership, the organization has become a media powerhouse, producing some of the most stunning video content in our field. She also helped launch Art Series, New York City Ballet’s groundbreaking audience development program.

Read more

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