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Your Cultural Compass
Episode 129

Your Cultural Compass

What 7,000 Digital Campaigns Reveal About The State Of Arts Marketing

This episode is hosted by Dan Titmuss.

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In This Episode

Audience behavior has changed significantly over the past few years, and pre-pandemic benchmarks are all but obsolete. If we want to adjust to the demands of today’s market, we need updated markers for success.

Enter: CI’s brand-new Cultural Compass study. We pulled from our own bank of campaign data that spans over 150 client organizations to uncover the latest digital marketing benchmarks and emerging trends for our industry. In this episode, lead researcher and Senior Consultant Ali Blount discusses the biggest surprises in her analysis of more than 7,000 digital campaigns, and previews key findings to inform your FY25 media planning.

Digital Download

Dan sits down with Senior Consultant Ali Blount, lead researcher for CI’s new Cultural Compass study. They dig into the findings to see what organizations of different sizes and genres can learn from each other, and identify the biggest opportunities for enhancing digital strategies in FY25.

Karen McConarty: When you daydream about a vacation, where does your mind go? A sandy beach? A bustling city? No matter what you choose, it probably involves a dream location away from your desk. That’s because the right environments transform our experiences. It’s not just what you do, but where you do it. And Boot Camp 2024 has the “where” on lock. Gather with arts professionals from across the country at one of the dreamiest arts destinations around: Broadway. We’re talking lights, showbiz, spectacle, and two days of unmatched learning alongside arts lovers just like you. Recharge your creativity with industry-leading sessions, then take in a post-conference show or stroll down Museum Mile. Join us at the Times Center in New York City, October 24th and 25th, and escape to a world of artistic inspiration. Treat yourself to a ticket at

Dan Titmuss: Hello there, arts aficionados! Welcome back to CI to Eye. Now, one of the questions we hear most often from arts marketers is: how do my campaign results compare to those of my peers? We all want to know how everyone else is doing, and it’s an excellent question, especially since pre-pandemic benchmarks are all but obsolete right now. Audience behavior has changed so much over the past few years, and if we want to adjust to the demands of today’s market, we need updated markers for success. And if you’ve been listening to the podcast, you know by now that we are relentless, proud data nerds. A lack of measurement just doesn’t sit right with us. So the CI team put together a study based on our own bank of campaign data for over 150 client organizations to uncover brand new digital marketing benchmarks and emerging trends for our industry. It’s called Cultural Compass. And in today’s episode, we’ll preview some of the most impactful findings before it’s officially released to the public. That’s right, spoilers ahead. I’ll sit down with Senior Consultant Ali Blount to discuss the study’s parameters, the biggest surprises in her data analysis, and a few key findings to help inform your FY25 media planning. Shall we dive in?

I’m here with Senior Consultant Ali Blount, one of my favorite people to have on the podcast and lead researcher for CI’s brand new Cultural Compass study. Ali, say hello to your many, many fans.

Ali Blount: All three of them.

Dan Titmuss: All three of them.

Ali Blount: All three of them, my children and my husband. Hello. I’m very excited to be here.

Dan Titmuss: So CI used to release an arts industry benchmark study, and this looked at the state of digital marketing practices in the arts. So how is Cultural Compass different?

Ali Blount: So in some ways it’s a 2.0 version, and in some ways it’s a completely new study. It’s adjacent to those other studies that we ran, but also a completely new set of questions and things that we’re looking at. We actually looked at the data that we have at our fingertips. So all of the campaigns that we run for our clients throughout the years, we analyzed that data to come up with lots of different conclusions to kind of see what’s happening in the world today… in the digital marketing world.

Dan Titmuss: And there’s been definitely a lot of changes in the industry over the last few years. I’m sure people on the podcast are sick of us saying, “Well, the industry has changed so much over the last few years! Unprecedented changes!” But it does feel like now would be a good time to look at how we approach digital marketing, right?

Ali Blount: Yes. And that’s the reason that we really chose right now to be the time that we’re like, okay, we’re doing this, we’re studying this data. We are emerging from the pandemic—whatever phase of the pandemic we’re in, who knows. But whatever phase we’re in, we’re at a point where audiences really have settled. The audience behavior changed throughout, and now we’re at a point where it’s like we’re in that new routine. We have things like AI and machine learning on the rise. We have new platforms like TikTok and Spotify that a couple years ago were brand new and now they also have kind of settled and they’re not going anywhere, and we have a better sense of that landscape. So it feels like we’re at this really big watershed moment, and that’s why we were like, okay, this is the moment. This is where we want to be answering all of these questions and making sure that we’re studying this data to really push us forward into what the next level of digital marketing is going to look like.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I think whenever a big study like this happens, it’s interesting to think about what questions the study is trying to answer. So what were we looking at when we were originally creating this study?

Ali Blount: So the idea for this kind of came because constantly our clients are asking us, how do I compare to my peers? I am a museum and I want to know, what are other museums in my area doing? Or I’m a theater, what are other theaters doing? Or whatever. So we were really curious to actually be able to answer those questions. So the big one was just generally, what can I learn from my peers in the industry that can help really guide my own organization’s growth? And then from there, we really took it in a ton of different directions. How does my media spend compare? How can I diversify across other digital channels? What can I learn from other organizations in my region, my budget size, my genre?

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I think knowing what your peers are doing is such a valuable way of measuring your own performance. And it can be so insular when you’re at an organization because you’re just in the day-to-day, and you don’t often think about what’s everyone else doing and what can I do differently? And especially with all the changes that have happened recently in the last few years, things have gone up, things have gone down, but you want to see if that’s everyone, not just yourself, right?

Ali Blount: Yeah. It’s really because typically when clients ask us these kinds of questions, often our answer is like, okay, well you want to benchmark against yourself. If you’re a theater in the Northeast, you don’t necessarily expect that you’re going to perform the same as other theaters in the Northeast for various reasons. Even just programming can affect it, everything can affect it. But that being said, there are definitely some big questions where it would be really helpful and interesting to know how your peers are performing. Thinking even about something like budget where you’re looking at, okay, well what percentage of my budget am I spending on Meta versus Google? How much should I be spending? Just having a sense of what your peers are doing I think is helpful to guide you. Maybe you are spending a lot less than them and you could and should be spending more. Some people might be pushed to their max and that’s fine. But I think it’s interesting to be able to compare and tweak and see if there are best practices that you’re not kind of living up to and maybe figure out how you can.

Dan Titmuss: And seeing what you are outperforming, as well. Seeing what you’re doing really well and might want to lean into even more.

Ali Blount: Oh yeah. To be able to invest. If you’re really crushing it in the video category, maybe you want to amp that up and spend even more on video.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah. So you mentioned we pulled from clients’ campaign data for this study, so we must have a bunch of data. What kind of organizations are represented and what were some of the parameters? What did we look at?

Ali Blount: Yeah, so I was super excited by the response to this. I was very nervous when we started asking for client permission because I was like, how many are we going to get? And we ended up getting 152 organizations to agree for us to study their data, which is incredible. It’s a much better response than I ever expected. And those are organizations across the US and Canada, and they are across every genre and organization size and all of that. So we have the organization size broken down into three buckets. So small, medium, large. Small being 5 million budget or less, or under 5 million. Medium is 5 million to 14.9 million. And then large organizations have a budget of 15 million plus. So we’re really having everybody represented. I think any organization listening to this, you’ll find your peers represented in this study, especially because we had a massive pool of data, which was exciting. We also looked at a full calendar year, which was really important to me. I wanted to make sure that we could study things like seasonality, things like holiday programming. So we looked at last year, so 2023, January 1st to December 31st.

Dan Titmuss: So this is a huge, huge study. And as you were digging through the data, what jumped out to you? What findings surprised you the most?

Ali Blount: A lot of things did, which was really awesome that we ended up finding a lot of things. One that was really interesting was how organization size played into things, looking at large versus small organizations. And there are some things that are expected. Large organizations have larger budgets, and in many cases, of course they’re going to have better performance. We saw a lot of higher ROIs and higher purchase conversion rates and things like that. But what I thought was really interesting is that smaller organizations actually can still hold their own and do so by spending a lot less than medium and large size organizations. The area that we really saw this was with video, interestingly. So small organizations had the second highest video rates behind medium size, and large organizations actually had the lowest video view rates any way we sliced it, which was really surprising because you think that a large organization has a ton of money to pour into video production, so naturally their videos must be the best and performing the best, and it was the opposite of that, that they actually have the lowest rates. So it was really interesting.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah. Why is that, do you think? Is it because smaller organizations can generate a greater volume of content for their size, or is it… I always think about the scrappiness—in a good way—of smaller organizations. About being able to just make the content without going through levels of approval.

Ali Blount: I think that’s exactly it. I think that one of the most interesting metrics that we found was that for video view rate in particular, larger organizations actually had the lowest video view rates and small organizations had much, much higher video view rates. And I think you kind of hit the nail on the head that a smaller organization is going to be more nimble, so maybe they don’t have the ability to produce this very expensive video, but perhaps they can produce something that’s really relevant and fun and engaging and interesting. Perhaps that’s using a trending audio or something that’s very topical. So I think that they actually in many ways can produce better content on less budget, which we saw because we saw stronger video view rates for smaller organizations.

Dan Titmuss: I think the last two bootcamps we’ve done, we’ve had people talking about TikTok and they emphasized how important it is to follow these trends and just make the video and put it up there without worrying too much about if it’s perfect. On the platform is better than perfect and not on the platform.

Ali Blount: 100%. So I’ve worked at larger organizations and I’ve seen what it’s like to get lots of approvals and it can take a while, and that’s just not something that works as well. When you’re looking at content creation, at the end of the day, you need to make really compelling content, and you can’t always do that if you’re waiting two weeks to be able to get it approved. And I don’t mean to disparage large organizations, they obviously still perform very well, they all are doing great.

Dan Titmuss: They’re large for a reason.

Ali Blount: But just small organizations, I wouldn’t want them to be like, oh, we don’t have a budget to produce things. I want to give some hope there that you can still make incredible content and see incredible campaign results even if you don’t have a lot of budget and a lot of staff and things like that. You just need to make incredible content that is tailored to your specific audience.

Dan Titmuss: And no matter what size organization you are, there’s always wins that you can have regardless, like branded campaigns for search.

Ali Blount: You can run branded campaigns regardless of your organization size. And like you said, it’s such an easy win because I mean, my personal recommendation is that anybody, any organization, size, type, should be running a branded search campaign year round, and we saw the results really supported that. So that’s a huge win that anybody can do. Things like shifting some money to Google, which I definitely want to talk about, can be a really easy one too.

Dan Titmuss: So obviously size of an organization can make a big difference, but we also looked into different genres as well.

Ali Blount: We did, yeah, we looked at every genre within the arts. For ease of interpreting results, we broke it down into two buckets. So we had exhibition, exhibit-based organizations, museums and things like that. And then we had performing arts kind of all lumped together, and we did see some interesting results. One thing that was fascinating to me is that the exhibition-based organizations saw stronger engagement rates for their Meta posts, and one theory we have behind that is that the exhibition based organizations do a really good job at representing what it’s like to actually visit the organization. In a lot of these posts, you can really see when you go to visit the museum, you know what it’s like. You’re looking at whatever exhibit or whatever the entrance is. That’s really part of the post, just inherently. Whereas performing arts posts tend to focus a little bit more on the art itself, which is… there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s really important. People need to know what they’re going to go see, but the thing that’s really missing is what that experience is going to be like, which is often what gets people out of the door and out of their house, is what the whole experience is, not just the art itself. So I think that that’s something that performing arts organizations can learn from the exhibit-based, is really [to] focus on the full picture from A to Z as opposed to just the middle section where you’re actually seeing the show.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, capturing that excitement of going into a theater I think is… Every time I go in and I get my seat and flick through the playbill and pretend to read it—

Ali Blount: I read it! Always. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re not a playbill reader.

Dan Titmuss: No, my wife is. She collects all the playbills.

Ali Blount: Well, she’s better than you.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, yeah. Well, in every way. Yeah, definitely. And yeah, I mean capturing the sort of magic as you walk into a theater, I always get so excited in my belly when I walk into a theater.

Ali Blount: In your belly?

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I feel like a kind of, almost like butterflies a little bit whenever I walk into a big theater or even a little theater, to be honest. It is just exciting to sit down. And capturing that inside an ad I think is a really strong move.

Ali Blount: Oh yeah. When you said little theater, it just made me think, I took my kids to see The Little Mermaid at a very tiny theater this weekend, and it was my daughter’s first show. She’s two, and she did amazing. She sat quietly the entire time, but I’m going to fully admit that I cried when we walked in and they were both looking around at the theater and it was just so sweet, and they were so excited, and I fully cried at The Little Mermaid because I was just like, this is just such an experience and a moment. It was just so exciting for them to witness this live amazing thing.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I mean, little theaters, there’s something magical and scrappy and fun about a little tiny theater. I do improv every two weeks in a little 30-seat theater, and it’s tiny, but that packed out is magical when people are jammed in. So a tiny theater, that’s an experience that you can’t necessarily replicate in a lot of bigger venues.

Ali Blount: Do you get jam-packed crowds for your improv…?

Dan Titmuss: Oh, we actually do! We’re doing all right. Yeah, we do. We’ve been selling out. Not in the past…

Ali Blount: I’m happy for you.

Dan Titmuss: I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe a few times. I’ve definitely had light audiences of just one or two people before.

Ali Blount: It’s more intimate.

Dan Titmuss: Yes. Yeah. What a diplomatic way of putting that. What about the other way? Is there anything that you think exhibit-based organizations can learn from performance-based organizations?

Ali Blount: Yes. The performing arts organizations saw much stronger video rates. So video view rates were a lot higher for performing arts, and our reason for that is they just tend to be more dynamic, which is not fair to exhibit-based organizations. Of course, visual art is inherently kind of static. There are very few visual arts exhibits that are moving and dynamic. That happens, but not always. Whereas performing arts is very dynamic and that makes a more dynamic video, just like inherently. So those videos tend to perform a lot better. So I think that’s something that exhibition-based organizations could work on is making sure that their video content in particular is really dynamic.

Dan Titmuss: It’s a great reminder of just creating compelling content in general. And you also researched ideal video length for these paid campaigns, right?

Ali Blount: Yeah, so we’ve talked a lot about video, and I think that one of the big questions that I certainly always get from my clients, I’m sure every single consultant at CI gets from their clients, is: what is the best video length? And I hate to give an answer to that because ultimately the answer is the best video length is making a video that is strong and compelling and wonderful with the time that you need. But if we want to put an answer behind it, which people do…

Dan Titmuss: Such a consultant answer right there.

Ali Blount: I know. But if we’re going to put an actual number behind it, we really did see spikes at one to two minutes. One to two, and between those were when we saw a lot of spikes in all the metrics: engagement rate, video view rate, page view rate, et cetera. So I hate to say it, but there was a sweet spot there of one to two minutes, although we still also did see strong results with videos across the spectrum. So all that to say is, if you’re making a video, use the amount of time that you need to use. If you need to make a five minute video and that’s the best way to tell your story, then do it. We saw plenty of five minute videos that had amazing results, but if you don’t need a five minute video, then maybe try to edit it down to 60 seconds or so.

Dan Titmuss: I think a lot of listeners are deep into the FY25 strategic planning stage of the year, and as they put media plans together for the next season, what do you think are some of the biggest opportunities according to this data?

Ali Blount: There are a lot. I think the one that I’m most excited about, just because it was honestly kind of wild as I kept doing the data analysis and kept seeing the results come in, is Q3. So July through September, we see a ton of opportunity there. It was very interesting because organizations spend the least. We looked at media spend for each quarter, and the lowest media spend was in Q3. But on the flip side, all of the other metrics were better in Q3. So CPA, cost per acquisition, was at its lowest in Q3. CPM, effectively how much we’re spending on these ads, was at its lowest in Q3. Page view rates were highest in Q3, purchase rates were highest in Q3. So it’s this interesting thing where nobody’s spending there as much, but the people who are spending are seeing the best results of the year.

Dan Titmuss: I think many organizations are dark in the summer months. It runs from September to May. And so we think naturally as marketers we’re like, well, we’re not selling anything. Let’s turn off the tap and save some money. But that’s not always the best use of our time and money.

Ali Blount: No, it really isn’t. Kind of out of sight, out of mind where if you’re not running, then by the time you start up again and you have tickets on sale or programming starting, you might not be top of mind for people. So I think this is a huge opportunity to make sure that at the very least that you have a branded campaign running. If not, if you’re selling tickets, if your on-sale is then, make sure you have an on-sale campaign. If you are starting actual performances, have a single ticket campaign. And there’s lots of options there that you can be doing with those types of campaigns, but just have something going.

Dan Titmuss: What are some other ways you can change up your marketing mix? You mentioned prioritizing Google as well, which we’ve already chatted about a little bit.

Ali Blount: Yeah, so one of the interesting things that we found is that people tended throughout 2023 to invest more in Meta. The split was roughly… Looking at Meta and Google specifically, the split was roughly like 60-40 ish, give or take, and that makes sense. Meta has incredible results, and the one thing we found though is that we are seeing really strong results recently from Google. Google has really done a lot of investment in their dynamic ads and their machine learning to make sure that their campaigns are going to perform really well, and we’re seeing that play out. We saw crazy high results for a lot of Google campaigns. So we’re not necessarily saying, take all of your Meta money and put it in Google. That’s not what I want people to do. Meta is still really important and it still does really, really well, but if there are ways to make sure that you can shift a little to Google or just make sure you have a presence on Google, that is definitely something we’re recommending. Like I said, people aren’t spending there as much. I’m sure many organizations have no Google budget, so just explore that and tap into Google and really try to spend a little bit there if you can.

Dan Titmuss: I think that becomes a little easier when we think about things like Performance Max and Demand Gen campaigns, which are performing really, really well at the moment.

Ali Blount: They are. That was one of the most interesting takeaways I think, was how well Performance Max is doing.

Dan Titmuss: What is Performance Max just so we can, because it is a weird concept, right?

Ali Blount: So Performance Max is basically letting you tap into all of the Google inventory. So you run your one ad, you give Google all of your assets, so like your copy, your imagery, which could be video ads and static images, and you put it all in there, and then they’re going to serve out the best possible ad combination. So they’re going to piece those together. Best possible ad combination for each person on the best possible placement for each person, which is kind of where that interesting twist is. So you can tap into Gmail and YouTube and all the different places from this one campaign. It’s a little bit of a black hole because you’re trusting the Google algorithm and you’re not telling it, “I want to serve X amount of impressions on YouTube” or anything like that. I will fully admit that I was a skeptic when it was first announced. I have a tendency to not trust the machines and AI…

Dan Titmuss: You’ve learned well from sci-fi films, I feel.

Ali Blount: I sure have. But especially coming out of this study and seeing just how high the results are for Performance Max, I am truly converted. I’ve been telling all my clients that we need to run—and we have—that we need to run on Performance Max. So unsurprisingly, for Google, paid search was the top. It was performing the highest for any metric, you name it. Paid search wins, which makes sense. Of course we would expect that. But next, in pretty much every case–I don’t think there was ever a metric that this wasn’t true—next was Performance Max, and then there was some various mix with the next three of Display, Demand Gen, and YouTube. But the top two by far, solidified, were paid Search and Performance Max, and I thought that was really interesting because there are very few people who actually are running Performance Max campaigns, so it’s a huge opportunity for people to shift their budget to be running there. Also, keeping in mind that you need to be running paid search when you run Performance Max, just as an FYI.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, so all of this information is super helpful and I think a really good preview of the Cultural Compass findings. When is this coming out and where can people find it?

Ali Blount: So it’s going to be released in June on CI’s website, so you can go there to find it when it’s published. If you’re not already on CI’s list, I highly recommend signing up for our emails so that you can be one of the first to know when it actually gets published,

Dan Titmuss: And it’s a huge study. How’s the best way to approach this study, and what can we take from it?

Ali Blount: I think that the main thing that—when I started this study and the research for it, I really wanted to make sure that it was actionable. That was my number one goal here was whatever the results are, whatever we have, I want to make sure that people can read this and that they can take action from it and apply the findings.

Dan Titmuss: There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of data and then just thinking, cool! And not doing anything with it.

Ali Blount: Especially because we are in this work all the time and we have a tendency to be really in the weeds, and I wanted to make sure that we’re zooming out and making sure that anybody reading this is going to understand the results and also know what to take away from them. So for every piece of data, for every metric and benchmark and question that we answer, we have an explanation of what it’s actually saying and showing, and then we also have our CI recommendations for every single piece of data. So it’s like, what if you are meeting this benchmark or not? What could you be doing? Here’s the big takeaway from this. All those kinds of things are in there to make sure that you can really take action and apply this to your next season and beyond as you plan.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, I’m really excited for clients to dig into this and see all the work that you’ve done in this study. I think it’s such a useful resource, especially as we’re planning the next year for marketing. So thank you so much for joining us and talking through the Cultural Compass.

Ali Blount: Thanks for having me, as always.

Dan Titmuss: Thank you for listening to CI to Eye. This episode was edited and produced by Karen McConarty and co-written by Karen McConarty and myself, Dan Titmuss. Stephanie Medina and Jess Berube are CI to Eye’s designers and video editors, and all work together to create CI’s digital content. Our music is by whoisuzo. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please take a moment to rate us or leave a review. A nice comment goes a long way in helping other people discover CI to Eye and hear from experts in the arts and beyond. If you didn’t enjoy today’s episode, pass it on to all of your enemies. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube for regular content to help you market smarter. You can also sign up for our newsletter at so you never miss an update. And if you haven’t already, please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, stay nerdy.

About Our Guests
Ali Blount
Ali Blount
Senior Consultant, Capacity Interactive

Ali Blount is a Senior Consultant of Digital Marketing at Capacity Interactive. She joined the CI team after working in marketing and management at Roundabout Theatre Company and the Huntington Theatre Company. She received a bachelor’s degree with honors in English from Harvard University, and then earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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