Championing the Arts with a new grant...
We take community building and corporate social responsibility pretty seriously around here. Locally, we plant trees, help with community clean-ups, donate to the food bank. Sometimes we go bigger and lend our professional skills to the greater good. A couple of years ago, Ellipsis Digital did a cheeky little contest called Canada’s Worst Charity Website. We know that the time and funding that charities put toward their important work leaves little room for new websites — and, well, sometimes it shows. Badly. So we set out to give an awesome Canadian charity the website it deserved.
In 2014, we moved our philanthropic focus to the arts and cultural sector. We did it for two reasons. First off, because we’re champions of the arts, both as fans and creators: our staff includes artists and writers and actors and directors and musicians. As a company, Ellipsis Digital has worked with theatres, museums, performance venues and festivals. So not only do we understand how difficult it can be to produce art, we also know, first- and second-hand, that artists and arts organizations often don’t have the resources for up-to-date websites, or rebranding, or assistance with social media, or a shiny new marketing communications plan… and the marketing team (if it exists) doesn’t have time to do these things alone.
So we created The Arts Grant, a $25,000 package of our digital marketing services, and invited Canadian artists and arts organizations to apply. The application form was less than a page long—we wanted the process to be easy for the applicants, as well as for us. We know that arts organizations regularly go after funding. We’re a business offering services to a sector we truly love, not a government organization offering a pool of money based on a complex formula. We wanted our whole process to feel different.
We expected about 20 applications for our inaugural Arts Grant.
We got 81.
We created a simple website for The Arts Grant. It was a one-page site with the so-called rules—artist/arts organization, based in Canada—and a way to get the application, sign up for e-mail updates and ask any questions. To make sure we were getting as many applicants as we could, we A/B tested content and calls to action on our site to see what was working the best when it came to getting people to sign up for the grant.
We also wrote a post for Medium.com, explaining the genesis of The Arts Grant and the application process.
Then we started the promotion.
We used both traditional and social media to get the word out about The Arts Grant. We started with the traditional stuff: a news release to all of the major and indie newspapers and their online siblings; we also sent it to more than 50 arts councils across the country. It’s hard to know what effect the arts council outreach had—we didn’t actually hear back from any of them, although they may have passed the word to their members. We got some traditional media play locally, but other than that, [insert the sound of crickets].
Social media is where we saw things happening. Specifically, Twitter. We set up a Twitter account for The Arts Grant, and began with a few tweets. The uptake took a few days; in the meantime, we seeded the system by following a number of Canadian arts organizations and artists who mostly followed us back. We started tweeting in earnest late in August, and began accumulating new followers. The majority of the tweets included a link to the website; occasionally they linked to the blog post.
If you’re doing social media correctly—tweeting interesting or useful things, interacting with others, communicating with a unique, authentic voice—your Twitter following grows. And when those followers retweet you, your audience and your reach expands, and you get trickle-down credibility from the person or organization doing the retweeting. By the time we were done, we had nearly 700 followers. Wide reach, low cost—you just need time. The blog post got nearly 500 views, and a 68% read ratio.
So, To Summarize...
You already know the punchline, but here it is again: cold start—a completely new initiative; 81 applications from across the country.
Add the exposure that Ellipsis Digital (rtraction at the time) got to wonderful arts organizations across Canada, and we consider it a success.
Meet the Team BEhind the ARTS GRANT
Development and design: creating the website for The Arts Grant.
Digital strategy: developing the social media plan
Copywriting: writing the tweets, news releases and other promotional copy