Reaching Your Target Audience and Communicating Strategically

A big, kind of “behind the scenes” part of musicians’ work in education has to do with publicity and messaging. It’s not news that social media is a big part of most everyone’s lives, and almost everybody who has any kind of online presence has fewer and fewer time to pay attention to anything in depth!

Articulating what we do as teaching artists or music educators is more crucial than ever. Almost everybody who plays music also teaches! In order to tell your story, you will have to be strategic about how you communicate to the public. You’ll need to begin to consider the following things:

  • How do you articulate what you do and why?
  • What online “channels” are most appropriate for what evidence?
  • Does the story you tell align with your intentions and your outcomes?
  • And how do you ensure that you’re able to reach your target audience?

This post won’t (directly) answer any of those things for you, because entire books and careers can be dedicated towards exploring those questions. However, what this post WILL do is show you how your MIE Guided Internship is helping you practice and prepare for a lifetime of communicating your work.

Every MIE Guided Intern gets some practice with strategic communication. Here’s a breakdown:

Blog Posts
The blog posts are intended for consumption by the general public. The Internet is a publicly-accessible place (does anyone even call it the “World Wide Web” anymore?) and so first and foremost, your blog posts have to be simple and clear. They should give your audience a bird’s eye view on your internship or topic, but have enough detail/realism to keep things interesting. (Nobody likes to read things that are too bland or vague.) Children’s full names should be omitted for privacy reasons, and anything that’s potentially embarrassing should be avoided or re-worded. Interns write a minimum of 3 blog posts throughout their internship, and the posts should be structured to lead from one to the next.

Internship Proposal
The internship proposal is modeled after the kinds of proposal forms one may encounter when applying for real world grants. While not “public” (like blog posts), the intern should consider that anything put down in writing could be read by a large amount of people. Most foundations have reading committees that critique proposals with a fine-tooth comb, then score the proposals in relation to a rubric and one another, before making a final decision. Rarely is a proposal funded based on the decision of a single person. Writing a successful proposal means being able to:

  • Articulate your goals, story, agenda in ways that are authentic to you/your project, but understandable/relatable to others;
  • Be clear and concise, often within specific word or character limits set forth by the grantor;
  • Provide evidence or data that demonstrates how/why your project should be chosen;
  • Set realistic, attainable goals for yourself, within the specified time period;
  • Show the funder or grantor that you understand their needs and that your program will help them accomplish their goals, objectives, or metrics.

Digital Portfolio
The digital portfolio is the intern’s opportunity to “dig deep” and provide real evidence for what was achieved in the internship. It’s challenging, because in most cases, the intern will be juggling two sets of goals/work samples—their students’ vs. their own—while putting everything under a single umbrella. Most interns will find a way to incorporate elements of their blog posts and internship proposals into the digital portfolio, which usually provides a nice starting point. Yes, the digital portfolio is like creating a website, but unlike a website, it focuses specifically on you as an educator. It’s also semi-private, meaning that it’s not totally open to the public (unless you request that it be made to be).

The digital portfolio gives interns a chance to show their trajectory:

  • How did the internship progress, as compared to their planning?
  • What strides were made?
  • What unexpected challenges came up, and how were they resolved?

Something that an intern just quickly referred to in a blog post might warrant a longer vignette in a digital portfolio. Or, a long reflection in the portfolio might trigger the intern to write a short blog post on the same topic, to see if any commenters at the blog have input.

When the MIE program first started, portfolios were in hard-copy, which made it cumbersome for interns to include videos, recordings, and even photos of them teaching. But since we have progressed into the Internet Age, interns who provide rich artifacts really help to bring their internships to life. Not only is it more interesting to read a reflection that goes along with a video, but it gives the interns the practice they need to make a good video. (Things to think about: Video length? Camera angle/frame? What you say/context? Etc…)

More and more, grantors and funders are asking to see digital portfolios as evidence that the monies they gave really went to good use. And, even if a “digital portfolio” isn’t requested, a final report is. The final report nearly always refers back to the proposal in some way.

All of these elements of the guided internship are meant to help you, as interns, practice and learn strategic communication skills. As you progress through the MIE Concentration, you will improve these skills. And, the more you invest yourself in your internships, the more you’ll want to tell people what you’re doing, how and why. It’ll no longer be “good enough” to just do the work. You’ll want recognition (which is a good thing), and you should reach for it, because doing so will help you obtain the funding and community support you need to continue to do it. The more people you affect through your love for music, education, and all of the intersections in between, the more you will be doing to improve things like quality of life, access to the arts, etc.

And, that brings me back to the subject line of this post, “Reaching Your Target Audience.” Only you will know exactly who your target audience is—but I can bet that, through consistent and strategic communication skills, you’ll eventually find and reach them!

Looking ahead, once your internship is complete

Towards the end of every semester, I often get messages from interns asking “now what?” Usually, the context for these messages is that the intern enjoyed the internship and wants to continue the activity—either at the site, or on their own—and would like some direction on how to proceed.

For those interns that are graduating, or are thinking ahead to life after graduation, a frequent question is, “How will I get paid (or be paid) for the kind of teaching work I want to do?”

If the intern is starting a private studio, then usually I suggest they start a website and link to their digital portfolio (or draw content from it). Most interns’ digital portfolios include some sort of Rationale Statement that introduces themselves as a teacher and how their approach to teaching is specific to them. Usually, these digital portfolios also have good quality media that shows them teaching, interacting with students, and reflecting on their work. These kinds of artifacts are just as important as videos or recordings of them playing, because it will give prospective students (and/or the students’ parents) some perspective on that person’s teaching style.

But for interns who are developing residency-type programs, workshops, or community programs, the path to self-sustenance may not be as clear. Those types of programs will need to be funded by grants, corporate sponsorships, or private donors—and often, a mix of sources!

In that case, I suggest learning about fund development. A good place to start is with some basic books—also available as iBooks or Kindle books—used by organizations like AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) or CFRE International (Certified Fund-Raising Executive). Not only do these books provide a great overview of the types of fund-development strategies that are out there, but they outline basic (but important) elements of non-profit organizations that aren’t necessarily obvious unless you’ve read or studied about them. In fact, even though practically all trained musicians will work for dozens of non-profits throughout their lives/careers, it could take years to learn what makes a non-profit “tick” from a business/organizational standpoint.

The following books are a good place to get started:

  • Fundraising Basics: A Complete Guide. By Barbara L. Ciconte, Jeanne Jacob [Amazon]
  • Fundraising Fundamentals: A Guide to Annual Giving for Professionals and Volunteers. By James M. Greenfield [Amazon]
  • Strategic Communications for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide to Working with the Media. By Kathy Bonk, Henry Griggs, Emily Tynes, Phil Sparks [Amazon]

This isn’t an end-all, be-all list, but a point of departure! I’ll be posting more on the topic of Fund Development later.