As people strolled by the two-story building near Cambier Park in Naples, many wondered what it was. A museum? A gallery, maybe? After 65 years, Naples Art Association needed an image overhaul. New residents of the expanding community seemed to be unaware of the visual arts organization’s mission and offerings unless they had taken one of its classes, according to CEO and Executive Director Amy Schlehr.
“It was a challenge to get our name out there,” she says. “Some knew about the kids’ classes, but they didn’t know about the adult programs. Some thought we were a clubhouse for artists. Our message is very clear now.”
Marketing for the art center—which houses rotating exhibitions, hosts outdoor shows and offers public arts classes and master-level workshops—had been handled internally until five years ago. But the nonprofit still wasn’t reaching its goals after hiring its first marketing agency, so it decided to change direction last year.
Julie Koester is co-founder, managing partner and president of Dragon Horse Ad Agency, which won the current three-year contract. “All of us [at Dragon Horse] have known about Naples Art for years,” she says. “We knew about the value of their organization. They do extraordinary things, and we love them and wanted to work with them.”
Schlehr said she and the board liked Dragon Horse’s aggressiveness and its scope of service beyond traditional marketing. “They put out their vision of what Naples Art should be in the community,” she says. “They had a real plan. They’re very comprehensive. They’re not just putting their mark on it. They said, ‘Let’s understand where you are and put a plan together.’”
Patrick Blake Renda, co-founder, managing partner and chief strategy officer of Dragon Horse, said the agency’s DragonOne platform offers unique, integrated business consulting and marketing strategy solutions. The agency assists clients with everything from human resources growth strategy plans to interior design.
“We take four to six weeks to do due diligence, examining everything a business does,” Renda says. “We want to understand the product—why they do what they do, sales—and [then] create brand imaging that goes out to the public.”
After vetting, Renda said, Dragon Horse creates a package based on consideration of the client’s needs and budget, and of what would generate the best results based on the client’s core objectives. Schlehr said she shared with Dragon Horse her goals for the organization and what she felt were its marketing struggles.
Dragon Horse then did a deep analysis of the nonprofit’s business model and existing marketing, interviewing the board and staff. They also interviewed students and artists, because Koester says to properly serve the client, they must work on behalf of the client’s customer.
In addition to the general lack of public awareness was a need to boost donations and sponsorships, and a need to reach a younger audience.
“We discovered innumerable great ideas that had not been connected into a strategy,” Koester says. “They didn’t know how to manage production, delivery, execution—and how to let people know about it. We’re somebody who can continue to witness you at the 60,000-foot level—who also knows your books.”
Dragon Horse created a 25-page strategic review, offering ways to increase profitability and money-making opportunities that became Naples Art’s five-year plan. “Our goal is to make those organizations the most profitable nonprofits around,” Renda says.
Schlehr said the plan was presented to the board, tweaked and adopted. Naples Art will complete its first year with Dragon Horse in April, having prioritized the order of demand for various strategic elements. “It’s visionary,” Schlehr says. “I have huge dreams. My job is to make [them] happen.”
“Year one was all about branding and identity,” says Edward Clay, Dragon Horse managing partner and chief creative officer. “Year two is growth. Year three could be—who knows? The expansion of international artists? Everything is done with the board and Aimee’s leadership. Our job is to dream and play and create, strategize and execute.”
Phase one included rebranding to remove “Association” from the name. “Associations are groups of people, not location-specific,” Koester says. “It didn’t properly reflect the organization. We redid the logo, redid all the print visuals, signage, ad formatting, website and added an extensive number of teaching and learning opportunities with new instructors, new workshops.”
Renda said Dragon Horse reviewed where and how the brand was positioned in the marketplace. “We did a pivot on where and how to present Naples Art to the community, swinging from 90 percent print to a more expanded platform. We led with digital and social media. That opened awareness from a 55-plus to a 35-plus demographic, and we’ve seen engagement in digital and social media exponentially grow in the last nine months.”
In addition to pivoting to digital and social media, they used a precise approach for prime placement in key social registries for 501(c)3 nonprofits. “They’re proven to help elevate an organization’s awareness in the marketplace with people utilizing the service, as well as their donor base,” Renda says.
Koester said the goal of increasing the donor base is tied to the general awareness issue. “Donors will come when they have an authentic understanding of what the organization has to offer,” she says.
Dragon Horse’s plan for Naples Art, Renda said, includes recommendations for improvements to the building, as well as ways to create efficiencies and deliver growth. “With Naples Art, the board and executive director have a wonderful vision that encapsulates growth at high schools, outdoor shows [and] education on-site,” he says. “It’s in their interest to expand … into the community to bring Naples Art to a greater percentage of the population that it doesn’t have access to now. The next five years, 10 years, 20 years, is going to be a cycle of expansion and growth for the organization. That coincides with the city and county seeing renewed desire to see Naples as a cultural destination.”
Koester said many in the community didn’t understand how significant the organization is as a whole. “They provide outreach programs to the underserved populations,” she says. “Free art classes for veterans in November. Art helps with mental health and stress reduction for all of us.”
She says an example of Schlehr’s big dreams was her solution to the lack of education funding to support students pursuing a career in the arts. “Naples Art has created—it was the brainchild of Aimee—the ABE Academy, or Artist Business Entrepreneurship. It’s a two-year program that teaches master art skills, how to run a business, how to be a successful entrepreneur and artist.”
She said the adult version, ABE Program, is for working artists who never had business training. It teaches them how to appraise and sell their art, and provides a way to gain online gallery representation through Naples Art’s website. Koester also said program scheduling was expanded to include some Thursday evening events for people who aren’t available during the day. “Wine and Design is meant to court younger workshop goers and people who haven’t been accessible before,” she says.
Through Dragon Horse’s efforts, Schlehr says that Naples Art has started engaging with the area’s younger population. “Now through social media, we’re seeing engagement increase consistently month over month.”
Renda said the Naples Art Facebook page, created in 2010, had acquired 4,500 followers over nine years. After taking over the page, Dragon Horse has grown followers to more than 6,200 in just a few months. He said several posts have gone viral, the most significant reaching more than 700,000 and garnering 65,000 reactions.
“We now have a very active and engaged following, with the number one city of followers being Naples and the next two being New York City followed closely by Los Angeles,” Renda says. “The paid promotion will be beginning in early February, and we are expecting significant results.”
With the launch of the new website—naplesart.org —searches have increased from 5,000 to 30,000 per month; average website visitors increased from 6,000 to 65,000 per month. Interest in sponsorship opportunities has increased, as well. This year, Naples Art has
three new sponsors: Karma Naples, Diamond District and The Boathouse.
Schlehr said that while she shoots for the stars, with goals such as wanting every single person in Collier County to take an art class, Dragon Horse has helped her hone them into achievable milestones. “With them as our partner, we’re able to see results,” she says. “We’re having across-the-board increases in sponsorships, attendance—membership is up about 20 percent from last year.”
Clay believes these boosts are the result of being in the right place at the right time. “With Naples Art, it was about brand recognition and awareness – changing the platforms, connecting with the guests and patrons, prime placement in the right magazines—to get the audience we were looking for,” he says.
So what’s in the plan for years two, three and beyond? “They’re helping us with some expansion goals,” Schlehr says, referring to the exploratory phase of potential projects. “It could be program expansion. We’re looking at some space, so it could be a satellite location. We want to be more relevant and be part of the broader community.”