A new arts, entertainment, music and media PR and advertising agency, the culmination of its founder’s long career in public relations and arts management, recently opened with the intent of organizing and managing local organizations.
Todd Cunningham, principal of Garage Media, said arts and entertainment organizations are especially in need of management services, PR and marketing.
“There are a lot of artists in town and in the area who are extremely creative and extremely talented but don’t have a clue about the business side,” said Cunningham. “We’ll help them manage whatever they’re doing. We can create a budget, scale a theater, figure out how many seats they need to sell to break even.
“As they should, the artists just want to create their art, to entertain and play for an audience.”
Though Cunningham hasn’t hired a full-time staff, he’s working with a network of some of the “most knowledgeable people in the arts industry, whether in arts management, sales, design, creative…”
Garage Media offers a range of services. A “Full Service” package includes concept and creative design and production, media buys and placement and any other advertising/PR need. “Flats Fixed” means that Garage Media will offer advice and fix a client’s common problem, following up with consultation on audience development, ticketing and sales. And the company offers specialized “Tune Ups” for clients who need a little boost in the right direction to keep them moving forward.
“Rather than just be consultants who charge $500/hour and tell you what to do, we’re more about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. We’re going to help you do it, or do it for you,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham relinquished his post as director of marketing and public relations for the Tulsa Ballet in January. Prior to his move back to Tulsa, his hometown, more than four years ago, Cunningham was the co-owner of an advertising agency in Dallas that specialized in national fund-raising and direct mail advertising. Eventually, his company grew to three offices and owned a weekly newspaper and annual phone books in the Dallas area.
“It got to be too much,” he said. “It got to where I couldn’t wait to get out of that.”
He took the job at Tulsa Ballet in 2005 because “it sounded like fun,” and, following that stint, opening his own agency was, according to Cunningham, “a natural progression.”
“Basically, I’m able to combine my experience in owning an agency with the experience I gained working at the Ballet in arts management, especially PR and marketing but also in selling tickets and implementing subscriptions,” Cunningham said.
“Garage Media” is named such because Cunningham and his network are working out of his garage.
“The most successful businesses in the U.S. all started in someone’s garage – Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Henry Ford. It worked well for them,” Cunningham said, laughing.
Cunningham recognizes that the organizations he aims to serve are often the ones with the smallest budgets, and to help those organizations afford his services, he’s devised some “creative” financing options, like adding a surcharge to their tickets and working on commission.
For SummerStage, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center’s summer theatre festival involving many of the area’s theatre companies, Garage Media is offering its services to participants through a matching program. If a company can afford $100 of services, Garage Media will provide an additional $100 worth of services for free, for a total donation of $5,000.
Garage Media’s first client was Ken Tracy, who singly operates Choregus Productions, a production company that strives to attract to Tulsa cutting edge music, dance and theatre companies that are normally only seen on either coast or in cities like Dallas and Chicago.
Ready to Grow
Tulsa-area artists and entertainers seem to envy and strive to emulate Austin, Texas, for its thriving arts, culture and music scene, Cunningham said.
“Austin took off because it became organized,” Cunningham said. “I was around when South by Southwest was three bands and a guy with a harmonica. Now, it’s a national festival. With some organization and some business awareness, Tulsa could see that same kind of success.
“This city and its artists have great heart, and right now, they’re pretty much performing for free. It’s awesome that they’re willing to do that, but it’s not necessary. Performing for free and for fun doesn’t create growth.”
Garage Media, he said, aims to provide local organizations with the tools they need to make their passions profitable, thereby growing the city’s arts and entertainment industries.