No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I received an email the other day from a friend of mine that plays in solid, Midwest orchestra. She was complaining that they recently had an orchestra wide meeting with management where the Marketing Director was promoting a new audience development initiative to the musicians. Essentially, the initiative called for each player to be responsible for bringing in one new subscription sale.

Do I have to mention that it didn’t go over well with the players? She said many of the players were visibly angry and a few even started to raise their voices. Now why would the players get so upset over being asked to help bring in new subscription sales? Because they are being asked to do a job that someone else is being paid for (and in this case the Marketing Director earns more than twice what a base musician does).

Senior managers often receive performance bonuses for doing an exceptional job in their department. So does that mean that the players should go out of their way to sell tickets just so the Marketing Director can meet their sales goal and get a bonus? Why not offer that type of incentive to the players too?

Here’s a better idea: Create a financial incentive for musicians. Instead of handing out gobs of comp tickets or expecting them to sell subscriptions, why not offer them discount vouchers. Each voucher will contain a numeric code that is specific to each player. That way, every time a patron purchases a discounted ticket with one of the vouchers, that code gets recorded by the box office software. At the end of the fiscal quarter, each player is then paid a referral fee for each voucher that was used by a patron.

Online retailers such as do this all the time, and it’s quite successful. In this case you can expand the orchestra incentive program to include staff members, private and public music educators, non-orchestra professional musicians, and symphony volunteers.

Given the alarming decline in audience attendance nationwide I’m surprised no one does this already. It’s a smart, fair program where everyone wins: the orchestra raises its average attendance numbers, the players get paid for their efforts, and patrons find another way to help lower the cost of an over inflated ticket price.

What do you think? Is the idea filled with unethical conflicts of interest or is it the right idea at the right time?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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