How To find What You’re Looking For

Recently I’ve received a couple of emails asking why I keep referring to dynamic and static analysis. The simple answer is because I find that overuse of static analysis is one of the root causes for the lack of innovation in the industry.  Here’s a real life example:

Orchestra X wants to attract a greater numbers of patrons, especially a younger demographic to replace older patrons.  So one plan involves the marketing department employing an audience survey in order to determine which pop soloists have the greatest appeal to their audience.  They send out questionnaires to all of the orchestra subscribers and conduct several concert hall surveys in order to include the opinions of single ticket buyers.  This way, they can reach the widest amount of the orchestra’s patrons as possible.

After the research was all said and done the soloist that presented the most appeal to the core audience was Doc Severinson.  So the Orchestra X books Doc Severinson and the hall ends up selling at an average of 80% capacity for the two performances. After the concerts, the orchestra calls the event a success and undertakes a similar survey to determine the following year’s featured pop soloists.  Even though this seems like a positive scenario it is exactly this type of static survey which is contributing to Orchestra X’s decline in audience.

Orchestra X’s survey only determined what their current audience finds appealing.  It doesn’t take into account the dynamic picture which would have told them this: If you want to bring in a new, younger audience then you need to focus your research on individuals that are below 40 years old and rarely, if ever, patronize the orchestra.  In short, you need to include variables outside of those that currently exist.

I recently surveyed a dozen 20-30 something’s that were browsing the classical CD section of a local Barnes & Noble mega bookstore.  I asked them if they attend at least one orchestra concert per year and which pop artist they would most like to see perform with the orchestra (yes, I actually do that sort of thing with total strangers, you can meet some interesting people that way).  Here’s what I found out:

  • Two said they had been to at least one orchestra concert (which was more than I was expecting).
  • The artist that more than half of them found most appealing was Martina McBride.

Would Martina appeal to a large number of older patrons?  Maybe, but it’s doubtful that she would have as much appeal to those patrons as Doc Severinson.  So Doc is in, the existing patrons are happy, and the orchestra is still wondering why they can’t seem to attract new patrons.  Granted a dozen people isn’t a huge sample to question, but it was still more non-patrons than Orchestra-X sampled before they determined the course of their entire pop series. 

So why don’t more orchestras utilize dynamic over static analysis?   Well there are a couple of reasons; first, dynamic analysis is almost always more expensive and time consuming (unless you’re like me and make a hobby out of it). So in these days of reduced budgets due to soaring deficits, orchestras end up cutting more than just corners.  Second, static analysis allows plausible deniability for apathetic members of the marketing staff: “Don’t blame us for declining ticket sales, we did the research and we’re giving people what they want.”

In the end, Orchestra X ought to conduct both types of audience surveys.   Not only should they know which guest artists will appeal to their traditional audience, but they also need to know which guest artists are best suited to help them attract new, younger patrons.  Then they need to find a way for both groups to happily interact via creating a fun and inviting entertainment environment.

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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