More About Milwaukee – Marketing Department

At the conclusion of yesterday’s article, it promised to examine the direction the MSO marketing department is taking since the arrival of their new marketing director, Sean McBryde.

In Tom Strini’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article from September 4th, 2004 he reported that the MSO has suffered a big hit in ticket sales since 1999.  According to the article,

” the biggest loss has been on the pops side, 61%. The classics audience shrank by 31%.”

Those numbers are nothing to ignore.  That big of a drop in an audience for any orchestra has a far ranging impact than goes beyond lower ticket revenue.  It influences player morale, artistic momentum, and public interest in the orchestra.

The JSOnline article quoted MSO executive director Mark Hanson as saying,

“More than anything over the past few years, we have failed to market this world-class orchestra in a world-class way.”

That statement was echoed by MSO marketing director Sean McBryde when the article reported that he rejected the idea that the audience numbers have fallen due to a reduction in artistic quality.  According to the article McBryde said,

” while attendance had plummeted, ticket revenue had dropped only modestly. [I] believe that the inverse supply-and-demand practices of the MSO – raising prices for those who remained to make up revenue from lost ticket sales – played a large role in driving away the audience.”

And I would have to agree with a statement like that regardless of which orchestra marketing director it was coming from. 

I’ve written about the skyrocketing cost of ticket prices many times in this column, and much of it has to do with the artificial inflation of ticket prices to make up for such a sharp dip in attendance many orchestras are experiencing.

It’s just another example of how some in the industry are treating a symptom instead of a wound by putting on a financial tourniquet. Not only does it mask the root problem but it also prevents finding a reasonable solution.

McBryde seems to realize the danger in this.  The JSOnline article quotes him as saying,

“If we’ve had a 20 percent decline in one year, it’s probably because of the way we’ve treated people. It will probably take five years to get them back. We just have to make it easier to do business with us. We have to identify all the things that are focused on our convenience rather than the customer’s, and we have to reverse them.”

And in a nutshell, McBryde has defined the true meaning of efficiency. It isn’t about making things as easy as possible for the MSO box office and marketing department.  It’s about achieving the highest possible gain using all of the resources at your disposal (and then scrounging up a little more).

I have always advocated that in order to sell classical music you need to give the audience an event that makes them want to return.

Getting people to appreciate and take pleasure in classical music is like shooting fish in a barrel.  But in an age where economical entertainment choices abound in even modest communities, you have to give the patron another reason to keep coming back.

McBryde seems to have an inkling of this as the JSOnline reports,

“[McBryde] sees an urgent need to bring a sense of event to all the orchestra’s concerts and raise the MSO’s profile in Milwaukee.”

This is definitely the way to go.  Too many orchestras try to make going to concerts something “extra” for people to do; they want them to “add” it to what they already do. When, in actuality, they need to be convinced that going to concerts is something that should be incorporated into “what they do”.

The only cautious point I noticed in the JSOnline article was that McBride said,

“Why not have contests and give away caps and T-shirts? Over-the-top, ridiculous things can be OK. We need to respect the art form, but why not have fun with it? It doesn’t have to be like church.”

That’s a tricky line to walk.  Before you know it, those over the top marketing stunts outside the concert hall can work their way onstage.  The last thing any orchestra needs is a donkey picking ticket stubs out of a basket for door prizes before concerts.

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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