Knowledge Of Music Helpful, But Not Necessary

Do you think it would make sense that a person responsible for selling classical music should have intimate knowledge of and experience with classical music?  In the orchestra business it seems that those requirements are becoming optional.

With the increased pressures of selling more tickets right now, the business appears to be moving more and more toward a mass marketing mentality.  And to their credit, when designed and implemented correctly mass marketing techniques can be effective – but the downside is that they are very expensive.

Finding a way to bring in new ticket buyers and turn them into long term patrons is a much more time consuming, although necessary, component of orchestra marketing.  I’ve noticed over the years that this approach is loosing favor with many managers these days and one more sign was recently brought to my attention by a long time orchestra marketing executive.

This executive pointed out a phrase they keep reading in the job requirement section for orchestra marketing positions:

“Knowledge of classical music helpful, but not necessary.”

How on earth you could expect any orchestra marketing executive to be able to sell classical music to any given community without their possessing an intimate knowledge of and (ideally) experience in classical music is beyond me.

It seems that somewhere in recent history the line between the knowledgeable orchestra marketing executive and the talented mass media marketing consultant has become blurred.  Some executive administrators are becoming confused to the differences between a one-time successful ticket selling campaign and the ability to develop a wide scale passion for the classical music product.

To help illustrate this point, here are some examples of marketing job requirements for classical music organizations from the past several weeks:

  • The Philadelphia Orchestra is looking for a Marketing Manager, they consider “knowledge of classical music a plus”.  I suppose that requirement is better than a coin toss if two candidates have similar qualifications.
  • The Brevard Music Center has an opening for a Communications Officer; they consider “knowledge of and interest in classical music, as well as, excellent writing and public presentation skills” a firm requirement.  At least that’s one organization with the right outlook.
  • The American Symphony Orchestra League is looking to fill an executive position, the Vice President for Public Relations.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re applying for the position) there’s no mention of classical music knowledge listed at all in requirements section.
  • The Louisville Orchestra needs a Sales and Promotions Manager; they believe “Candidate[s] must have a basic understanding of classical music and its audience”.  Perhaps they plan to take the time, effort, and expense to develop their middle manager’s basic understanding into full fledged knowledge (I wonder what they do with entry level staffers).
  • The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has an opening for an Assistant Director of Marketing; they require that “knowledge of repertoire [is] very helpful”.  At least we’re getting more specific by mentioning “repertoire”, although I think that would be a great interview question: “Please define the term ‘repertoire’ as it applies to the symphonic orchestra”. If they don’t have any idea then they are obviously not the right candidate.

There’s More At Risk Than Just The Audience

When you take the time to dig beneath the surface of this issue you’ll begin to discover that this is also one of the contributing factors to why there is a growing divide between administrators and musicians.  I can’t count the times I’ve received email notes from players across the country drawing my attention to mistakes in their respective orchestra’s print media advertisements.

These aren’t the typical trivial errors that are expected to crop up from time to time but full fledged blunders that any high school string student could have prevented.  The end result is musicians have another reason to dislike managers and managers grow to dislike musicians

In the same way that musicians need to have a better understanding of how their respective organizations function, managers need to have a better idea of how musicians and the world of classical music functions.  There isn’t any line that divides the two; they’re one in the same.  If internal organizational relationships are going to improve between managers and musicians then they need to understand more about what makes the other do they do and why that’s where some of the “professional development” expenditures directed toward hiring marketing consultants should be spent.

Knowledge Of Classical IS Necessary

You just can’t beat a personal connection to the music.  All of the best mass marketing campaigns in the world won’t be enough to build and maintain a long term audience of dedicated patrons; instead, you have to find a way to reach them as individuals.

The marketing executive mentioned above closed their last email message telling me why they, as a non musician, decided to learn about classical music and eventually go into orchestra marketing:

“Not everyone gets to be important, and too few of us have the proper respect for the role of the servant.  I am in awe of what these [musicians] can do with their fingers and lips; and little gives me the pleasure of helping someone else get off on a pleasure I cannot have again — hearing, say, a Sibelius symphony for the very first time.  I belong in orchestra marketing, and can prove that I know how to do it successfully.”

Don’t you wish this person was the marketing director for your orchestra?

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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