2005 Canadian Orchestra Website Review: Unique Achievements

Compared to their American and Canadian peers, some of the Canadian orchestras excelled in subcategories where most organizations languished…

The top scoring Toronto Symphony had a number of very unique features which are much more advanced compared to their Canadian and American peers. First, they offer a version of their site in Chinese which demonstrates they know their audience and are allowing them to dictate their online offerings (as well as their marketing funds since the Chinese version is paid for entirely out the TSO marketing budget). According to Mike Forrester, TSO VP, Marketing & Development, they implemented the Chinese website is the tip of the iceberg for a program that started three years ago. The Chinese version contains all of the elements of the English version.

In order to develop the site, they hired a company which specializes in PR and advertising to the Chinese community, all of which has its own buying patterns, advertising habits, etc. In addition to the Chinese website, Mike said they also maintain Chinese and Mandarin speaking customer service telephone representatives. Within 24 moths, the TSO would like to expand the language specific website to include several other languages including Korean and Russian.

The Victoria Symphony demonstrated that a smaller budget orchestra can generate a very strong web presence in particular subcategories. They had a full featured media page that had everything a critic or reporter could want except contact information for musician representatives. They also had the distinction of being the only Canadian or American orchestra to provide email and telephone contact information for board members.

In general, Canadian orchestras did a much better job of providing access to board members than their American counterparts. 22% of Canadian orchestra provided some sort of email or telephone contact information for board members whereas only 3% of American orchestras can make the same claim.

Unfortunately, I found some of the same detrimental trends among Canadian orchestras as I did in the American website review. In particular, several orchestras provided biographical information about or personal messages from executives while only presenting a list of the musicians. The Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, Orchestra London, and Calgary Symphony all provided extensive information about executives and little to no information about the actual musicians.

A curiosity among the Canadian websites was found at the Orchestre Métropolitain, which contained the following statement at the top of their musician roster:

In addition to numerous guest artists and soloists, the Orchestre Métropolitain includes 56 professional musicians, all graduates of Quebec conservatories and faculties of music.

I don’t pretend to understand the entire French speaking vs. English speaking Canadian dynamic but this statement made me feel very odd, much the same way the old unspoken Vienna Philharmonic "all-boys" and the Israel Philharmonic "No-Wagner" policies used to make me feel.

Another nice situation was via the Edmonton Symphony website. Of all the Canadian sites, theirs kept my attention well past the evaluation period. The site had a great deal of nifty little features and offerings which were enhanced by using some of the latest web based technologies. But it would have been nice if I didn’t have to spend as much time as I did finding them. There were so many wonderful pieces to play with, they deserve to be featured more prominently.

>From the Edmonton Symphony site I also made my way into the much larger Edmonton Arts District website, which serves as an online cultural clearinghouse for Edmonton cultural events. It functioned as an easy to use one-stop-shopping point for tapping into cultural activities.

One final observation that was unique to Canadian orchestras is the heavy use of the phrase "Your Orchestra" when they wrote about the ensemble. I can’t say if this was the result of a system which relies on heavy government funding but it’s a distinct difference from American orchestras nevertheless. After going through several of the sites I was already feeling a higher level of connection to the Canadian ensembles because of the "Your Orchestra" terminology.

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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