A Good Example Of Cultural Reporting

A few days ago I published a piece about the importance of letting newspaper editors know you support and appreciate their decision to run classical music articles beyond mundane concert reviews. Recently, the Baltimore Sun published a piece by Tim Smith about the recent departure of James Glicker, the freshly resigned president & CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which is an ideal representation of the type of article I was referring to…

The article reviews some of the heavy spin coming from Mr. Glicker himself over his personal summary of accomplishments during his 18 month tenure as president & CEO. Mr. Glicker is quoted in the article as saying,

“I turned [the BSO] around, and now it’s time to move on. I’m kind of a turnaround guy. When I finish something I get kind of restless.”

>From that statement, it sounds like things at the BSO are fine and dandy; however, Tim Smith does an excellent job at comparing that statement to some of the undisputed facts surrounding some of Mr. Glicker’s decisions and the organization’s current position (does the phrase “Mission Accomplished” ring a bell?).

For example, the article points out that the BSO is still saddled by some heavy annual and accumulated debt, the executive leaders originally proposed a dubious plan (later scrutinized by the IRS) to sell their hall in order to retire that debt, their average attendance figures are still below a reasonable comfort level, and what should have been nothing but the win-win PR scenario of appointing a new music director was marred by a subjective search process.

The article concludes with the following position,

Appearances mean as much in the orchestral world as they do everywhere else. When it comes to its offstage business, the BSO could use an extreme makeover.

This was, in my opinion, one of the best paragraphs I’ve read about classical music in 2006. Tim Smith comments on the albatross-like PR problems which have plagued the BSO over the past decade. The real irony here is that the BSO originally hired Mr. Glicker as their chief marketing offer and later promoted him to president & CEO based in large part to his experience as a marketing professional. If all of that leaves you wondering why the emperor has no clothes then that’s a good sign; you’re learning to tell spin from reality.

>From some viewpoints, the Baltimore Sun article may not be a flattering piece. However, in the end it’s nothing but good press because it motivates the people of Baltimore to think about their orchestra and provides them with the material they need to better understand why they should care about what goes on behind the doors of their fantastic, hometown institution.

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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