Examining Dallas’ “Bold Plan For Greatness” Part 2

Continuing where  Part 1 concluded, this installment will continue by examining the second phase of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s "Bold Plan For Greatness", a 10 year strategic plan designed to move the organization to the next level…

Within any long term plan, the farther into the future the plan extends the less specific it becomes and Dallas’ plan is no exception. Of course, that’s not a negative aspect of the plan; however, it is worthwhile to examine the level of abstraction.

Phase II is scheduled to run from 2007-2010, and includes the following priorities:

  • New Music Director launch
  • Branding campaign fully developed & additional musicians; musician retirements continue
  • Development of summer/satellite series
  • Development of adult education/in-depth partnerships with “motivated” constituencies (e.g. music teachers)
  • Tours, CD’s, and “Live from the Meyerson” TV.
  • Staff-up for income-producing/program positions
  • Phase II: Launch 2015 endowment campaign
    Historically, larger budget orchestras are influenced more by the presence of a music director than smaller budget organizations. A recent example is at one of Dallas’ closest peers, the Minnesota Orchestra. The arrival of Osmo Vanska has been a positive impact on the entire organization, both artistically and financially.

    Similarly, how the music director is accepted among the musicians, the managers, board members, and the audience is critical to Dallas’ ability to reach their strategic goals. As for the musicians, Part 1 of this series established that although the players are involved in the search process, their ability to directly influence the final decision is, at best, marginal. As such, the organization runs a greater risk of hiring a music director who may not be capable of fulfilling one the music director’s most important responsibilities: uniting and inspiring the musicians to produce an artistic product which, collectively, is greater than the sum of their parts.

    Similarly, the new music director will need to dedicate the necessary amount of time in addition to demonstrating a sincere interest in working with the artistic, marketing, and development staff. Without that level of participation, each component of management will have a much more difficult time doing their part to make the strategic plan a success.

    Last, but certainly not least, how the new music director relates to the Dallas audience will make or break the strategic plan. Quite often, the “right” conductor for the job is not necessarily the “best” conductor around. I can’t image Lorin Maazel would be able to establish the same sort of connection he has with New Yorkers in someplace like San Francisco or L.A. Likewise, Dallas will need to be mindful of the fact that they need an individual who successfully meets all of their artistic and administrative requirements as well as effectively relating with the Greater Dallas community.

    Phase II: Branding campaign fully developed & additional musicians; musician retirements continue
    Assuming the Dallas Symphony has properly invested in professional development issues for their musicians (as detailed in Part 1), they should begin to see tangible results at this stage in the strategic plan. The higher level of morale among the musicians will provide the marketing department with a wealth of resources to help define their organization in the eyes of the public. A reduction of tension between musician-musician and musician-manager will allow the entire organization to promote a unified public image.

    When talking to Fred Bronstein, DSO president & CEO, about this issue, he said,

    “I think creating an environment of trust with the players is crucial to the plan’s success. This means regular meetings with the orchestra where we discuss our progress, challenges, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Good ideas come out of those exchanges. Frankly, this is good for the organization, our business, and of course it translates into a more positive internal culture, which serves the organization well.”

    According to Matthew Good, DSO tubist and former Orchestra Committee chair,

    I will say that most of the musicians that attend these meetings with Fred Bronstein feel that they helpful and informative. These lunchtime meetings mostly give Dr. Bronstein an opportunity for a "State of the Orchestra" presentation plus [tell us about] what goals and challenges the organization faces. Usually, at the end of the meeting there is a time for musicians to air complaints, offer opinions, and ideas for improving our product.

    Furthermore, the higher levels of job satisfaction among musicians will assist in attracting a higher caliber of player to the organization. Although any organization which pays as much as Dallas will always attract a certain level of high quality musician, a negative work environment will only serve to prevent the organization (and the new music director) for that incoming talent won’t be able to produce an artistic product which, collectively, is greater than the sum of their parts, mentioned above.

    Phase II: Development of summer/satellite series
    This goal was recently thrown a curve ball with the decision by Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival to replace the Dallas Symphony in 2007 as a resident ensemble with the Philadelphia Orchestra. However, a flexible management should be able to turn lemons into lemonade and now the organization can establish its own festival, find another residence opportunity at an established festival elsewhere, or institute some sort of regional touring schedule.

    Failing to replace their Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in a timely manner with another program of equal or greater stature will degrade their ability to establish themselves as a top tier orchestra. Interestingly enough, another orchestra which used to be a resident ensemble at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, the Colorado Symphony, replaced their executive management shortly after losing that residency.

    Development of adult education/in-depth partnerships with “motivated” constituencies (e.g. music teachers)
    Currently, one of Dallas’ greatest challenges is audience development and the inclusion of an adult education program, if properly implemented, should go a long way in helping them overcome their attendance problems. Furthermore, cultivating a base of educated adults among the community will give them a renewable source of low-cost advocacy, which translates into increased interest and ticket sales. If the organization is up to the challenge of allocating the proper resources, they can even establish a full-fledged docent program similar to the one espoused here at Adaptistration on a regular basis.

    Another nice program would be the inclusion of private music teachers within the category of expanded partnerships with music teachers. Traditionally, most orchestras do a terrible job at developing reciprocal relationships with their cadre of local private music teachers. Instead, the bulk of attention is directed toward public school teachers and although this is a necessary component of educational partnerships, orchestras have been missing out by failing to tap into a segment of their community which has already demonstrated in interest in the value of classical music.

    The best part is that orchestras don’t even have to identify this audience; it’s already there in each individual private teacher’s roster. Typically, given the amount of time and expense it takes to sell a ticket to a first time buyer, reaching new audience members through private teachers is an inexpensive god-send. Hopefully, the marketing personnel at Dallas will be able to realize that potential.

    Phase II: Tours, CD’s, and “Live from the Meyerson” TV
    Even though sales figures for orchestra CD’s recorded by American orchestras continue to slide, orchestras still manage to attach a great deal of value in creating them. Dallas’ plan is no different as they hope to initiate a series of recordings to release on CD.

    At its heart, the desire to release CD’s is a good thing. Recording sessions are how orchestras capture a moment in time and document the full capabilities of their ensemble. From a marketing perspective, it’s a way to introduce an ensemble to your public and to keep the group in the public’s mind. As such, even though the CD format will likely have less impact in 2010 than it does in 2006 (after all, records and cassette tapes have less impact now than they did 20 to 30 years ago), the concept of regularly scheduled recordings can only be construed as a good thing.

    On a broader scale, expanding their virtual audience through television broadcasts and regional tours is a good move. Naturally, adequate funding and the ability to generate interest among the public will ultimately decide whether or not these options are available. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any mention in the original plan or its update of exploring options in other media outlets, such as online distribution and streaming broadcasts; all of which seemed odd given the plan reached all the way to the year 2015. Those options reduce some of the necessary financial requirements as compared to traditional media outlets and hopefully, those options will be explored by the managers and musicians at Dallas. Given the fact that the plan projects Dallas’ future all the way to 2015, it would be good to see those aspects evolve.

    Phase II: Staff-up for income-producing/program positions
    Any organization with plans for growth and expansion can expect an increase in the cumulative number of administrators and staffers and Dallas’ plan falls right in step. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the increase in administrative positions is followed by the justification of “income producing” positions.

    In an abstract way, every position within the administration contributes to producing income. It would have been good if the plan included some specifics as to what sort positions will be directly linked to income-producing endeavors in much the same way that additional musicians are justified for specific reasons (although that pint is never covered by the plan either).

    Of course, traditional development jobs are expected to be included in the definition of  “income-producing”, but it will bode well for the organization if some of those positions include nontraditional positions such as a public affairs officer (like a public relations manager but with more sincerity)  or a public interpretation specialist to design an adult education program and train docents.

    With increased scrutiny into the operations of nonprofit organizations, a good public affairs officer will allow an orchestra to make increased headway into revenue generating areas which previously required the combined efforts of several administrators. You can find a good description of what a public affairs officer can accomplish at the Publicity Club of Chicago website. As such, the overall numbers of new managers and staffers may not need to be as high as originally planned, thus saving the organization money.

    In Part 3, we’ll continue to explore Dallas’ “Bold Plan For Greatness” by examining the third phase in the plan.

    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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