List Lust

Joe Patti, the author of the always sharp arts management blog Butts In Seats, posted an article on November 6th about sharing contact lists between arts organizations. I thought his piece brings up some great questions that everyone in this business who deals with lists has to face at one point or another…

In particular, Joe was wondering how arts organizations should approach sharing lists. Joe points out that with increased concern among the general public over identity theft and personal privacy issues (much of which I would say is well placed), it might not work out to an organization’s benefit to share lists.

Joe begins the piece by saying that he doesn’t feel threatened by sharing his lists with many of the other individuals who work for arts organizations in his area. Nevertheless, he has concerns over doing so when he considers how the patrons may react.

Joe continues by covering a number of other excellent points, but I would like to continue this topic by exploring some additional concerns worth considering.

In my personal experience, I never share lists. Furthermore, I take that one additional step by never giving out personal contact information for clients or colleagues without obtaining permission to do so in advance or letting the individual requesting the information know they can (and should) tell the individual I gave them their contact information.

Throughout the years I’ve run into a few snags with this policy. In one case I had a long term contract that put me in frequent touch with the marketing director for the client. This individual was adamant about obtaining a list of my business email addresses I used to contact individuals about a specific project related to the client.

Unfortunately, sharing of lists was not included in my work contract with the client and I had to decline the director’s request stating that the individuals I do business with understand that their information will not be distributed to anyone I do business with unless I obtain their permission in advance.

The director ended up getting pretty hot over the issue and insisted they only wanted the information to track whether or not these individuals visited the project’s website. I had no doubt this was all the director wanted to do with the information but the dynamic components of this business prohibited my sharing the information. Unfortunately, I have no delusions that this minor conflict produced some hard feelings toward me from the director but in the end, I still feel better with my original decision because those negative dynamic consequences typically outweigh any positives.

For instance, one of my paramount concerns in this business is high turnover. Even though I trusted this marketing director, who knows how long they would remain in this position. As such, anyone new coming in to the organization is likely unaware and/or unconcerned with any agreements their predecessor made and they’ll do whatever they can in order to accomplish their primary mission: reaching as many people as possible and get those people involved in the organization.

As such, the individuals I do business with may end up as targets of a variety of marketing campaigns they really don’t want, or need, to receive. Furthermore, any incoming director at the client may trade or sell those names away to their colleagues which would only exaggerate the problem on my end.

There are a number of other issues which run through my mind regarding this topic, but I’m interested in exactly the same thing that Joe asked his readers at the end of his blog post. Specifically, what sort of experiences have others had regarding these issues? Do you have a set policy you follow that has served you well? Have you ever made decisions that you later regretted? Have you ever encountered a colleague that wouldn’t take no for an answer when it came to sharing a list?

I encourage you to submit a comment detailing your experiences and/or the policy at your organization. I think it will be fascinating to hear about how other organizations approach these issues.

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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