Do We Ever Prepare For The Best?

It is the beginning of January in Chicago and the sight out of my office windows features a bright, sunny day and an outdoor temperature in the mid 50’s…

Sunny%20Chicago.jpgThis isn’t your typical Chicagoland area winter weather; in fact, Chicago didn’t even experience a White Christmas. Nevertheless, just a few states away in Colorado, the Denver area has been pounded with not one but two heavy duty blizzards capable of wrecking havoc on holiday concert schedules.

All of this made me think about concert planning during the “unpredictable” months of winter weather for areas that are traditionally used to experiencing severe weather systems. Ideally, most forward thinking orchestra administrations plan for the double-whammy of losing some ticket revenue while maintaining fixed expenses due to inclement weather conditions.

However, I find myself wondering how many organizations consider opportunities to capitalize on long stretches of unusually good weather. It isn’t as though orchestras can pull a concert out of their hat on a week’s notice but what about other activities through volunteer or audience development outreach programs?

If an orchestra owns and/or operates their primary venue, what about scheduling a special program for donors and long-time subscribers? This could be almost anything you want it to be from an entertaining coffee-talk featuring a resident conductor, musician, or artistic administrator or having the resident organist give an instrument tour. Even orchestras that don’t have a facility at their disposal can find ways to make some of these suggestions take place.

Perhaps organizations should begin to compile an email/phone list of patrons that would be interested in such activities. Image their surprise and delight in being contacted by the orchestra to take part in a spur of the moment activity. You could build fee structure to break even on modest expenses or even give the opportunity away and consider it a good-will/audience development expense.

I think there’s some real potential here and if there’s anything to the whole global Warming issue, then we have at least several decades of unseasonably warm winters before the next man-made ice age begins to take shape. As such, we might as well capitalize on it while we can.

Does anyone out there already have something like this in place? If so, I would love to hear about it so take a moment and send in a comment.

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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8 thoughts on “Do We Ever Prepare For The Best?”

  1. Depending on the age of your audience, this kind of program might be a great way to start using (permission-based) SMS to communicate with your patrons. And when I say age, remember that parents of teens have learned to text their kids, and get text messages with info from schools. So we’re not just talking about Gen Y.

    What could be more spur-of-the-moment than getting a text message about an event happening tonight?

  2. Most major orchestras already do have “special programs for donors and long-time subscribers,” Drew, along with countless receptions, opportunities to meet and listen to the orchestra’s musicians and music director. We just don’t publicize them heavily, since they’re not open to the general public, and we already face enough accusations of being elitist and catering only to the wealthy.

  3. Thanks for the observation Sam, although, what I’m referring to here are more of an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment activity that would take place during a period of unusually good weather when most orchestras (located in heavy snow/ice areas) plan for slower activity.

    Also, I’m not certain why any of these activities would be seen as elitist (even those that are planned), especially with many orchestras moving toward membership programs that gear toward flexibility, sincerely discounted seating, and single ticket purchases (the Soundcheck program at Nashville or the Impromptu program at Dallas come to mind right away).

    In order for something like this to work (unplanned and no time for traditional marketing efforts) any organization would need a contact list ready to go, that’s why it would have to be offered toward existing donors, subscribers, volunteers, ticket buyers, etc.

    I think a spur-of-the-moment event like the program I wrote about back in August, 2006 examining a patron event in Louisville would be ideal:

  4. Drew I think this is a superb idea. While many orchestras do have special donor programs as Sam has mentioned, this would be one up on the usual function as it would add to our “spur-of-the-moment” society and I hardly think this would be seen as elitist (like Sam mentioned how he thinks the donor functions are perceived). Heck, the airlines are doing this, why shouldn’t we! Even if six people showed up, orchestras will have to start building connections to the audience at some point.

  5. I hate to continue being the wet blanket, but the obvious problem with spur-of-the-moment events is that they just don’t draw enough people for an ensemble that plays in a 2,500-capacity hall, which most orchestras do. As any musician or concertgoer will tell you, there is nothing more uncomfortable than being part of a crowd of 150 in a hall that seats more than ten times that number. Now, if an orchestra had access to a recital hall as well as their main stage, I could see a limited use to the idea of last-minute concerts. But mainly, I see something like this as useful only to the relatively young single ticket buyers who have wide open schedules. By targeting it at donors and subscribers, who by definition prefer to have their entertainment scheduled, we’d be more likely to offend those who resent only being told of a concert at the last minute.

  6. As goes one of my favorite lines from the classic film Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” If I’m interpreting Sam’s comment above correctly, he’s referring to actual concert events, involving musicians on-stage performing, as the actual spur-of-the-moment event. However, what is acknowledged in this article is precisely what Sam points out: scheduling a spur-of-the-moment concert events is almost definitely a no-go (due to in Sam’s points above as well as the prohibitive logistics, costs, contract restrictions, etc.).

    Conversely, there are a number of other activities organizations can initiate that do not involve performances. What, exactly, orchestras could do depends on a number of unique factors, not the least of which includes whether or not they own and operate their own facility and what those facilities offer.

  7. I think what you’re getting at is a social event–this could be very complex and would probably either be a MAJOR project for the marketing team of a smaller arts organization or the hiring of an audience developer–which I think every orchestra and opera company in the United States needs to have.

  8. I think it’s fair of Meg to call this sort of activity social, but at its heart, it is simply a way to increase the amount of direct contact between the organization and patrons.

    In the end, I wouldn’t categorize this as a major undertaking; I think it is important to think of events like this on a much smaller scale.

    If organizations put some thought into this beforehand (i.e. the title “Planning for the Best”), they could keep a list of contact info on hand and ready to go once an opportunity presented itself. If six people show up, then it would be worthwhile (and at the very least, a good place to start).

    At the same time I agree that orchestras need to think more about hiring an audience developer and making this sort of activity part of their responsibilities.

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Do We Ever Prepare For The Best?

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