The 2007 Orchestra Website Review: Best & Worst

iding on the coat-tails of the Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review Special Recognition Awards, the Best & Worst of 2007 highlights groupings of orchestras on specific issues as well as reporting on the largest increase/decrease in score among ensembles since the 2006 Review.

Continuing with the policy initiated in 2006, there will be no indication for orchestras that have updated their website since the evaluation period. Instead, each orchestra was provided an opportunity to communicate any information about their respective website via the detailed ratings, which allowed them to communicate with readers in their own voice…

For example, the Baltimore Symphony used that opportunity to indicate they launched a completely redesigned website a few weeks after the review period. Additionally, each orchestra is free to post a comment to any of the review articles in order to provide additional details about their websites.

Best Miscellaneous Features & Components
Several orchestras deserve special recognition this year for a wide variety of unique features and components which weren’t entirely suited for yesterday’s Special Recognition Awards.

Cincinnati Symphony
This organization wants to make sure you have every opportunity to know what’s happening throughout the 2007-2008 season. To this end, they have a dedicated page with links to download the season calendar in a variety of formats for desktop, PDA, and cell phones.

Colorado Springs Philharmonic
Far too often, orchestras place the bulk of educational activities on the shoulders of the musicians while music directors are a rare sight in regular scheduled in-school educational activities. Not so in Colorado Springs as the organization maintains a dedicated program and info page for their Conductor In The Classroom program that makes their music director and Associate Conductor available “to attend and actually lead a rehearsal of your band or orchestra. The Maestros may also share their insights into the process and joys of making great music come to life.”

Delaware Symphony
Earned income is wherever you can find it so why not make it a little easier for it to find you. To that end, the Delaware Symphony has a dedicated page set up with information and a downloadable rate card for their 2007-2008 program book.

Honolulu Symphony
More and more players’ associations have launched their own dedicated webpage and some, like the Honolulu Symphony musicians, have put a great deal of effort into creating a polished online presence. As such, it is good to see orchestra websites mention this fact and include direct links.

Nashville Symphony
Although members of the media trust that the information on an orchestra’s website is current, the reality is that’s not always the case. As such, it was nice to see a simple, yet effective, “most recently updated” notice on Nashville’s Press Kit page.

New York Philharmonic
Jumping right into the 21st Century, the New York Philharmonic’s redesigned website offers a host of online goodies such as video concert quips, online dinner reservations, and much more; all designed to increase their bond with patrons and make it easier for them to turn their concert event into an afternoon or evening excursion.

Rochester Philharmonic
It may seem like a trivial piece of information but publishing the organization’s bylaws lends a great deal of credibility to their sense of institutional transparency and the Rochester Philharmonic is the only organization to do exactly that.

Symphony Silicon Valley
In an effort to increase the visibility for sponsorship opportunities, this organization raises the value of chair sponsorship by listing the chair sponsor for each of the organization’s musician. Furthermore, each of the links takes you to a dedicated page explaining chair sponsorship and providing contact info to become a sponsor. Since chair sponsors are listed, it would have been nice to have some info about the sponsors and hopefully the organization will include that feature in the near future.

Largest Changes In Score & Rank
Although the lowest score in 2007 was lower than 2006 (achieved both years by the South Bend Symphony), the largest increase in score exceeded the largest increase from the same review. Likewise, all five of the largest increases in score exceeded all but one increase as compared to last year’s review. Conversely, nearly all of the largest decreases in score for 2007 exceeded decreases from the 2006 review.

The Top 5 orchestras to experience an increase/decrease in rank or score:

Largest Gains In Rank

  1. Santa Rosa Symphony increased 59 positions
  2. Richmond Symphony increased 41 positions
  3. L.A. Chamber Orchestra increased 38 positions
  4. & 5.  Grand Rapids Symphony & Virginia Symphony both increased 34 positions

Largest Losses In Rank

  1. Toledo Symphony decreased 52 positions
  2. Syracuse Symphony decreased 48 positions
  3. Indianapolis Symphony decreased 41 positions
  4. Columbus Symphony decreased 33 positions
  5. Dallas Symphony decreased 32 positions

Largest Gains In Points

  1. Santa Rosa Symphony increased 36.19 points
  2. Richmond Symphony increased 27.87 points
  3. L.A. Chamber Orchestra increased 25.85 points
  4. Virginia Symphony increased 21.90 points
  5. Buffalo Philharmonic increased 19.48 points

Largest Losses In Points

  1. Toledo Symphony decreased 27.76 points
  2. Syracuse Symphony decreased 24.67 points
  3. Indianapolis Symphony decreased 18.09 points
  4. Columbus Symphony decreased 17.38 points
  5. Elgin Symphony decreased 17.32 points

Narcissistic Executive Directors
In November of 2003, I published an article entitled I Go To The Symphony For Their Executive Director? which chronicles the bizarre habit of some orchestra executive directors who feel compelled to post their pictures, biographies, or personal messages to patrons on the organization’s website when there is nothing beyond scant information about the musicians.

Granted, there is absolutely nothing improper with posting biographical data, photographs, and personal messages from an organization’s executive manager, but when those endeavors eclipse learning about the actual musicians then it is time for the office to reevaluate organizational priorities. Sadly, this list (presented by ensemble, alphabetically) includes the same number of executives as last year:

Colorado Symphony
Although the website has improved, Executive Director Douglas Adams continues to maintain a biography while the musicians are only listed in a text-only roster. This is the second year Colorado has made it onto this list.

California Symphony
For the third straight year, Executive Director Stacey Street maintains a full color picture and biography (where you discover she attended Harvard) although there is nothing more than a plain text-only list of orchestra musicians. Apparently, there is no issue with updating the website as Ms. Street’s photo and bio has been updated from last year.

Chattanooga Symphony
Executive Director John Wehrle continues to maintain a personal message to patrons and a full color photograph on their website where he leads off with telling everyone that it is his seventh year with the organization. Unfortunately, there is no way to figure out how long any of the musicians have been with the ensemble as they are listed in a simple text-only roster. This is the third year in a row Chattanooga Symphony has appeared on this list.

Fresno Philharmonic:
The Fresno Philharmonic is an odd newcomer to the 2007 list. Although Executive Director, Don Reinhold, doesn’t maintain a bio or photograph he is listed along with the rest of the staff. Unfortunately, the website has absolutely no mention of the musicians, not even a text-only roster. In fact, there isn’t even a dedicated page with their music director’s bio, only a picture on the “About” page with his name printed on it.

Pacific Symphony
Along with Fresno, the Pacific Symphony has reached an odd low in executive narcissism. Although their completely redesigned website contains nothing more than a list of players they offer, right from the home page no less, a “President’s Package” featuring a picture of John Forsyte, Pacific Symphony President. The offering is described as “an exclusive new package offering quality and exclusivity” which provides buyers with “prime orchestra seats, a pre-season dinner with Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte, a reception with Music Director Carl St.Clair and more.” Apparently, in Orange County, it is more worthwhile to meet a symphony orchestra’s president than any of the actual musicians.

South Bend Symphony
Executive Director Jane Hunter continues to maintain a bio along with a black and white photograph on their website. What’s more, even the Director of Development receives a text-only bio but there’s only a simple text list of the musicians. This is South Bend’s second year on this list.

Worst Online Tickets Sales
Audience development is on the mind of every marketing professional in this business and with most organizations fighting the two front war of sluggish ticket sales and escalating marketing costs they need to take advantage of every opportunity to get as many butts in the seats as possible.

Regardless of whether or not an organization is required to work within the limitations of a third party ticketing system (such as the odious Ticketmaster) they can all take advantage of selling tickets online. Unfortunately, 15% of orchestras had no ability purchase single tickets for the 2007-2008 season at the time of the review; at the same time, that figure is down from 25% in 2006.

Along the same lines, some organizations simply made the ticket buying experience frustrating, here are some of the “highlights”:

California Symphony
The Big Tease: single ticket purchases were available but every link arrived at a “URL not found” error.

Chattanooga Symphony, Hartford Symphony, & Rochester Philharmonic
Each one of these organizations require ticket buyers to weed through a long list of individual concerts after clicking on a ticket purchase link from a concert detail page as opposed to being directed to the first page of the checkout process.

Dallas Symphony
One of the best online ticket buying features an orchestra can offer is allowing patrons the opportunity to select individual seats. At the Dallas Symphony website, they offer this feature but there’s a hook: buyers have to type in the row and seat number manually instead of clicking on an individual seat from a seating map. Since there is no seating map with row/seat numbers available from the pages where buyers have to enter in the row/seat info, they are out of luck if they don’t know that information in advance. The option of calling the box office for assistance is always there but then that’s not likely why a buyer is online in the first place trying to purchase tickets.

Detroit Symphony
Although it is wonderful that Detroit allows ticket buyers to select individual seats, those buyers receive an annoying error message telling them “selection should not leave row isolated” if they select a seat which is too far away from seats which are already reserved. As such, buyers are forced to select different seats until they fall within an area the organization wants them to sit.

Erie Philharmonic, Ft. Wayne Philharmonic, & Syracuse Symphony
It would have been nice to use their respective concert calendars to search for interesting events and buy tickets but neither organization had any concerts listed. In Syracuse’s case, there wasn’t even a concert calendar available.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Perhaps one of the most infuriating experience a ticket buyer is forced to endure is a feeling of being taken advantage of or worse, deliberately conned. In the case of the LA Phil website, ticket buyers are treated to a forced donation feature in the online shopping cart. In fact, the default forced donation was set to $50.00 and buyers have to manually select the “I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE A DONATION” check box to opt-out of giving a donation and continue to the following page (worse yet, the opt-out check box is conveniently positioned in the same place users are used to seeing opt-in check boxes).

Naples Philharmonic
When clicking on individual ticket purchase links, buyers are directed to an online subscription purchase page. As a result, purchasing single tickets online wasn’t a possibility although concert detail pages indicated this was possible.

Omaha Symphony
Reminiscent of the classic shell game, clicking on any one of the Omaha Symphony’s single ticket purchase links initiates a series of popup windows, one for each step in the checkout process. But here is the catch: some of the new windows actually opened up in previously opened popups. As a result, if a buyer inadvertently closed one of those windows they have to backtrack through the ticket buying process.

Worst Ability To Donate Online
There is simply no good reason why any orchestra wouldn’t expend the necessary effort to allow provide an opportunity for patrons to make donations through their website. Over the past two years, the number of low to no cost online donation tools allow even the smallest budget organizations to increase their contributed revenue through e-commerce solutions.

For organizations that simply don’t know how to get started, try reading this report from IdealWare, where they compare the most common online donation tools available and tell you everything you need to know to get started (thanks to my ArtsJournal.com weblog neighbor Andrew Taylor for pointing out that report back in December, 2005).

On a positive note, the number of orchestras that do not accept donations through their website decreased 13.63% since the 2006 review. Nevertheless, the following orchestras did not accept online donations at the time of the review (listed alphabetically):

  1. Akron Symphony
  2. Canton Symphony
  3. Colorado Symphony
  4. Dallas Symphony
  5. Dayton Philharmonic
  6. Elgin Symphony
  7. Fort Wayne Philharmonic
  8. Jacksonville Symphony
  9. Knoxville Symphony
  10. Long Island Philharmonic
  11. Louisville Orchestra
  12. Memphis Symphony
  13. Mississippi Symphony
  14. San Diego Symphony
  15. Shreveport Symphony
  16. South Bend Symphony
  17. Utah Symphony
  18. Wichita Symphony
  19. Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

At Risk Online Transactions
One of the most disturbing developments since the first review in 2004 is the proliferation of orchestras which offer no browser enabled encryption on transaction pages. However, unlike previous reviews this section is only listing organizations which failed to post a clearly visible security notice and had no browser enabled encryption on pages asking for credit card information.

The following orchestras (listed alphabetically) failed to provide both of those security measures:

  1. Chattanooga Symphony
  2. Elgin Symphony
  3. Indianapolis Symphony
  4. Kalamazoo Symphony
  5. Long Beach Symphony
  6. Memphis Symphony
  7. New Mexico Symphony
  8. Pacific Symphony
  9. Philadelphia Orchestra
  10. Rochester Philharmonic

In May, 2006 I published an article about the severity of this problem and why nonprofit organizations, orchestras in particular, need to wake up and take this issue seriously. Orchestras which fail to heed those warnings are playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette and it is only a matter of time before one of them falls victim to a vicious online attack.

So there you have it, the best and the worst from the 2007 Orchestra Website Review. Next Monday will feature an interview with the people responsible for creating and maintaining this year’s top orchestra websites.

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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4 thoughts on “The 2007 Orchestra Website Review: Best & Worst

  1. I appreciate your comments regarding Symphony Silicon Valley’s sponsored musicians notes.

    Symphony Silicon Valley had to reemerge following the loss of a former orchestra. When we started, we felt that the musicians were far too anonymous within the community. We sought to place a community name alongside every orchestra member in an effort to have the community adopt the players. The sponsorship level is not as significant as the individual recognition of the role musicians play in our community. We then create opportunities for the sponsors and the musicians to connect at various social times throughout the year.

    We are on the verge of having every member sponsored and it is a sign of the trust the community has placed in these players after a period of serious mistrust.

    It is also good if it inspires others to give as it certainly did when we started promoting it.

  2. We’ve had a “Meet the Artist” feature in our program books for several years. It’s so popular that we migrated it to our website. A professional photographer (who also happens to be a violist in our orchestra) takes the photos. You can find an example at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/violins.

    Thanks for sharing that Sherri, a number of groups which have something more than just a musician roster posted have taken a similar approach; and that’s a great step in the right direction. Oregon’s approach is still unique in that it offers something beyond the basic bio material capable of making a real connection with patrons. I’m especially fond of the Musical Legacy and Musical Moments sections; they demonstrate an innovative approach to what can easily become a very stale format (where they went to school, how long they’ve been with the orchestra, favorite piece, what they do in their non-musical time). the real clincher is having photographs which reflects the material in each musician’s material. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Dear Mr. McManus,

    The “President’s Package” of the Pacific Symphony was established as a way to offer “backstage insights” on programming and music-making for the Pacific Symphony. We have never thought of this as an overt attempt to draw attention to the staff or me specifically, but rather to offer patrons an opportunity to gain some insights about the complexities of making-music and running an orchestra.

    While I will facilitate a dinner function and other events, the goal is to introduce musicians, conductors and soloists to new patrons of the orchestra.

    That was not made entirely clear in our promotion on the website, and I appreciate your bringing that to our attention.

    I also believe your thoughtful comments about musician features on websites is an important point as well. We hope to address this shortcoming on our site in the near future.

    Regards,

    John Forsyte, President

  4. Hi Drew,

    Our inclusion into this year’s Orchestra Website Review was a pleasant surprise, but had unfortunately caught us at a sad time.

    We have recently lost our friend and Orchestra Manager, Paul Gutierrez, Jr. to cancer this past summer. He was a great guy with smiling eyes and a feisty personality that took great care of us.

    Hopefully, this explains that it is not our Executive Director’s narcissism that has prevented the proper recognition of our musicians or our Music Director; we are just recovering from a great loss–in our hearts and at work.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write in Mary-Frances and I would like to offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your colleague. I’m looking forward to seeing how the organization’s website will change in coming months. ~ Drew McManus

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