How To Connect With New Media: Part 5

The final installment in this series will wrap up all of the loose ends from in addition to examining some do’s and don’ts for both new media outlets and performing arts organizations. We’ll also look at some current efforts to reach out to new media outlets among orchestral organizations…

LOOKING AHEAD AFTER FOUR YEARS OF HINDSIGHT.

I’m looking forward to participating in the National Performing Arts Convention’s breakout sessions titled The Online Salon Movement. I’m hoping that we’ll have time to talk about some of the issues that have been covered in this series of articles and for those in attendance will be able to interact with the panel and ask specific questions about how performing arts organizations can connect with new media.

Ten years from now, the majority of marketing professionals in this business will have a much higher degree of experience and understanding of new media outlets and the platforms/tools common to that medium. However, until we reach that time there exists a new media knowledge gap between seasoned marketers and those entering into the profession.

In the more than four years I’ve been writing Adaptistration I’m glad to say that the number of marketing professionals I’ve encountered who are unfamiliar with new media sources has decreased. At the same time, I still come across a marketing director who are not certain what a blog is.

If anything, this ultimately goes to show that performing arts organizations are going to have to make a conscious effort to decide how to interact with new media outlets. If performing arts organizations ever hope to make reasonable inroads with new media outlets they must make a concerted effort to take a step back and take a hard look at the image they project. I don’t mean the product they promote, rather, the image of their marketing department.

At the core of these issues is whether or not performing arts organizations make conscious policy decisions to recognize new media outlets at the same status currently afforded to traditional media outlets. For example, do new media authors receive press credentials; i.e. comp tickets, access to artists, interview requests, etc.? I can relate from experience that some orchestras I’ve contacted over the years have said that they simply do not respond to press requests from bloggers. Others have required that I submit a written request to be afforded press credentials (I’m glad to say none have ever denied those credentials), and others have provided the same level of access and information from first contact.

Unfortunately, I don’t consider Adaptistration to be anything like a traditional media outlet and the same is true for most new media outlets. Consequently, attempting to define the parameters of a relationship using traditional methods is simply impractical. What is needed is a new set of standards and practices to facilitate interaction between performing arts organizations and new media. Perhaps that’s something that can take place at June’s National Performing Arts Convention; until then, here are a few straightforward guidelines performing arts organizations and new media outlets can use to help create meaningful relationships by starting off on the right foot.

NEW MEDIA DO’S AND DON’TS

For performing arts organizations:

  1. Don’t do what Target does.The January 28, 2008 edition of the New York Times reported an incident between retail giant Target and the consumer advocate blog Shapingyouth.org (thanks to San Francisco Symphony’s Gary Ginstling for the tip). The article reports that after expressing concern over a particular advertisement, ShapingYouth.org received the following message from Target’s public relations department: “Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.” The business of performing arts can learn from this  and work against reinforcing any stodgy, exclusive, or elitist stereotypes that currently exist throughout the mainstream cultural consciousness. Creating a policy that identifies and discriminates against new media outlets only perpetuates an image the business needs to shake.
  2. Do change your vocabulary.
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered marketing professionals over the years who ask “which newspaper do you write for?” I’m not a supporter of rampant political correctness but I do encourage accuracy and asking a perfectly relevant question – “who are you?” – is something that needs to be done when making first contact. However, phrasing the question with the term “newspaper” imparts a certain level cluelessness at best and an indirect bias against new media outlets at worst. Instead, ask “which outlet do you work for?” You can then make any necessary determination based on each individual outlet. In general, adopt generic language until you’ve confirmed all relevant details; i.e. newspaper, blog, journal, discussion board, magazine, etc.
  3. Don’t be afraid to offer exclusive information.
    Traditional media outlets can’t publish everything performing arts organizations send them. As such, don’t be afraid to offer a particular new media outlet an exclusive, especially if the material is weighted heavily toward a niche-based audience.
  4. Do test credibility.
    This certainly isn’t exclusive to new media outlets but it is a good idea to test the trust waters with individual outlets by revealing something off-the-record that is actually of no significant value to the organization. Then check with that outlet to see if the confidential information gets published. Make certain you let the new media author know, unambiguously, that the information is not for print (or is embargoed) so there aren’t any misunderstandings. Ideally, you should put it in writing via email so it can be referenced with that source at a later date when they ask why you aren’t sharing information or responding to requests with them any longer.

For new media outlets:

  1. Learn who’s who.
    It is important for new media authors who are not familiar with the world of professional marketing to understand that there are certain individuals you must contact in order to request information. Typically, that person is a public relations manager. If you need information from a performing arts organization, start by visiting their website and looking for a public relations contact. If you can’t find one, call the administrative offices and ask if you can talk to someone in the public relations department. If you do find an email contact, begin your message by explaining who you are, provide a link to your new media outlet, and thoroughly explain the information you need and why you need it. Let them know when you plan to publish your material and make certain to provide a telephone contact. Whatever you do; don’t do an end run around the public relations and/or marketing department by attempting to contact artists or managers in other departments directly.
  2. Don’t go begging for handouts.
    Performing arts organizations aren’t Top 40 radio stations, meaning they don’t have closets stacked with give-away items. If you are interested in obtaining a pair of comp tickets let them know why and don’t be offended if tickets aren’t available because an event is expected to sell out. If you write reviews don’t ask for $500.00 in CDs/videos/DVDs. Unlike the for profit world, most nonprofit performing arts organizations receive a limited number of copies they can distribute for critical review (if any).
  3. Keep it short and simple.
    On average, nonprofit organizations are understaffed and overworked (like most offices). As such, don’t pester the public relations manager with a stream of daily requests and ongoing email exchanges. Figure out everything you might need and include it in your original request contact and try to limit yourself to one follow-up message. If you need to talk to them on the phone, an ideal conversation doesn’t last more than five minutes. If you’re interviewing someone, arrange a set time limit for the interview and if the interview subject is enjoying the interview, they’ll usually let you know it is acceptable to run long.
  4. Don’t be afraid to pitch ideas.
    Ideally, you’ll be able to establish a two-way relationship with performing arts organizations which means you should feel free to pitch an idea to them. If you have something in mind which utilizes the unique nature of your new media outlet and simultaneously benefits the organization, send the idea to your contact. Keep in mind point #3 and don’t pester an organization with every little idea that crosses your mind. Furthermore, be prepared for them to decline your ideas for any reason they wish and don’t get involved in a back-and-forth discussion over a rejection. At the same time, present ideas with as much detail as possible and let them know what you’ll be willing to do to make it work.

PIONEERS IN THE FIELD.

Allow me to preface this section by mentioning that these examples focus only on orchestra organizations. Naturally, this doesn’t mean non-orchestra performing arts organizations haven’t launched programs to reach out to new media outlets but my knowledge of such efforts is limited. As such, if any readers know of an organization (or you work for an organization) that has engaged in similar activity, please post a comment below or send me an email with the details and I’ll post it as an addendum comment.

San Francisco Symphony’s Blogger’s Night

In January, 2008 the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) invited a group of new media authors from around the Bay Area to come hear the orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall for a concert event on January 18. The organization ended up having nearly 40 individuals and their guests show up to the event. In addition to providing gratis tickets, the organization arranged for the group to meet for a Q&A session with that evening’s conductor, soloist, and an orchestra musician.

What’s worth noting is that the SFS made sure to invite new media outlets that don’t focus on cultural events. Instead, they went looking for some authors who had never attended a SFS concert. The results were prolific and the orchestra has all of the relevant new media content indexed at the San Francisco Symphony blogger night del.icio.us page. According to Gary Ginstling, San Francisco Symphony Director of Communications and External Affairs, the idea was developed and implemented by his team while working with someone local who had done a similar kind of event for other organizations.

Gary went on to say that since the event, more than five other organizations across the U.S., including orchestras, museums, and music festivals from, have approached the SFS for more details on how they can implement similar events at their organizations. Perhaps most important, Gary said that the organization has established a relationship with about six of the new media authors who attended their event and that the SFS is planning another event for sometime this spring.

Blog Night @ the ESO

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is taking a slightly different approach at reaching out to new media with the advent of their Blog Night @ the ESO program. In this case, the orchestra has partnered with their local traditional media outlet, The Edmonton Journal, to offer six new media authors the opportunity to write a review of the February 22, 2008 performance which will then be published at the newspaper’s website the
following week.

Additionally, the ESO is allowing the six new media authors to publish content directly from their primary venue, Winspear Centre, before and after the concert as well as during intermission. In addition to gratis tickets for the concert, the new media authors will get to meet ESO musicians and the ensemble’s music director Bill Eddins (none other than the co-author of the new media outlet Sticks and Drones).

I contacted ESO publicist Melayne Shankel to ask why they aren’t inviting more than six new media authors to attend the event. I was concerned that limiting the number of authors and creating an evaluation process might send the wrong message to new media authors and actually turn some of them off to the idea. Melayne said that when the organization started to develop the idea for this concert the performance was already beginning to sell out. Furthermore, the concert features a world premier composition written for Bill Eddins by composer Allan Gilliland so the number of complimentary tickets available was very limited.

Melayne went on to say that their original idea was to do something more akin to what transpired in San Francisco and after this event, that’s more like how they expect to structure their next event. Melayne also said that they were not limiting entries to only cultural oriented new media outlets and they have been actively contacting non-cultural new media outlets in their area to ensure that as much of the new media community is aware of the event as possible. At the very least, it will be intriguing to read about how the event unfolds.

CONCLUSIONS

I have to mention how much I appreciate all of the positive feedback and questions that have come in via comments and emails from marketing professionals and new media authors. It is heartening to see that there is a great deal of interest from both sides on expanding relationships beyond what currently exist. As such, I want to encourage everyone to continue submitting comments and sending emails at any point since this issue is bound to continue evolving.

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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