A Tangled Web Indeed

If you haven’t read it yet, Ron Spigelman posted an excellent article on 3/22/2008 at Sticks and Drones about some recent changes made to the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra (SSO) website. Although the ongoing situation in Columbus has had a great deal of attention, there is an equally significant series of events developing in Shreveport between the SSO and the symphony musicians, the Orchestra Players United of Shreveport-Bossier (OPUS). The particulars of that situation will be examined here in the near future but the issues which Ron brings to light are worth immediate attention…

In particular, Ron takes issue with the SSO’s decision to use the
front page of their website to post a lengthy pair of messages (more
than 1300 words combined) addressing the ongoing labor dispute. To this
point, Ron writes:

As an orchestra we need to create a foundation of trust
with our audiences (including future ones) and supporters in order to
be effective. One of the foundation cornerstones is the web-site, a
24/7 relationship building tool and portal into an organization…In
Shreveport their site has now been essentially hijacked to become
primarily the board and management mouthpiece in the current labor
dispute. If you go to it here, you will see several diatribes in huge
font like this headline in all caps: "SHREVEPORT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
RESPONSIBILITY". This is so potentially damaging. If you were living in
Shreveport and thought, maybe we should check out the Symphony, would
you buy a ticket after seeing this headline?

SsohomepageRon is right on the mark with his observation. An effective
orchestra website is measured by well it presents the concert schedule,
sells tickets, provides organizational information, and facilitates
online donations. In fact, these components are the cornerstone of
Adaptistration’s annual website review
and the SSO’s decision to take up their most valuable website space
with an awkwardly formatted 1300+ word public statement addressing a
labor dispute only serves to drive away any right-minded potential
supporter of their financial plan. After all, would you want to support
a plan created by a group of individuals who have demonstrated that
they are willing to marginalize the revenue generating and
mission-oriented outreach capacity of the organization’s website? A copy of how the SSO home page appears is illustrated to your right (click to enlarge).

Here’s What The SSO Should Have Done (and can still do)

I’m not a proponent of posting any information about
contentious negotiations or labor disputes at an organization’s
respective website. However, including PRs which reference the dispute
along with the list of standard PRs or (God forbid) announcing concert
cancellations due to a work stoppage is fine. But using the front page
and/or creating internal pages for any other purpose is simply bad
business; instead, an orchestra association should create a separate
website they can use to present their position in any way they see fit.
This will allow the organization’s patrons and other website visitors
to continue utilizing the orchestra’s website without fear of driving
anyone away, especially those who don’t want to be courted to one side
or another in a dispute and are only looking for concert or outreach

There are plenty of low and no cost user-friendly tools to
create a website capable of delivering all of the information necessary
to adequately portray an institutional position and for those with
available resources, the sky is the limit for what can be created. Why
this isn’t standard operating procedure among professional orchestras
already is simply beyond me especially after the lessons
learned following one of the first really contentious orchestra labor
disputes that utilized an institutional website: the Philadelphia
Orchestra negotiation of 2004. In that situation, a multitude of Philly
patrons were turned off by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s
decision to use the organization’s website to promote their position.

Nevertheless, in every labor dispute since that time orchestra
associations have been using (or is it abusing?) their primary website
to promote their respective position instead of creating a special-use
website than can easily be removed once the dispute is settled. Yes,
the institutional website is owned by each respective orchestral
association and they are fully within their right to do whatever they
please with it. But that doesn’t mean they have to conduct business in
a way that is counterproductive to maximizing revenue and positive
attention just because they can. Isn’t it about time everyone caught a

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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1 thought on “A Tangled Web Indeed”

  1. Organizations that don’t grow, shrink. Organizations that laud shrinkage as desirable will surely do it.

    The donor public will back growth and strength, not shrinkage and weakness. Shrinkage begets shrinkage, and is tough to turn around.

    I’m pleased to see you understand and address this.

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