You Say Tomato…

Yesterday, I received two orchestra press releases, both of which referred to their music director in the subheading as a "beloved" figure. "Beloved," really? The use of this particular adjective in the context of each PR (announcing the respective orchestra’s upcoming regional tour) projected an entirely self-serving image. Granted, writing creative PR copy can become a bit monotonous but marketing professionals need to be on guard against allowing such grandiose language to creep into their print material. As a tool to combat this problem, here’s a creative, team-oriented way to make the copy writing process more efficient…

Step 1: schedule an hour long meeting.

Step 2: invite all of the marketing and PR staff involved in copy writing.

Step 3: invite one or two musicians (it is likely that there are
at least a few with some knowledge of common adjectives used to
describe musicians).

Step 4: create an in-house orchestra-centric thesaurus that managers and staffers can use as a reference resource.

Although the final product will likely differ from one group to
the next, the process will not only produce a useful style sheet but
serve as one more way to bridge the gap between administrators and
musicians. Undoubtedly, the process will create opportunities for all
involved to discuss how musicians perceive themselves and how they wish
to be perceived in the community and the challenges managers face
implementing that task. Ultimately, the exercise has win-win written
all over it.

If you need a starting point in the process, create a list of
adjectives to describe the music director: respected, well-regarded,
esteemed, accomplished, talented, distinguished, critically acclaimed,
etc. When finished, do the same thing for guest artists, orchestra
musicians, etc. Are the lists the same or different and if the latter,

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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7 thoughts on “You Say Tomato…”

  1. Beloved indeed.

    We prefer the term Evil Rat Bastard in my orchestra (ERB for short). 😉

    In the current political spirit of equal time, I know conductors who have created equally entertaining acronyms for some of their musicians 🙂 But I’ll let them write in if they feel the need. ~ Drew McManus

  2. I agree with your thoughts on the inappropriateness of the term “beloved”.

    However the even greater sin in my book (and far more prevalent in the lingo of the business today) is for orchestras (management/staff/musicians/boards/conductors) proclaiming their organization- or facets of it – “world class”.

    The “world-class” moniker is certainly tossed around. At the heart of the issue is whether or not it is possible to create a quantifiable set of universally accepted criteria that define what “world-class” really means or if the term in and of itself is an inadequate definition. It feels like a future blog post… ~ Drew McManus

  3. Yes, let’s choose our words wisely. Our audiences are too smart to fall for inaccurate or exaggerated marketing babble. But seriously, do you really think writing by committee is efficient? Nothing done by comittee is efficient. Besides, we each have specific role to play in the big picture and hopefully every one is in the role that they are best suited for. I would be shocked if I heard that admin staff are programming concerts or making bowing suggestions. Certainly, create an atmosphere of collaberation and accountability, but if you don’t trust your PR and marketing staff to do their job, get rid of them and hire someone else.

    Thanks for the observations Erika and I agree, writing by committee is typically inefficient; however, this exercise isn’t writing by committee so much as creating a style sheet capable of making the writing process more effective.

    I also agree that a manager should trust the marketing and PR staff to do their jobs but I also believe that a good manager will equip those individuals with the best tools availalbe. For instance, I don’t expect a marketing professional with no direct experience in performing arts organizations to have a comprehensive understanding of the nomenclature common to the business (to those inside and out).

    Furthermore, creating an opportunity for improved cooperation and understanding between musicians and players is worth its weight in gold and allocating one hour out of a year’s worth of working time.

    Although I can’t claim to know precisely how things work inside the Winspearcentre, it is quite common for orchestra administrators to program select concerts (that’s part of an artistic administrator’s duties and responsibilities) as well as examine the concert experience; right down to experimenting with the on-stage image (including, but not limited to, turning to face the audience when standing to receive applause). ~ Drew McManus

  4. Thanks for this post! I’ve often found myself tearing my hair out over my colleagues’ inability to differentiate public relations and marketing language. One of the greatest tips I ever received regarding this from a music writer was “let the journalist choose the adjectives.” A well thought out style manual for the organization can only help improve its institutional brand and help it be perceived as a quality contributor to a community’s culture.

  5. Hmm… beloved is a weird choice for sure to describe a conductor, but not sure I agree with your process above. I would think if you’re talking about writing marketing material that is describing an orchestra to audiences that the starting point is the audience. Good research about who your audiences are, and clear strategies about who the target audience is for each piece of communication is key. Getting input from musicians is a nice idea, but as they are deep in the orchestral world and not the ones buying tickets, I don’t think that’s the answer.

    Thank you for the observations Erin, I certainly agree that including audience input is a positive step but I would suggest something more along the lines of measuring the impact of current marketing efforts to help shape future campaigns. At the smae time, I would also encourage you to thnk more about musician involvement in an excercise like the one described above.

    Yes, the musicians aren’t the ones buying tickets but they are aware of nomenclature (even do’s and dont’s) which marketing professionals may be unaware. Segregating marketing efforts into such strict divisions will only encourage a final product that isn’t as complete as it could be. Ultimately, one of the goals of an effective long-term marketing campaign should include creating greater access and transparency into what I believe you’re describing as “deep in the orchestra world.” ~ Drew McManus

  6. Have to say I disagree with you Drew, ticket-selling marketing material is not the place for encouraging access in the way you describe. I think you can produce a piece of print or a website or a campaign to do that, but it’s not going to be a ticket-selling campaign.

    It’s not that it’s not important to encourage that kind of activity, but it goes back to what I said in my original comment about specifying your target audiences properly in the beginning. The problem often is there isn’t enough money/resources to create enough print material to target properly, and as narrowly, as we’d like. So we end up with season brochures trying to be an audience development tool and a ticket-selling vehicle and an educational tool – obviously the language you use for all of those things would be quite different.

    I think musician input is valuable for some of those types of communications, but I still maintain ticket-selling communications isn’t one of them.

    Of course if you’re talking about marketing staff without performing arts experience, then yes, nomenclature is an issue, but artistic programmers/artistic director should be able to help there as well… considering they’re the ones often shaping the programme and understand the overarching themes and ideas in a season. Marketing staff should be getting briefings from them anyway to ‘tell the story’ of a season effectively.

    Definitely there should be measurement criteria and tracking in place for any marketing campaign, but it’s notoriously difficult to track them directly, especially ‘increased awareness’.

    Anyway… besides all my blather above about semantics, I agree ‘beloved’ isn’t the right word for a conductor, pretty much anywhere!

    I think you’ve touched on an interesting topic Erin; which is why are there distinctions between ticket-selling campaigns and other marketing efforts? And if you make the distinction, why? Personally, I see the efforts being more homogeneous and the idea of creating a style sheet to create continuity between those efforts is more of the direction this exercise is intended. I’d love to hear more of your (and other reader’s) thoughts on this.

    BTW; did anyone else remember that awful fiction-filled movie about the life of Beethoven entitled “Immortal Beloved” when discussing the use of the word beloved in PRs? ~ Drew McManus

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