Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does

Over the past few weeks I’ve been inundated with promotional email messages from specialty PR firms pushing a micro-site designed by one of the big budget orchestras in conjunction with the tenure of a key artistic leader. On one hand, I’m very happy to see groups designing and promoting micro-sites but the topic I wanted to write about today is the process orchestras use to promote a new media platform like this to other new media outlets…

The orchestra in question would have been better off shouting at new media authors through a megaphone.
The orchestra in question would have been better off shouting at new media authors through a megaphone.

At the heart of the problem are two issues:

  1. Redundancy: the orchestra in question hired multiple firms to implement identical promotional tasks.
  2. Disingenuous implementation: the firms representing the orchestra in question failed to employ the principles espoused in the How To Connect With New Media series, thereby damaging the orchestra in question’s credibility with new media outlets.

In the course of contacting new media outlets, the PR firms failed to use anything beyond standard press release language or become familiar with the outlets before contacting them. As an example, after notifying the PR agents that I have received multiple notices about the micro-site and that my email address is on file with the orchestra in question’s Pr department, I received the following response from one individual:

“I actually didn’t get a list from the [orchestra in question], I found your blog by searching online.”

Two of the other PR agents eventually responded with similar remarks which lead me to believe that the orchestra in question apparently wanted to reach out to new media outlets but didn’t have an internal contact list to do so effectively. I did contact the orchestra in question to inquire about the process but they did not respond. Consequently, there was no coordination among the multiple PR firms they hired.

The lesson to take away from this was detailed in the first installment of the How To Connect With New Media series which advised orchestras to begin collecting their own new media contact lists. This situation is an ideal example of why this is a critical task.

Moving on, not only did the PR project lack coordination it implemented reaching out to new media with stale tactics. All of the email messages from these firms were laden with flowery adjectives and traditional shotgun style PR language. Here’s one example:

“Attached is a press release highlighting the [tenure] of acclaimed [orchestra in question] conductor [name removed]. In his final season the [orchestra in question], music lovers and fans are celebrating the artistry and innovation he has brought to the [orchestra in question]. To highlight his career and contribution, [the orchestra in question] has worked with a creative firm, [micro-site developer] to encapsulate the wonder and excitement of [conductor] for music lovers and fans worldwide.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in this note that doesn’t come across like a “personalized” form letter. The pitch fails to acknowledge the sender has any idea about my blog topic or they have taken any time to craft the message they sent beyond that necessary to look up my contact information.

Instead, this campaign could have benefitted by adopting the following advice from the How To Conenct With New Media Action List:

Abandon the traditional shotgun-style generic press release when communicating with new media outlets. Send personalized email messages (read: not “personalized” form letters) and mention how what it is you’re pitching directly connects with an outlet’s topic. Make it obvious that you know more about the author than simply their name and email address. Remember, your intent is key so don’t send a pitch that comes across as a media leech: only taking and never giving.

Obviously, the orchestra in question is allocating a portion of their marketing budget toward hiring these public relations firms. Unfortunately, the firms either misrepresented their practices or the orchestra in question failed to design standards that conform to acceptable new media practices and hold those firms accountable to those standards. Regardless of the reasons, the end result is that the orchestra in question failed to project an image of sincerity in favor of the traditional media leech.

newmedia-ebook-168x200Although it is heartening that the orchestra in question included new media outlets among its promotional targets, it is equally disappointing to see a major effort like this fall apart due to a flawed process and a collapse in new media etiquette. Ideally, the organization will learn from this failure and orchestras elsewhere can use this example to design meaningful and sincere campaigns to connect with new media outlets.

As always, the How To Connect With New Media series is available right here at Adaptistration and you can download a free eBook version that was created in conjunction with the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention session on institutional blogging.

Postscript: If you’re curious about today’s title, it is from a line in one of my favorite Simpson’s episodes but in this case, Donny Don’t grew up to be a PR agent.

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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3 thoughts on “Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does”

  1. Hahaha, this has to be about the LAPO’s Salonen web site. I read about it in the blogosphere; not one of the PR firms involved succeeded in finding me, even though I’m about 1500 or 2000 miles closer to LA than you are. The site is both beautiful and annoying; it’s all Flash and you can’t link to, say, a particular performance. The behavior of the scroll bars is weird, also.

  2. Ack! Drew, did you get the impression that any of these firms had any first-hand experience inside the new media orchestral community? If they are even doing basic blog/podcast/twitter/facebook themselves, even in a different area, you’d think they’d have a better grasp on approaching people about an online project.

    Coming at it another way, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of people out here who are and could have helped the orchestra’s own PR department design a campaign and speed them on their way to reaching out quickly to some key people if they were feeling lost/short staffed in this area.

    My favorite pitches come from PR people who have clearly read and listened to the online work I do (I can count them on one hand). After that, it’s not that formal or time intensive a process for either of us. Usually it’s framed:

    “Performer A is doing B on Jan. 14. I thought this might be a great fit for your X because of Y and Z. Let me know if I can set something up for you, or if you need any more information.”

    When they’re not sure about the extent of my work, they still score big points and have room to go a bit out on a limb by *admitting that*:

    “Also, Performer C is doing D in E. It doesn’t seem like your area exactly, but I’m super excited about the project because of K. Does that fit your needs at all? Here’s a link to check out a short video of the work.”

    All done, and probably sold two stories. Either way, I’m always going to open their next email pitch because I like how they do their jobs.

  3. Molly: I did do some basic Googling on the groups but didn’t run across any social networking sites maintained by any of these groups.

    Those are some great examples of how to make better connections, especially the last one which is something so many PR agents could benefit from. I certainly agree that I’ll pay more attention to incoming PRs from outfits/individuals I know do a better job even if the headline is nothing I’m immediately interested in.

    I suppose the simple point to take from all of this is it doesn’t take all that much effort to make a good initial connection but you still have to do it.

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