Come On Cleveland, You’re Better Than This

Regular readers know that when we talk about orchestras and new media, one recurring warning is to resist the urge to use new media outlets for press release regurgitation. After all, that’s what press pages at an orchestra’s web site are for. Likewise, using the official organizational new media and social networking outlets to disseminate one-sided information about an ongoing labor dispute is not merely bad form, but ultimately self defeating…

Thinking about using your orchestra's existing new media and social networking outlets as labor negotiation tools? Think again!

Case in point, the Cleveland Orchestra broke both of these edicts on Thursday, 1/7/2010 by using the official organizational blog,, to regurgitate a copy of a press release from 1/6/2010 that presents the association’s position on the current labor negotiations. New Media outlets should be used for building a sense of community by drawing current supporters closer to the institutional mission while simultaneously providing a welcoming venue for newcomers. Posting something like this press release is tantamount to trashing any accomplishments along those lines.

If that weren’t enough, lists links to orchestra member websites (Barrick Stees, Eliesha Nelson, Joshua Smith, Massimo La Rosa, Michael Sachs) literally alongside the press release in question. So how should those musician employees feel about having their websites associated with an old-school stakeholder bashing press statement?

If You Must Unleash The Dogs Of War

Does this mean orchestras are forbidden from using new media outlets during contentious labor spats? Well, ideally, the organization would have found a way to avoid sinking to such a level to begin with but we all know these sorts of fights come around from time to time. Consequently, it will behoove orchestras to adopt the following guidelines when considering new media during labor disputes:

  1. Never use existing, official new media and social networking outlets. Under no circumstances should an orchestra use existing outlets to distribute information or discuss matters related to the labor dispute. If visitors/members are asking questions, point them toward a purpose-built outlet and/or separate social media accounts (see point #2).
  2. Create purpose-built outlets and accounts. You can set up blogs and social media pages in mere minutes so use these offerings as a forum for labor dispute related discussion. Ideally, use a platform that is community hosted by the provider as opposed to something self-hosted at your organization’s official domain name. Community hosted blogs are free ( and so there’s no undue burden in setting one up. Likewise, creating Twitter and Facebook accounts take mere moments so there is no excuse for failing to set up separate accounts.
  3. Disable search engine crawling. Most blog platforms allow users to block search engines, but allow normal visitors. This is especially handy since it keeps the content (mostly) out of a search engine’s cache once the conflict has resolved and you’ve shut down the labor dispute platform (see point #4).
  4. Delete platforms/accounts once the dispute is resolved. Simply put, there is no good reason to keep airing dirty laundry after the fact. As soon as the situation resolves, shut down and delete all new media platforms and social media accounts.
  5. Moderate discussion at existing outlets. Undoubtedly, some regular new media visitors and members of existing social media outlets will want to comment on the labor dispute. In these cases, professionals responsible for managing those outlets will need to moderate all incoming discussion on the topic and redirect that dialogue toward the purpose-built outlets.

Ultimately, labor disputes are a dirty, nasty business but allowing them to unnecessarily tarnish the organization’s reputation is nothing short of foolishness. Assuming the Cleveland Orchestra labor dispute continues, they can set an example for the entire field by immediately adopting the above guidelines. Anything less should cause patrons and supports to question their long term goals.

UPDATE 2:10pm CT: thanks to Ana Papakhian at the Cleveland Orchestra for letting me know that they have removed the PR from their blog.

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 “Come On Cleveland, You’re Better Than This”

  1. Interesting, Drew. I think perhaps most inappropriately, you can’t post comments underneath the blog post. If they’re going to go ahead and post their point of view on the official organizational blog, they should offer the opportunity to hear other points of view, especially those of the musicians.

    A blog is a two-way conversation, not a one-way broadcast. Especially in this scenario. But I guess that’s too risky and they rather lose credibility.

    • Per the update at the end of the article, I do think it is a good sign that they have decided to remove the PR. I hope that this is also a strong indication that the institutional blog (and all other official social networking platforms) will be hands-off via matters related to the labor dispute. Of course, the best solution is that they get disagreements wrapped up so all of this is moot but at the very least, it provided a good example for the business and I’m very glad to see them move in this direction.

      Nonetheless, your point about conversation being a two way street is something that should be remembered.

  2. Cleveland admin should have released a bit of steam before blasting out that emotionally charged press release.

    “Among the cities with the top ten orchestras, Cleveland has the lowest cost of living” —what a gem.

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