Indianapolis Symphony Launches PR Campaign

Following an initial press blackout, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) launched a PR campaign related to the ongoing labor dispute with their musicians. They released a lengthy press statement on 9/3/2012 that provides rationale for some of the austerity measures being pursued in the new collective bargaining agreement.

deliverAccording to quotes in the statement from ISO board chairman, John Thornburgh, it appears that the ISO board sees itself in the same light as Detroit and Philadelphia and that the way forward is to pattern the orchestra’s strategic vision after solutions pioneered by those ensembles.

“Hard as it is to contemplate, the model that Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Detroit and other orchestras have used for decades simply needs to be revisited, with the goal always being to retain and attract the highest quality possible with the resources available.”

On the same day the ISO released that statement, the musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra held a ratification meeting for terms related to a new four year master agreement that continues the organization’s trend of improvements to traditional compensation and work rules (details).

Similarly, on 8/31/2012 the Seattle Symphony announced that the organization met its fundraising goal for the 2011/12 season (details) and there are a number of other orchestras in recent years that have met annual fund goals, endowment recapitalization campaigns, and settled on labor agreements that provide null growth as well as improvements to compensation (Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Nashville, Oregon, etc.)

In the end, given the breadth of available examples, from institutional calamity to growth-centric sustainable success, perhaps the best type of comparative assessment for gaining perspective is to forego the process entirely in favor of one that focuses internally. After all, reaching for convenient peer comparisons in today’s orchestra field is an approach that works equally well for the goose as it does for the gander.

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 “Indianapolis Symphony Launches PR Campaign

  1. I’ve been reading these articles on adaptistration for a couple months now. Thanks for letting readers know what is going on with the struggling orchestras. However, could someone potentially write an article explaining why and how certain orchestras are actually doing very well right now. We know THAT the National Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony are doing well, but what have they done to be doing so well when so many other orchestras are on the verge of collapse?

  2. That’s an interesting observation and I genuinely wonder what sort of association the ISO board perceives by way of the comparison. Do they see those groups as the optimum examples for future business models or is there something else (or a little from Column A and a little from Column B)?

  3. It could be that they draw a parallel between Indianapolis (the city) and Detroit/Phila (the cities). Economically, the Indianapolis region has more in common with them than with your growth examples. And regional economics will obviously impact revenue for any symphony orchestra in this country.

  4. I can’t speak for anyone else but me, and to that end we do cover a good bit of success stories here each year. Nashville Symphony is one group in particular that has produced a wealth of useful analysis and one of the more recent examples is Dayton Philharmonic.

  5. ” . . .it appears that the ISO board sees itself in the same light as Detroit and Philadelphia and that the way forward is to pattern the orchestra’s strategic vision after solutions pioneered by those ensembles.”

    . . . except, to my knowledge, neither The Philadelphia Orchestra nor The Detroit Symphony have become a part-time ensemble of 63 players with a 38 week schedule, which is what is being proposed in Indianapolis, and which would tragically dilute the artistic and musical quality of the exceptional and extraordinary Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

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