In June 2013, arts consulting firm WolfBrown released a report detailing the results from a three season long assessment of concert formats. The project was conducted using the post-graduate orchestral academy, New World Symphony (NWS) backed by what the report defines as generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Of particular interest are the findings related to concert length, ticket price, and newbie audience development.
Certainly, the report is of great value to the field and well worth your time; having said that, after a series of conversations with colleagues, a consensus began to form that a few key areas could benefit from addition details and/or are either glossed over or left out. If nothing else, these are areas worth considering before engaging board members or initiating exploratory discussions within administrative departments.
ROI for Data-Capture Tickets vis-a-vis Mini-Concerts
- The report indicated that the goal of the 30 minute long format is to attract new audiences and build the patron database by lowering barriers with a $2.50 price point ticket.
- There is no mention of how the organization used the expanded database to communicate with new patrons or what that communication produced. Of particular interest is whether the NWS structured subsequent communication so as to avoid a common problem of communication overload and burnout.
- The report lacks relevant details surrounding the planning and implementation for the NWS’s marketing strategy. This data would be enormously beneficial in developing a reasonable marketing performance frame of reference when compared to traditional efforts.
- When applied in the NWS’s environment, the approach appears to be quite successful at establishing the beachhead but it will be helpful to see how retention rates transpire alongside subsequent newbie development.
Don’t Underestimate the Need For Subsidies
- Yes, nonprofit performing arts orgs tend to prefer support instead of subsidy but semantics aside, attempting to launch most, if not all, of these concert formats without securing the necessary contributed funds to offset immediate drops in earned income revenue (not to mention expected spikes in production costs) will sink even the best of efforts.
- The report’s opening paragraph references the Mellon Foundation’s generous support but lacks accompanying data to illustrate the ratio of that support vs. operational costs associated with operational concert format costs or research and development. This data, along with the marketing strategy above, would provide an enormous amount of practical support.
Vastly Different Operating Environments
- There is no mention of unionized musician involvement during any stage of the NWS process but that shouldn’t come as a surprise since NWS is an educational institution and the post-graduate musicians are not unionized. Instead, they are classified as Fellows as opposed to employees.
- This lack of comparable labor expense structure and operational environment increases the potential danger for a professional orchestra to become internally committed to a new format before developing necessary musician stakeholder buy-in.
- The conclusion on page 12 does a good job at illustrating just how different the NWS’s labor structure is compared to a professional orchestra but falls victim to a common bear trap by portraying collective bargaining agreements in a strongly negative context.
Ideally, WolfBrown will be following up on these items in a subsequent document and given the firm’s reputation, it would be surprising if that wasn’t the case.
Until then, this initial data is fun and exciting but prudence suggests that you be on guard against falling victim to the lure of focusing on the artistic at the expense of marketing performance, labor relations, and developing committed program subsidies.
Have you read the report? If so, what are your thoughts and observations?