The New Face Of Damage Control

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) / Valentina Lisitsa firestorm is a good reminder that capable damage control and responsible flexing of social media muscle are important skills to develop and maintain.

Adaptistration People 028For organizations, damage control seems to be a lesson that is slow to matriculate. Remember the Richard Dare/NJSO crisis or the Detroit Symphony scrambling to backtrack on comments about hiring replacement musicians? Just wind your way through Adaptistration’s archives and you’ll find a litany of instances where orchestras ended up scrambling to catch up instead of getting out in front of events.

But the comparatively new lesson here is how individual artists utilize social media influence.

To all of the soloists that have successfully managed to cultivate a large social media following, kudos to you; it is a necessary skill and one that can help careers improve and maintain momentum. At the same time, there’s a strong lesson to be learned in how Lisitsa used her 14k strong Twitter follower influence to hammer the TSO and frame the debate in a situation that a decade prior, would have been inconceivable.

Simply put, this debacle may become a new case example for winning a battle but losing the war as applied to a soloist’s career.

Orchestras don’t have a strong reputation for embracing controversy so using a social media account as a platform for lightening rod political commentary is not the best of ideas. At the same time, using considerable influence to hammer an organization concerned about social media statements that are, at best, intolerant if not undeniably prejudiced, is not what most crisis management experts would define as the best long tail strategy.

In order for Lisitsa to emerge from this with as much career viability as possible, she will need to consider addressing this issue in her Twitter account transparently; after all, the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” exists for a reason. Moreover, she’s going to have to consider the ultimate value of making the sorts of comments that led the TSO to cancel her engagement to begin with regard to her status as an employable artistic asset.

To date, there doesn’t appear to be much if any (at least none I can find) introspective dialog within Lisitsa’s Twitter feed about this and if she wants to play the damage control game properly, she’s going to have to demonstrate that she can empathize with the TSO’s concerns even if she doesn’t agree with them. At best, framing this as a “we agree to disagree” discussion makes it easier to maintain the image of stability and reliability.

Painting herself as a victim and free speech poster child in light of so much evidence to the contrary only reinforces volatility and will cause orchestras that might consider hiring her to wonder if the investment in economic and artistic might not be better spent elsewhere.

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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2 thoughts on “The New Face Of Damage Control”

  1. That’s what I was wondering about here. For all the ineptness of Jeff Melanson and the TSO’s handling of the situation, that ineptness doesn’t hide the fact that Lisitsa is quite a piece of work in her parading of her bigotries and prejudices on Twitter. Melanson and the TSO may have been incompetent in this one instance, but incompetent here is not the same as evil or vile.

    She is, of course, free to hold such views as much as she wants. Likewise, orchestras are free not to engage her. Maybe this blow-up will turn her into damaged goods with orchestras down the line, who will hopefully take a tough second look when her agent comes calling. There’s no lack of talented pianists out there to engage who don’t express such intolerant sentiments.

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