Accept It Then Expand On It

Every now and then a post inspires a terrific round of thoughtful feedback and that was exactly the case with yesterday’s article about the San Diego Symphony’s New You campaign.

Adaptistration People 003And since this isn’t 2009, most of the conversation takes place inside social media channels, which means blog readers don’t always get to stay connected.

The following two comments were posted on my Facebook wall, both do a fabulous job at summing up a number of ways something like a New You effort could be even more effective.

As an aside, after yesterday’s article went live, I noticed the SDS New You landing page added some content pointing to their existing FAQ info. It’s good to see their website provides the capacity to make changes in short order and they are taking advantage of that feature.

But back to the comments, both are posted here with the author’s permission.

First up is from Phoenix Symphony music director, Tito Muñoz:

I’m not sure that including education and outreach are the things that will make most people pay the $30+ to attend a concert. It can certainly help a fundraising effort, and that’s usually how that message is employed by orchestras. I’m also not sure that you can sell an experience that EVERYONE will want to attend. Classical music is like any other music, it has its fans. There should be something unique about the experience of going to a symphony concert that gives it its specific atmosphere and personality, and it will attract whomever it attracts.

As an example… a study we did in Phoenix to try to find the “smoking gun” as to why Hispanics weren’t attending our concerts as much as we wanted them to found that it had nothing to do with the experience, or the music, or the preconceived elitism. In fact, all of those things were described as positives by the 100+ group of Hispanics that were interviewed. These were “middle-class” people of all ages that had never gone to the orchestra before, but had many of preconceived ideas as to what the experience would be (and were pretty much dead accurate). They liked the idea of a special experience, “high class,” and they were not deterred by the ticket prices, since going out to almost any other type of show would be the same or more expensive, and even a night at the club would end up being more expensive when all is said and done. They also specifically spoke about the appreciation of a high level of musical achievement/virtuosity of the performers… that there is a reverence that should be observed. They didn’t want a “casual” experience and they didn’t want music specifically catered to them.

What they did want, though, was to be “invited to the party.” So, to your notion, Drew, about what the impact would be had there been a woman of color hosting that commercial… It would have been huge.

I can’t underscore how critical of a point this is, not to mention being one of this juiciest pieces of low hanging fruit that groups routinely overlook. Tito generously offered to see about obtaining permission to make some of the content from the Phoenix Symphony study he referenced publicly available. I’ll be sure to post links here if they become available so check back for updates.

Second is from composer and all-around culture mensch Alex Shapiro, who expanded on insights from her 2006 Take a Friend to the Orchestra contribution:

This video was posted on another colleague’s FB page, and— to my head scratching— was met with mostly a lot of praise. Here’s the comment I made (apologies in advance for hijacking your pixels with a long comment):

I agree that this is cute and a step in the right direction, but it’s still pretty elitist. Yoga?? Sushi?? Lattes?? C’mon. To me, it just sends the message that the symphony is still for, “mostly white folks with disposable income.” This is a start, but orchestra campaigns can still do much more to make our work attractive and inviting to people outside of the expected yoga/sushi/latte-consuming demographic.

I’m no marketing expert, but I would have better appreciated this fresh take on bringing in younger audiences had the video included images of the orchestra’s educational and outreach work in underserved areas of the community [in addition to, not instead of, the rest of the schtick. I know, butts in the seats.].

Like any such orchestra, these activities are a notable and public part of what these musicians do— just check out the pull-down menu of their website (these activities are also usually key to an orchestra receiving foundation grants, or state or federal arts funding). Curious?

Positive, inclusive messages from powerful optics in a video would be a great balance to all the “yoga/sushi/latte/wine wine wine oh did we mention wine” stuff. Photo or video inserts of professional musicians showing little kids their instruments at a elementary school, or rehearsing with high school students, or doing a flash mob at a grocery store, etc., go a long way. They would show that the orchestra is a part of everyone’s existing community, rather than “a separate thing that people should know about and delineate time in their life to attend before returning to their “real” life.”

Even without a subtitle/voiceover/smarmy semi-ironic perky bespectacled millennial mentioning the words “education,” “outreach,” or “part of the community,” viewers would immediately see that the experience and importance of symphonic music is relevant not only to older gray hairs, but to the next generations of all incomes and backgrounds. If we don’t try harder– at every opportunity– to build affinity with those who cannot YET help financially sustain the arts (whether via a $25 ticket or a $500+ donation) but who may very well be in a position to do so in a decade, our beloved art form will eventually wither.

Here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: take everything Tito and Alex said and accept it as your starting point then expand on it. What would you do with the existing SDS effort to incorporate their ideas and make it that much more effective?

Leave a comment below or pick up the thread on your own social media account.

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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