Killing Me Softly With Nomenclature

Do I know what makes a masterworks concert a masterworks concert? Of course I do…but why don’t you tell me what you think it means first then I’ll let you know if that’s what I thought.

That’s an actual conversation I overheard a few years ago but never really stuck me until I presented at a conference last year alongside Ceci Dadisman. Ceci introduced an element about how arts orgs inadvertently get in their own way when it comes to how they connect with patrons.

She recently extracted that nugget and packaged it into a post at her Medium blog (emphasis added).

One of my favorite examples of [creating barriers for engagement and attendance] is illustrated in this case study from Ballet Austin (in a project funded by the Wallace Foundation). One of my favorite finding as to why people weren’t attending their mixed repertoire shows was because the language they were using to describe them was unknown to the potential ticket buyer. Specifically, the term “mixed repertoire” which is the very term that is used in the dance world to describe such a performance. (Of course, there are lots of other great things from this study and you should absolutely read it in its entirety.)

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Since we’re hot and heavy into subscription brochure season, I’ve been paying more attention to this and to date, the results have been an interesting mix.

I’m not going to call out any groups for deciding to kill their subscribers softly with nomenclature, but among the brochures I’ve received to-date, it has been encouraging to see more than half embrace simplified and natural language.

Granted, we could have a much longer conversation on this same topic as applied to program notes, but we’ll have to save that for another day.

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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