Institutions can do it, too

Reaching out to your networkIn the past week, people from two orchestras — one in person, one by email — have told me about a problem they’ve had. Both orchestras had some good news, something they felt (and rightly) was truly notable.

But they couldn’t get press coverage. One orchestra is one of the largest in the US, the other is smaller. I’m not mentioning their names, or what the good news was, because what these orchestras think internally is their own, private business.

Their dilemma, though, is something everyone can think about. My answer, to both, was that it’s not enough to pop up with good news when it happens. You’d wish that was enough, and that the media would immediately respond. But it won’t. That’s partly because not everyone who covers classical music is completely up to speed about what goes on inside orchestras, what matters a lot, and what doesn’t.

But it’s also because these orchestras may not be on the radar every day. Even media people who cover the orchestras may not think every day about how the orchestra is doing, what the orchestra’s needs might be, what news might be good or bad.

So the orchestras — and, I’d think, every classical music institution — needs to fix this. The method is exactly what I and some of my readers have discussed, in my posts about musicians building their own audience, and in comments on those posts. (See the end of this post for links.) You have to keep in constant touch with your networks — your audience, your friends, your fans, and, of course, anyone in the media who might be helpful.

You keep in touch by staying active. Doing things in public. Sending updates, by email and with social media. Putting things on your website. (Note to self: Update your website more often, Greg!) Creating a steady stream of delightful, gripping, fascinating, important, or just plain fun things about yourself, which will keep others thinking about you.

Into that stream, you weave information about your ongoing concerns — ticket sales, how your audience reacts to you, relations with your musicians (if you’re an orchestra), upcoming contract negotiations (if you’re facing these). You try to bring in as many voices as possible — staff, musicians, board, audience, people in the community.

You show people talking about the things that, down the road, are going to be your news items. That, done right, can help to create a sense that these news items will be important. At the very least, they’ll have a context. They won’t just be dropped on the world out of the blue. People will have had a chance to learn why your news matters.

I’ve said this to both the orchestra people who spoke to me. One said that he knew I was right, but — and he’s certainly right about this — doing what I suggest would be a lot of work. Work that the orchestra currently isn’t doing, and for which it might not have staff time available.

I sympathize with that. No one should forget that even the largest classical music institutions, no matter how large their budgets, tend to be working at full capacity. Their resources are stretched to the limit.

But still, this additional work needs to be done. Not just to get your news covered in the media. That’s actually the least of it. You do this work to build your audience, your fan base. If you then get media coverage for important news you have, that’s because you’ve developed relationships with the people in your world, media people included.

I’ll add that I’d love to help instituions do this, and that I’m available to do it. Contact me for information.

Links to the posts I’ve mentioned:

Sell who you are

Who’s your audience?

Plus two posts in which I relay invaluable stories from blog readers, about how they’ve done what I’m talking about. (And I have another one ready to go.)

Walking the walk

Another look at how to do it

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Comments

  1. Richard Hertz says

    anonymous sourcing is easy and fun!

    i heard today from a high ranking official in a major orchestra* that times are hard. what does this mean? glad you asked! please take my course and/or buy my book!

    *ok a small hint: it’s an american orchestra in a large city, and it would be shocking!

    • says

      Hi, Richard.

      Perky sniping is easy and fun, too.

      Maybe you read Tony Woodcock’s blog, and see him saying things about the state of orchestras, for instance that donations to them are dropping off, because of what Tony (and others) call “donor fatigue.” Tony will say things like that without any sources at all, named or anonymous. So, if a reader knows who Tony is, the reader might say: “Here’s a guy who runs a major music school, and who before that was a successful orchestra manager. His previous job was running the Minnesota Orchestra, and you won’t find many people who say he didn’t do well there. So when he says something is going on with orchestras, that must be because he talks to high-level people in the business, and this is what they tell him.”

      Same with me. I’m not at Tony’s level, but I’ve spent a lot of time in and around the orchestra business, for instance working in a long-term funding program the Mellon Foundation had, which put me in frequent contact with musicians, board, and high-ranking staff from more than a dozen orchestras. I’ve done extensive projects with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, and smaller projects with other orchestras. Over the years I’ve developed friendships in the business. And then for years I was a journalist covering classical music, and did many stories about orchestras, spending a lot of time with the people who run them, some of whom became friends.

      Readers who know some of that may want to trust me, may want to believe that when I say I was talking recently to someone who runs a major orchestra, I was in fact doing just that. And that the person said what I wrote that they said. If I were writing more formal journalism, of course I’d put it more formally, and use the kind of language you see in newspapers these days, something like: “A high-ranking staff member of a major orchestra (who requests anonymity because he wasn’t speaking for publication)…” But because this is a blog, I put things informally. And I protect the people I talk to. There are things they tell me I don’t pass on, for instance really sensitive information about the orchestras they work for, because that would be a serious violation of friendship and trust.

      In the end, readers have to make up their own minds about whether to believe what I say. Which, by the way, is just as true when they read formal journalism. Someone can write a news story full of credited sources, and everything in it might be wrong. I get sniped at by people who — for whatever it’s worth — don’t say that they themselves have any knowledge of orchestras, and who don’t give any reason (apart from their complaint that I don’t name my sources) for thinking that what I say isn’t true. But I don’t see orchestra managers writing here to say that I’m wrong, or that I’ve misrepresented anything I’ve heard. And my friends in the business still talk to me.

      (Full disclosure. A friend at the Pittsburgh Symphony once post here to complain that I’d used out of date information. I’d said — based on my own observation from going to concerts in Pittsburgh — that the hall was sometimes half-empty. My friend, with justified anger, said that things had greatly improved. I apologized, and said I’d made a mistake.

      (And when I wrote my posts about orchestra culture, some orchestra musicians — including one I know from the Mellon program — disagreed with things that I’d said. But we were talking here about interpretations of things that go on, not about factual information. And since both sides were pretty fully stated, readers could make up their own minds about who was right.)

      • Richard Hertz says

        So it’s “you report, we decide”? Like Fox News?

        And true this isn’t journalism, but you are reporting, whether on a blog or not. Given the lack of reporting on the arts, people will take your word as news. Also, if formal reporting gets details wrong, they print retractions, because there is a system of editing.

        It’s too easy to set up a straw man for you to argue against and give solutions to that will most likely tie into your book somewhere. I’d love to trust you, but why should I? Anonymous sourcing is an easy way out.

        • says

          Richard,

          Is your idea that I’m publishing unsourced teasers, so that people will later buy my book to read the whole story?

          I have to laugh. I’ve published huge drafts of the book here, absolutely free. I might publish the final version free here, too. Fully sourced.

          As, by the way, are many things I’ve published. See, for instance, the blog sidebar on the age of the classical music audience. There I’ve shared the biggest discovery I’ve ever made in my work on classical music. Complete with sources, including scans from books I’ve drawn on.

          I’m also tempted to laugh because what I quoted — unsourced — in the post you’ve commented on is so innocent. People from two orchestras told me they couldn’t get press coverage. I didn’t name them, because they were speaking in private to me, but wow! What a shock! Organization complains that it can’t get press! Never happened before! What interested me, the reason I wrote the post, wasn’t the complaint. And it certainly didn’t matter which orchestras made it. What I cared about was the remedy I suggested. Though I must say it’s sweet to think that I’d need special authority to be believed when I say someone complained about media coverage. Once I established credentials for saying so shocking a thing, just imagine what else I’d be free to say!

          Two or three more thoughts. First, I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, writing for much of that time for reasonably prominent mainstream publications, like the Wall Street Journal. I know the rules of the game. I also know that serious journalism couldn’t exist without anonymous sources, because — surprise — official spokespeople don’t always tell the truth. The only way to find out what’s going on, especially in a complex or controversial situation, is to talk to as many people as possible, some (or many) of whom will never let you use their names. Read the NY Times or the Washington Post, and see how often someone is quoted, with a note that their name can’t be used because they’re not authorized to speak publicly. For every one such person, there may well be five more, who spoke on background (meaning that you can’t quote them or mention that you talked to them, even without using their names), or off the record (meaning that you can’t refer to what they said in any way at all).

          Second, I’m thinking, Richard, that you have some larger problem with me. Do you really spend your time trolling blogs, and — with such sarcasm — zinging the bloggers for improper sourcing? I can’t quite believe that. Is there something I’ve said that really bothers you, whatever its source? There’s nothing wrong with that. But if it’s the case, say so.

          Third, I wonder what authority you have for saying what you say. You don’t tell us anything about yourself. Are you, perhaps, the Richard Hertz who writes about the LA art scene? If so, you’ve been around the block a few times, just as I have. Which means that we might have productive conversations, even if we disagree. If, that is, you’d drop the sarcasm and talk more seriously. And take the trouble to respond to what I actually say.

          • Richard Hertz says

            ok – in order here:

            i have no larger problems with you, and i also have no problem calling out bloggers with sarcasm. it’s the internet. it’s also a dialogue now addressing other issues.

            i am not the richard hertz who writes about the LA art scene.

            if you are tempted to laugh, then by all means laugh. it’s a fair point that you are giving your book away for free. with that taken into context, the lack of sourcing doesn’t matter so much. if this blog post was in a vacuum, it seems like drumming up interest to me.

            also, if you want to be taken seriously, then you should feel the need to display some authority on an issue, unlike me, who basically wants to be sarcastic (though we all serve out purpose.)

            if the people in orchestras wanted press, all you have to do is give them press in your blog. it seems a little flip-floppy whether you see your blog as journalism or not. maybe i see you as a decent source for music news, and i think you would like to maintain that reputation. also, it is my opinion that in all levels of news reporting there is too much unnecessary anonymous sourcing. i know there’s reasons for that and all, but that’s how i feel.

            also, in pittsburgh, if you saw a half-empty hall, then you saw it on that day, whether or not things improved. if you apologized because someone was a friend, that’s kind of defendable on some level, but still…

            also, you still used the same justification as fox news.

          • says

            Richard,

            Thanks for the more reasonable tone of your latest. But I do think you need to read what I say more carefully. You haven’t quite understood the Pittsburgh story. Of course I didn’t apologize because the objection came from my friend. I’d used the Pittsburgh Symphony as an example of an orchestra that was drawing very small crowds. Putting my observation, you understand, in the present tense.

            But I was wrong. The orchestra had fixed this problem. In the past, I’d seen their hall half-empty. But it wasn’t half-empty anymore, and I didn’t know that. My friend corrected me. So I apologized because I was wrong. I might have apologized with extra feeling because I’d offended a friend, but of course I wouldn’t apologize for something correct that I’d written, just because a friend didn’t like it. If I’ve learned anything in 30 years of journalism, it’s to stand by what I write. Unless, of course, it’s proved wrong. Because another thing I’ve learned is not to spin or run away from my mistakes. Better to confess them freely. Much better for my credibility.

            I think, speaking gently, that you’ve wandered in here without knowing much, if anything, about who I am or what I’ve done. So, if I may offer another lesson from 30 years of journalism (and more than 60 years of life): It’s generally better to survey a situation, and learn the basics of what’s going on, before making confident comments on it. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from experience, some of it painful or embarrassing. The Pittsburgh case, for instance. I have strong opinions, and I’ve had to teach myself not to apply them in any given case without first finding out whether they truly apply. And I fear I still fall down on this, sometimes.

  2. says

    Hi Greg:

    I enjoyed your blog post.

    I have an unusual young company whose mission is to help arts non-profits raise stable income via approaching local businesses in their community to use our merchant services in return for 40% of any net profitability to go to the charity.

    It’s not a quick fix for any arts org that is in fiscal distress, but over time creates very stable, annuity like income.

    Every time someone swipes a credit card, the charity is receiving a charitable donation.

    There is a Flash presentation at http://www.microfundedarts.org/ourmodel.html is you would like more information.

    Best regards,

    William Keith

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