Commentary: Classical orgs with creative online initiatives for audience-building

Dustin Soiseth, New Music Box, 3/19/13

In 2003 and 2004, the Concert Companion, a device designed to enhance the concert experience, was tested during several orchestral concerts around the country. The user response was quite positive. Yet the CoCo, as it was nicknamed, faded from sight. There were issues with the service itself. But perhaps more lethal was the disdain with which the CoCo was received by musicians and orchestra administrators. The CoCo's brief rise and fall was in the back of my mind when I attended a Google Hangout [as] part of a new audience engagement initiative supporting the Studio Classics series at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in California. For those unfamiliar, Hangouts are a feature of Google+ (Google's social network) and are free video chats for up to ten participants during which everyone can see everyone else on screen. Providing real interaction between audiences and artists is laudable, but does that translate into ticket sales? [Mondavi's director of marketing, Rob] Tocalino said that connecting new music fans and artists is the main goal, regardless of whether or not those fans ever attend a concert at the venue. If this seems unusually altruistic, it helps to know that the hangouts are funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation specifically for online audience outreach.

For a complimentary perspective on the free content issue, I reached out to Scott Harrison, executive producer of digital media at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I asked Harrison how providing all that free content helps the orchestra. Regardless of where viewers are tuning in from, he noted, many are returning for multiple performances and are forming a relationship with the orchestra, and that is what's important. "If you were only worried about revenue," he replied, "you'd never get off the ground because you're never going to make money in the beginning." Like Mondavi's Hangouts (and the Concert Companion), the DSO's webcasts are grant-supported, which allows Harrison and his colleagues the freedom to experiment. (He compared the grant funds to the revenue a for-profit company would invest in R&D.) Harrison says the resulting videos are a great resource for promoting the orchestra. They bring the DSO to a worldwide audience at a time when touring is becoming more and more expensive.

There will always be a need for experimentation in the marketing of new music, and of classical music in general. The use of supertitles in opera, while commonplace now, was quite controversial when it began in America in the 1980s. When Beverly Sills introduced them at the New York City Opera in 1983, she was called a "philistine" in The New York Times. In 1985, James Levine famously replied "Over my dead body" when asked about the possibility of supertitles at the Metropolitan Opera, and yet ten years later there they were, Met Titles in the back of every seat. While Google hangouts certainly don't impact a musical performance the way supertitles affect the experience of opera, they have the potential to achieve what the Concert Companion never did: to allow audience members to connect directly with a composer or performer as a person before connecting with them onstage. Perhaps this is exactly what the Mondavi Center's Studio Classics series needs, perhaps not, but they won't know unless they try.


Commentary: Ballet companies find success with creative online campaigns

Phil Chan, General Manager of Armitage Gone! Dance, Huffington Post, 3/19/13

I reached out to dance marketing professionals across the country to ask them to share marketing campaigns that were successful for them in their communities. Two companies immediately responded with great examples. What was most interesting is how both companies wanted to highlight social media. Our first example comes from Andrew Edmonson, Director of Marketing & PR of the Houston Ballet. Here is a great example of programmatic marketing, focusing on a particular event, in this case, The Nutcracker:

Ben Stevenson's staging of The Nutcracker is Houston Ballet's most popular production, bringing in over 50% of total ticket revenue each year. The perennial challenge is: How do we take a production that is 25-years-old and a beloved classic and devise marketing/PR angles that are fresh, new and relevant each year that we perform it? In 2012, we decided to focus on the 40th anniversary of Houston Ballet performing The Nutcracker. We found photos of the production from the 1970s onwards, and began a quiz on Facebook, posting 20 historical images during the month of December, asking fans to identify which dancers were in the photos and answer trivia questions about Houston Ballet's history with The Nutcracker. The images generated extremely strong responses, with over 100 likes and many comments. We also asked a former dancer who had performed in all three of Houston Ballet's productions of The Nutcracker to write a historical piece for our blog, sharing her memories of each production. The blog was so well written that the dance critic of our major daily, The Houston Chronicle, pitched the paper to run it in their print edition, and it appeared on the front page with a huge color photo. Houston Ballet's 2012 Nutcracker [was] the most successful in its history, finishing at over $4 million -- an increase of $600,000 over our previous best year and a 16% increase over Nutcracker 2011 ticket sales.

Here is a great example of institutional marketing from Pacific Northwest Ballet's Associate Director of Marketing Lia Chiarelli. The campaign addresses overall branding, but also the need to continuously engage their audience despite geography:

Pacific Northwest Ballet [sent] the entire Company and Orchestra for our first full-company New York City tour since 1996. How could we (with very little budget) make it relevant to our fans in the Northwest, and the rest of the world not able to see the performances, while highlighting and building on the excitement generated during the tour in New York City? We launched a campaign to do just that -- and implemented it across all of our social media channels. To capture content in real time, PNB's in-house videographer and photographer joined the Company on tour. Creating and posting content from the moment the Company arrived at the airport generated significant interest from our fans on what would happen next. Images from rehearsal studios, dancer-created videos, press photos, dancer blogs, tweets from the Artistic Director all hit before and concurrently to unpaid media, creating a perfect storm of PNB news. Fans at home feel 'in' on the tour, proud of the NYC press and excited for their company. Augmenting the "free" social media buzz is a small budget Facebook advertising campaign, garnering at last count a 3% increase in our online fan base.

A healthy organization has time and resources invested in sustaining both programmatic and institutional marketing campaigns, and I highly encourage arts organizations across the world to look into how a commitment to social media (and it is a commitment!) and thinking creatively can help raise the profile of your organization and sustain your base of support throughout the year!


Commentary: Movie studios push for more creative online marketing campaigns

Taryn Luna, The Boston Globe, 3/13/13

"Word-of-mouth has always been a very effective tool at either propelling or sinking movies," said Karie Bible, a box office analyst. "Now, with social media, it travels at the speed of light." Social networks cannot accurately predict a movie's box office performance before an opening, but movies with a lot of prerelease online hype tend to have big opening weekends.

            Infographic: Did the Twitter hype for Oz: The Great and Powerful match reality?

A whopping 72% of social media users write online comments about films they see, according­ to one poll. The survey also found that a third of social media users had seen a movie in a theater­ because of something they had read on a social network. Movies targeting young adults create the most social media buzz. Films that target older viewers, who remain mostly influenced by reviews from critics, often slip through the social media web. They have smaller opening weekends but more steady box office figures in the following weeks. The Hunger Games was mentioned in 930,000 tweets during its $152.5 million opening weekend. The film went on to gross $408 million domestically. Lincoln, on the contrary, was tweeted 19,000 times in its $21 million opening weekend. The film has grossed $180.8 million total in US theaters. As studios push for more creative online marketing campaigns and troll Twitter to understand their audiences, Jon Penn, president of media and entertainment at Penn Schoen & Berland, believes the greatest potential to boost ticket sales lies in social media-friendly showtimes. Half of 18- to 24-year-olds in his poll said multitasking while using social networking sites adds to their experience of watching a movie in the theater. "The actual theater experience has to transform and become more relevant as a media experience for younger movie viewers," he said. "People want more control, and the theater is a leap back."

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