British Orchestras discuss future: "Protect and Survive"

Hosted by the Sinfonia ViVA the 26th ABO annual conference in Derby (Midlands) from February 16 -18 with many representatives from British orchestras discussed their future. These are dangerous times for arts organisations, but the annual conference is grasping the nettle and looking at how its members can ride with the punches, wrote Andrew Stewart in the conference magazine. Arts Council of England is to be expected announcing its cuts end of March 2011 which will mean some "bloody" decisions.

Gerald Mertens (German Orchestra Association) reports on the ABO annual conference 2011.
Get some impressions from the conference:

Helen Bishop, Head of Community Relations, Rolls Royce, a company which employes some 12.000 people in the Derby area, pointed out how important arts and esp. local orchestras are for her firm. RR gives 6.7 Mio Pounds as sponsorship contribution and community investment every year. The Sinfonia VIVA investment is a part of this local engagement. This support is linked to good education for good workforce and to a vibrant cultural life in the city as well. And its a very important argument for recruiting new staff.

Darren Henley, Managing Director CLASSIC FM, highlighted in his speech the growth of radio listeners to CLASSIC FM. CLASSIC FM is now the second biggest commercial radio station within the London area. He referred to a survey Classical Music in England, which had been relased a couple of days earlier. From this point of view classical music should have a bright future in the UK.

Phillip Blond, Director ResPublica, held a provocative keynote on the Big Society agenda, which aims to put more power and opportunity into peoples hands, and re-invigorate civil society (a development that can been observed in Germany as well). Cut public money and enhance philantrophy this wont work. All symphony orchestras in England get some 18 Mio. Pounds a year. This is only a little more what the Berlin Philharmonic gets as a single orchestra (15 Mio. Euro).
Political parties in the UK didnt find the right answers on the challenges during the last six decades. Investment in social wellfare didnt reduce the figure of poor people. The gap between rich and poor becomes bigger. Blond says that at least only culture (and public investment in the arts) can fill the gap of a missing middle. Arts organisations should work together more closely. The most popular thing of the world is music, Blond points out. Therefore orchestras can play an important role in this mission.
Fundraising and Ticket Pricing reloaded

Second half of the conference mainly delt with fundraising (encouraging corporate and private giving) and ticket pricing issues. The most thrilling contributions and presentations were made by Jon E. Limbacher from Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO). He seems to be something like a guru for rethinking development strategies for orchestras as non profit organisations (NPO).
Find some core issues from the discussion: First step: check your mission (Why we exsist?), second step: check your vision (What we want to be? What we want to do?), third step: check your business model (How do we exsist?). The new SPCO business model tries to focus on every single costumer, to catch him at least for a lifelong relationship, leaving artistic and relevant footprints in his life. The formula is: CIO consume invest own (feel and live the responsibility for your orchestra). This philosophy is related to fundraising, marketing as well as to development. And its a huge change in comparison to most of the other business models of US orchestras: The SPCO does itself not (longer) see as a commercial enterprise, the orchestra or the concert is not a product in terms of commercial or industrial marketing. Even the most successfull classical orchestras will never earn their total expenses. Commercial business behaviour of the orchestra is contradictory to philantrophy, if you are talking to potential donors and sponsors.
This brings us to ticket pricing. The SPCO has been very successfull in its on the first view rather risky pricing policy. One questions was: What is more dangerous for the orchestra? An empty hall or reasonable ticket prices? The SPCO has been lowering ticket prices from between $ 11 to 75 to now $ 10 to 40. And believe it or not for the SPCO this works very well.

The new meassage is: Simplify your offers!
Today there are only three price points: $ 10, 25 or 40 tickets for all concerts ($ 5 for children), no discounts on single tickets, no dicounts for subscribers, no discounts for early birds no discounts at all. Very simple, very clear. Suscribers get additional incentives (two or four free tickets: invite your friends which means: fill the hall with them and have a good time), but remember no discounts. The lowest $ 10 SPCO ticket is as cheap as a ticket for a local movie theatre. Directly linked to this pricing strategies is grassrouts marketing in means of direct marketing. No adverts, no commercials but direct marketing from peer to peer. Another special SPCO issue has been to expand venues (almost churches) in non-traditional neighbourhoods in the last few years. Some people dont want to get downtown for a concert. They want to hear good music in their neighbourhood wearing casual clothes.
Some thoughts on modern fundraising: 40 percent come from corporate giving, 60 percent from private giving. Fundraising is a longterm business and based on personal relationship which needs stability within the staff. The traditional telefunding market is shrinking in the US. The emotional experience after a good concert is the most convincing promotion for fundraising.
A good fundraiser gives one percent of his annual income to the NPO he is working for. However, fundraising does not only mean money. It may be time, contacts, entry to networks, workforce, good will. Peer pressure and emotional involvement of potential donors is much more important than possible tax deductions. Even board members have to be instructed on their regular fundraising and giving goals by checklist. Musicians of the orchestras should be involved in fundraising activities, too. And dont hang down heads: 80 percent of first time ticket buyers will possibly not stay longer than one year, but those who stay for three years may become a lifelong supporter.
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