Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
My initial reaction to the 60 page strategic plan was based on summaries and opinions of others, so I decided to read and evaluate it for myself. Like all significant plans, I found the good, the bad, and the ugly. This discussion will not cover financial issues. I encourage everyone to follow the link in the first sentence to open the plan and browse the summary bullets in each section. This will give you the main points so you can form your own opinion that you are welcome to add to this discussion.
The plan recognizes areas in need of improvement such as the quality of customer service, efforts to attract patrons in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and the importance to reach out to the Philadelphia community. It states that they must put the patrons, subscribers, and donors first, and they recognize that they have lost this focus.
The plan outlines an extensive museum style method of curating music throughout the season and even season to season to make connections that allow the audience to lo learn about and appreciate the music in new ways. This is a terrific idea but the scale of the committee to develop the program is very large. I would much rather see a smaller, musician-centric group lead the effort, especially considering their current financial state.
Collaboration with local cultural institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art are mentioned in the plan. Another terrific idea. Especially for overnight visitors who'd like to immerse themselves in a music/art experience based on a theme. Cross marketing efforts are also very helpful.
The plan recognizes that audience members vary widely in the types of experiences they value. There is really no good answer to this but understanding the desires of the audience is key and should be an ongoing effort.
There are a number of places in the plan that mention opportunities to meet musicians or extend the experience outside the concert hall. Putting a more human face on the members and the music is a great idea, but please, no concerts in airport hangers and warehouses!
Even if the Orchestra does a world class job of improving customer service, they are intertwined with the Kimmel Center in a crazy tangle of shared resources, and cross lease agreements that could make your head spin. The plan recognizes the need to work in lock step with the Kimmel, but is that enough? Perhaps an even bigger idea such as selling the Academy of Music so each organization can truly focus on their core areas of expertise could be beneficial to all. Of course the burst of revenue the Orchestra would realize from the sale would be extremely helpful, too. Who would have the means to buy it? Well that's another matter.
The need for pre-concert material is mentioned but specifics are left open for future discussion and decisions. This "we'll deal with this later" approach was also taken in the section that described their plan to seek support for a Generational Shift Audience Fund to study marketing. The Orchestra cannot afford to study these items for results years down the road. They need to start these kind of efforts now and my guess is that a talented marketing company could do this without a lengthy study.
The fact that the musicians were only briefly consulted at the beginning stages of the development of the plan may be it's biggest flaw. Not only did the developers miss out on the opportunity to hear their ideas and views, but getting them to buy into the plan will be a much bigger challenge.
Other buzz words that set off alarm bells in the press were the mention of "light classical", and Broadway, film scores, and other pop genres. Programs like this may be viewed as tolerable in light summer fare or special family concerts but in the regular season? A slide down that slippery slope could be a very dangerous move.
Another controversial proposal was to develop real-time smart-phone applications that could inform patrons on the experience with a variety of information, possibly including play-by-play commentary via ear buds. I am a huge fan of smart-phones, but the distraction of a bunch of brightly lit screens, or commentary leaking from someone's ear buds would be very detrimental to my experience. All of these learning experiences are great ideas but they should occur before the concert. Merely concentrating on the music should be the only "job" left of the patron during a concert. If the Orchestra wishes to experiment with a few concerts that allow for real-time distractions, then that may be OK so long as they are clearly defined so patrons could pick a different night to attend.
Finally, the biggest issue I have with the plan is it's gaping hole for young adults. The plan supports existing family and youth programs, but the only thing available to college students is a discount ticket program. Once the students graduate they won't have a spot in this plan until they reach the age of 30. Not only should there be more support for college students, but the current lack of a "young friends" program is very difficult to comprehend. This program should be capturing the interest of young adults and cultivating them into lifelong fans and donors. In addition to the financial benefits to the Orchestra, this group could provide crucial advise and insight without having to rely on expensive marketing studies. They are also likely to pull their friends into the group to expand it's reach.
What are your thoughts about the strategic plan?