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Posts Tagged ‘PR’

In a previous post I wrote about what I perceived as classical music being poorly presented to audiences and how pop culture could offer a lesson or two in that regard.

Patty, at Oboeinsight made a comment that got me thinking: “we seem stuck in our ways”. And I believe therein lays part of the problem. Classical Music is a genre that, per se, doesn’t necessarily foster innovation. Of course composers innovate and musicians create new and progressive pieces within the genre, but as a general rule, Classical Music is about permanence, lasting and enduring through centuries (hopefully even millennia). The whole premise of the genre is, precisely, that trends and fashion pass but that, which is classical, will resist the test of time. Composers, programmers, interpreters are all educated for years within such boundaries. It is not surprising that part of the problem probably raises from this mentality. Classical music is an oasis of permanence in a world that is constantly changing. Three or four generations can gather and listen to the same piece and share a moment that brings them together through time. Through classical music, listeners have something in common that resist this test of time. Grandparents can share anecdotes of their youth and the young ones can relate because the musical piece from which this anecdote stemmed has not changed. It is (with minor interpretative differences), the same piece that their grandparents listened to.

So how does someone market classical music, with its suspicious regard for change, in a world where audiences want newer, louder, shinier forms of entertainment? Classical music has to compete for patrons with entertainment corporations that have embraced new media since day one. These corporations, mostly devoted to pop culture, “get it”. They have established their presence around new forms of dissemination and have managed to draw audiences to their websites, on line communities and marketing initiatives in a way that classical music institutions are failing at. Take a look at this website or this other one (I just picked two out of dozens of similar ones) and now take a look at Classical Music’s nemesis. Whereas MTV strives to establish an emotional connection with their audience, Classical Music Institutions present dull, non interactive design that actually alienate their potential audiences, particularly new and young ones. Where are the communities? Where is the personal touch? the interactivity? the emotion? Classical Music institutions are not using the one distinctive quality that would set them apart from the rest: storytelling. Some gifted individuals within the genre are doing it and they are indeed setting themselves apart but for the vast majority, their new media presence is an afterthought, something they clearly do not believe in.

Another recurring issue I have come across is the apparent detachment of Classical Music marketeers from their audiences. They claim they want to attract youngsters, children, newer public but they are not tailoring their message to them. As an example, I present any tween’s nightmare: last year’s Halloween Children’s Concert at The Austin Symphony. What were these PR and Marketing professionals thinking when they designed this press release?! Have they forgotten their own childhoods?! Any pre-teen’s bad dream is expressed in one single page to alienate them even further. Dorky parents embarrassing them in public wearing The Incredibles outfits? Check! 45 excruciating minutes of public exposure enduring the company of said parents? Check! Nondescript Classical Music with absolutely no enticing introduction or emotional connection? Check again! It’s the trifecta of marketing failure applied to an event. I do not have all the answers, but I suspect the marketing of Classical Music to young people would be more successful if they established these emotional connections, knew their potential audiences better and probably, if the people behind them did not forget their own childhoods and teenage years when creating press material.

As for the rest of their promotional efforts, telling the stories is fundamental to keeping people engaged. I would love to see community initiatives, social media that tells the story from the audience, composer or interpreter’s perspectives. Someone fell in love while listening to a certain symphony. Someone’s child was born while a sonata was playing in the background. Someone mourned the passing of a loved one in the company of a certain composer. Someone proposed with a particular aria… I could go on and on… those are the stories that make Classical Music great, and a fundamental part of people’s lives, even if they do not realize it, even if they say they find Classical Music “boring”. Still, it’s probably been part of their lives, and the lives of their parents, grandparents and so on… Want to attract people? Let them tell their stories… and tell them the stories that set the genre apart, that make it unique and engaging. Tell them the stories of permanence.

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Yesterday I got a bunch of press kits from a new customer. This is not some inexperienced, “just out of school” musician trying to build a career, but a well seasoned composer with a reasonably well regarded name and reputation in a particular niche of classical music circles. Let’s say he is no Daniel Barenboim in the “fame meter” but he is certainly not an unknown interpreter. So, I was quite shocked with what I saw: badly written releases, a default Word document lay out… you get the idea. The Spanish version of the kit was full of typos, to the point that in one page, they had misspelled the composer’s name (and this was written by his agent, who is a native Spanish speaker). The English one appeared to have been translated by Borat.

I weeped… and then I got to search for some other Classical Music composers and interpreters so that I could send my customer some examples of what his direct competitors were doing. And then I weeped some more.

I checked the top results in Google and what I saw was not just inconsequential text. It was bland, boring and dull beyond belief. Fifteen page press kits packed with text in small fonts (warning all links go to PDF files) or an inane collection of newspaper and magazine clips. Or this other example, where the ego driven agency splashed the entire release with their logo in such prominence that I am unsure weather the soprano in question is Ana de Archuleta or the unfortunate Elizabeth Caballero.

Compare the above press materials with this, this or this, also from the top results but in the pop music category.

Classical Music institutions, programmers, and artists have to struggle with the general perception that the genre is boring, elitist and not worthy of mass consumption. I generally disagree with these statements, but obviously many marketing professionals working in the area are not helping much to dispel these myths. In these visually driven times, how you present your content has become as important as the content itself. I am afraid many cultural institutions could learn a lesson or two from pop culture.

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