There’s an article this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the tab the Philadelphia Orchestra has run up for its union-busting via bankruptcy endeavor. Peter Dobrin, who has been chronicling the affair – will someone get this man a Pulitzer? – reveals that the orchestra has spent nearly all of the $2.9 million it had initially budgeted for the entire process, with months to go before it can exit bankruptcy. Most of it went to outside firms and consultants.
In April Dobrin reported that the lead PR consultant is Brian Tierney, a Republican activist and media mogul whose last venture – leading the company that owned the Inquirer – ended in bankruptcy. Tierney’s firm, Brian Communications, includes the digital marketing company Realtime Media, whose services include “energizing consumers with user-generated contests, sweepstakes, instant win games, mobile applications, loyalty programs and location-based concepts.”
Is this really the best match for the Philadelphia Orchestra? This is the same PR outfit, I assume, that led the ensemble through a strategic planning process that resulted in recommendations for more multimedia elements at concerts, artistic planning by committee (which Dobrin particularly dislikes), and, my personal favorite, commissioning a designer to create new concert attire for the musicians.
“Other orchestras in the United States and Europe have launched many, if not all, of these kinds of initiatives, and the Philadelphia Orchestra has tried most of them in the last two decades,” Dobrin writes.
But have they tried Funny Hat Day? How about redefining the concert experience as an “instant win”?
An organization in a tight spot certainly can benefit from some new ideas, but not when those new ideas cost quite a bit, were not necessarily successful elsewhere, and are being dreamt up by – just guessing here – people who have little relationship with the music they are trying to sell in the first place.
Efforts of large performing organizations trying to reinvent themselves remind me of comments that Bob Lutz, a longtime leader at G.M., said about the upstart electric car company Tesla. In 2009 he gave this chilling quote to the New Yorker, with my connections to music management in bold:
Everyone who tries to reinvent this business believes that auto companies (orchestras) are populated by dummies who don’t understand Moore’s Law. But, unlike a silicon chip (an instant win game), the modern automobile (orchestra) has to be a certain size, and carry (entertain) a certain number of people at a certain speed (for a certain length of time). Over 3,500 parts (musicians, instruments, scores, funding) sourced from around the world have to come together at the right place and the right time to produce 60-70 of these things an hour (a year). These things are called cars (concerts). And to make them you need a large engineering (administrative) staff, a workforce that demands retirement benefits, a tax staff, a fleet of accountants, and an unbelievable amount of reliability testing… (rehearsals)