Marketing yourself to death

Despite the best efforts of those inside the profession, and many outside it as well, classical music still suffers from an image problem. It is perceived by many as stuffy, high-minded, exclusive, expensive and boring. So marketing classical music successfully is not easy, given the entrenched preconceptions about the art form and an apparent inability by some within the profession to market themselves and their concerts effectively.

Few musicians can tell you anything about what they do and/or why. They have been a few famous exceptions like Leonard Bernstein and Itzhak Perlman, but most are strangely inarticulate about their craft [EM]

Maybe musicians just assume that their performances speak for themselves, without giving any thought to why anyone else should want to listen. Maybe we are all so immersed in what we do that we forget to promote ourselves. A lot of musicians don’t seem to know how to get people to care about (their) music [RC]

Unfortunately, we’re starting out from an already difficult position: the words “classical music” have a stigma attached to them – as do words like “avant garde”, “contemporary”, “modern” or “new music” – and are immediately off-putting to certain people. Finding the right vocabulary to describe something that is already freighted with negative connotations ain’t easy. In addition, classical music is in competition with a whole host of other activities which want your attention.

I have lost count of the number of unenticing, badly-written, poorly-proofread and overly long emails I’ve received from musicians and/or their publicists trying to interest me in their concerts. Five paragraphs of densely-written text telling me about their concert series or tour, a dry list of pieces in the programme, the places where the performer has already played (this reminds me of the weatherman who gives an overview of what the weather has been before the main forecast), a boring impersonal biography (basically just a list of pieces performed, places, last season, this season, plus a few quotes from extravagantly positive reviews) – and then, right down at the very bottom of the message in the place where by this time I might not even look because I am bored, a link to purchase tickets. And sometimes that link doesn’t even work…..

I want musicians to connect to the content they share, to the music…. A link on its own is hardly enticing or engaging. On the other hand, a long press release can have pretty much the same (non) effect [RC]

If you can’t tell me why I should attend your concert within the first paragraph – or even the first two lines – of your email or marketing blurb, you’re not getting your message across clearly enough.

Too many people seem to start from the premise that classical music is boring and write slightly apologetic marketing material, hinting that I might like to come to the concert but there’s no guarantee I’ll find it interesting or exciting. Or that because music is “art”, they believe it should not be marketed in the manner of a new film or bestseller.

“Young pianist to perform at concert”

– hardly attention-grabbing is it?

Sometimes an attempt at humour may be used to attract my attention:

“Schopin, Schubert, Schampagne and Suschi!”

Nice try, but that particular concert promotion tweet made my toes curl in embarrassment. Using silly, sexy or just plain weird gimmicks to make classical music look cool or interesting tends not to work, in my experience.

Another offender is the person whose publicity material is overtly egocentric – It’s all about ME! This article examines this particular issue rather well.

If people who don’t know classical music keep getting ‘meh’ press releases, with nothing in them to interest any person with any spirit, any involvement with the world, then all of classical music suffers.

Because we’re not just flacking the project du jour. We’re representing all of classical music, in every public communication we make. That’s a big responsibility. If we fail in it — if we can’t bring classical music vividly alive — then we’re failing our art.

Greg Sandow – Why I’m talking about publicists (1)

When marketing concerts it’s important to remember that our publicity material – from tweets and Facebook posts to flyers, listings and the diary section of our website – reflects back on us and must reflect well. Such material is the potential audience member’s first point of contact with us, the performer, and first impressions really do count. The name of a composer or artist spelt incorrectly on a press release or website listing, errors in press releases and flyers, incorrect or broken links on your website, missing information: all these things will discourage people from purchasing tickets for your concert. And let’s not be coy about this: never mind all the high-falutin artistic reasons for giving concerts – sorry to say it, but we want “bums on seats”!

I get particularly hung up about badly-designed or difficult-to-navigate websites, possibly because I spend a lot of time online and can recognise a really well-designed website when I see one. As a blogging colleague of mine said recently, “Why do some websites still use white text on a black background? Are there people who enjoy having their eyes melted trying to read such things?“.

Instead, why not make it easy for your potential audience?

  • Describe the programme/pieces/concert format in a way that is enticing but not naff, nor dull or patronising
  • The classical music audience, and potential audience, is intelligent – probably as intelligent as you, or maybe even more so! Don’t talk down to them or over-simplify what you are trying to say. Respond and appeal to their intelligence in your marketing material.
  • Provide clear information about date, time, venue, ticket prices – and make sure the links to venue and/or ticketing site actually work
  • Remember that “brevity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet’) and keep marketing material concise and to the point
  • Use good-quality images (but not too many of yourself in white tie and tails or 1950s evening gown) and use natural, conversational language in marketing material
  • Avoid saying flattering things about yourself and instead focus on fulfilling your potential audience’s hopes and desires. Ditch the self-indulgent self-promotion and instead motivate your potential audience (or “customers”) to buy tickets.

Further reading

How to write a press release

If you think you need a publicist….

Marketing the Arts to Death – blog of Trevor O’Donnell, full of intelligent and relevant articles on arts marketing