Marketing in a Recession

Is anyone else noticing a sense of panic creeping into Orchestra marketing?

A Midwestern Orchestra just notified its subscribers that (in deference to the economy) not only will prices not be increased, but if a subscriber wants to take 15% off the subscription price, they may do that by simply writing in that price on their renewal form.
Tickets will be issued, no questions asked. Further, this offer (it is promised) will not be publicized.

At 15% reduction equates to $150,000 per $1-million. That’s hard money to make up in sheer volume in the best of times.

It is curious to address a problem before it presents itself, to declare a pricing panic before there is evidence of one. Any financial issues pertaining to a subscriber’s ability to renew would be better addressed via an informal discussion during the telephone renewal period.

While it’s wise to hold prices, I’ve noticed several institutions taking a more philanthropic stance. When Connecticut Opera folded last month, with no refunds for its subscribers, the Hartford Symphony jumped in to honor their tickets at any of its upcoming concerts (quite a magnanimous gesture given their capacity utilization this season.)
Following massive layoffs at Kodak, the Rochester Philharmonic announced that any subscribers who had lost their jobs – and were not employed by the beginning of the season – would receive their subscriptions for free. (Full disclosure – both are orchestras I work with on marketing strategies.)

I’ve yet to see conclusive evidence that orchestras that were effective at selling tickets in the recent past have experienced a dramatic decline in this season. In fact, sales are increasing in some places.

Are symphony tickets being substituted for far more costly luxury experiences? Do our halls offer an evening’s escape from the
uncertainty of financial pressures? Are institutions with strong artistic values more recession-resistant?

About the author

Christopher Stager
Christopher Stager

Christopher Stager has spent the past 16 years in audience development for the performing arts. He began his consulting firm, CRStager marketing & audience development, in 1999. Clients include the American Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival, the Boston Pops Esplanade, Hartford Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, and the Toledo Symphony. Christopher provides creative materials to The Cleveland Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Phoenix Symphony, Seattle Symphony, and numerous others.

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