Wednesday, November 14, 2007

CSO marketing exec to sell 'experience of listening'

Sherri Prentiss, new selling manager for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, did not see reddish when she had her first expression inside Music Hall.

She saw chance instead.

Prentiss, 35, former selling manager of the James Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra, heads the 26-member section charged with filling Music Hall's 3,516 redness velvet seating over 70 modern times a twelvemonth (counting both CSO and Pops concerts).

The CSO's first new selling manager in 17 years, she gets at what she names "a really exciting clip to be portion of this organization."

Rose colored glasses? The figs might give her pause: Attendance at CSO Music Hallway concerts dropped 10.2 percentage last season over the twelvemonth before. CSO subscriptions dipped 13.7 percentage and single tickets sank even further, by 16 percent. (The Cincinnati Pops did better, with an 8 percentage rise in attending at its 22 Music Hallway concerts, a .2 percentage addition in subscriptions and a dip of .2 percentage in single ticket sales).

Plans to renovate the hallway are still being weighed, despite tantalizing guess about updated facilities, new frequenter comforts (food service, shopping), a new parking garage and reduced, more than comfy seating. As CSO music manager Paavo Järvi set it at a pre-concert "Classical Conversation" Nov. 3, "We have got got 1,000 empty seating and not adequate leg room."

Prentiss will have a batch more merchandise to sell in Cincinnati - compared to the James Madison Symphony, a regional orchestra with 27 subscription concerts a season and a 2,250-seat hall.

"There are a batch more concerts and a batch more seats, but I cognize that good selling is universal. It's just applying it on a big scale. ...

"What I saw here during the course of study of my interview procedure and meeting folks is so much chance to implement ideas, polish plans, prosecute communities in research, word form more strategical partnerships and confederations with business, community leadership and media."

A alumnus of Northern Prairie State University (corporate communications) with a master's grade in news media and mass communication theory from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Prentiss worked in public dealings and advertisement before joining the James Madison Symphony staff. During her eight-year tenure, subscription audiences more than than doubled, subscription gross more than tripled and she created more consciousness of the orchestra through ad-savvy branding and e-marketing initiatives.

A indigen of Chicago, whose German-born female parent kept the house full of classical music - "She would pass all twenty-four hours on Saturdays and Sundays scouring the house to Mozart" - Prentiss associates easily to Cincinnati's German-influenced Midwestern culture. Music Hallway impressed her astatine first sight.

"The magnificence of Music Hallway is certainly something to behold. When you walk in there, you experience like you've walked into some topographic point special. That portion of it do up for a batch that may be lacking by manner of frequenter comforts or comfort."

She agrees, however, that size makes matter. "It's a large hallway and I make experience that there is a batch to be gained by having a more than bosom experience with fewer seats. There are human race social class acousticians out there who would be at the ready to assist us do certain that the acoustical unity of the hallway is maintained."

A important challenge for symphonic music orchestra sellers in today's human race is to show the musical merchandise fairly and honestly. "The unity of the merchandise is critical, but I make believe there are ways of reaching and piquant people that keep that integrity."

Järvi's new "First Notes" pictures screened above the phase before each of his Music Hallway concerts, "is a great illustration of that," she said. "Here you have got a manner to draw people in and instruction them, but make it in a manner that is on their ain terms. It's not intrusive, it's brief adequate that if they don't have got clip to acquire down to Music Hallway for 'Classical Conversations' an hr before the performance, they can still broaden their apparent horizons within the linguistic context of those first couple of proceedings before the concert, then acquire to hear how it's played out. They cognize what to listen for or what the linguistic context is behind the piece."

Prentiss, who dwells in an flat in Garrison Seth Thomas with her hubby Mike, also a praseodymium professional, said that in the orchestra concern as a whole, "there's been more than focusing on characteristics than benefits."

"By features, I intend 'here's the program, here's the invitee artist, here's the box business office number,' with very small verbal description about what it's going to experience like when you're hearing to the music." She cited the CSO's recent public presentation of Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," best known for its two-minute introduction excerpted for the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"Yes, there's '2001,' but it's also an expansive, free-flowing fantasia, which is how, I think, one can get to encapsulate the experience of listening to it. There have to be some value proposition for the possible audience when they're deciding, 'Am Iodine going to the symphonic music tonight? What am I going to experience like sitting there listening to this music?' Not just 'who's the invitee creative person and, oh, it's a piece by Strauss.' There have got to be some other value proposition to lure you because if you don't cognize what those things are, you might not come."

The other value propositions could be "an flight from the mundane, or a manner to have a romanticist eventide out with your spouse or partner," she said. "The music is, of course, the centerpiece, including the invitee creative person and the conductor; but, ultimately, what people are looking for is an experience. We are in an experience economy, and that is changing the manner we're marketing our product."

Prentiss, who played pianoforte as a kid but gave it up because she felt she had no natural ability, is in awe of people who make and how they make it. She cited Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's "electrifying" Peter Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and an Albinoni encore by fiddler Vladimir Spivakov that ended with him pulling the bowknot slowly across the strings.

"It just went on forever and ever and everyone was collectively holding their breath. When he finally lifted the bow, the topographic point erupted. Just talking about it make the hairs on the dorsum of your cervix travel up."

Prentiss bes after to make a batch of research - both into people who come up to concerts and those who do not.

Good research is "very expensive," she said. "Getting our research aims out on the tabular array is important, then coming up with a program to turn to them over a clip period of time."

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