PR vs. TMI

There are many lockouts, strikes, and very contentious negotiations going on in the orchestra world these days. With all of the finger pointing going on I want to add something that is getting overlooked; I’ve written about this before, but would like to restate that the music schools in this country need to step up and add more real life training to their curriculum.

Granted, some music schools have started offering courses on topics such as handling career obstacles; they’re usually done so under the guise of entrepreneurship training. Even though most of these courses do something to enhance education (although admittedly, some of them are downright counterproductive), schools need to add a few more components that teach musicians how to better communicate their value, especially during times when that value is called into question.

  1. How to write a succinct and respectful letter to a board or the general public in less than three paragraphs. Ever since the onset of the numerous labor disputes over the past few years, I’ve seen letter after letter from musician committees to their boards or the public attempting to express their points of view. Typically, these letters are a dozen or more long paragraphs, each with more than three sentences, and are comprised of a series of individual points strung together without transition. In some cases, the letters are so long that the points become redundant. The lesson here is you don’t have to share everything all at once; create a few important talking points to generate a sincere interest, otherwise your letter will get skimmed over or, worse, not read at all.
  2. How to create an effective video that pleads your case. Videos can be extremely powerful in getting a point across, however if the video starts to  exceed the length of a typical full length television commercial , there is a risk of losing the viewer along with the point. Look at political ads, movie trailers, and even short comedian clips from the Daily Show or Tonight Show. The point of the spot is quick, memorable, and usually leaves a lasting impression. So the problem here is similar to the previous point in that if what you need to communicate takes longer than 30-60 seconds, make several videos or employ some basic production and editing skills to divide one long video into several standalone versions.
  3. How to answer questions with grace and clarity. Sometimes musicians get asked about their orchestra’s troubled situation. It is easy to spout off a number of highly charged emotional answers that were initially intended as a passionate defense of a much loved classical institution. It’s equally common to see musicians fall back to a traditional “training equals value” argument when, regardless of how accurate it is, may not be the best approach. Instead, have a clear and carefully planned out statement that comes across as friendly and concise instead of defensive and rambly.

Music schools should be incorporating public relations techniques alongside how to win an orchestra job. After all, times change and in today’s age, winning the job seems like the easy part when compared to the uphill battle of maintaining artistic integrity and public value.

Please feel free to comment or add to my personal list. I’d love to hear about your observations and experiences.

3 Responses to PR vs. TMI

  1. David P. Sartor November 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Excellent advice, and I especially applaud Ms. Mulcahy’s use of the words “respectful” and “with grace.” The Arts these days mirror society at large in that too often they have been commandeered by “shrill voices” who attempt to gain traction for their viewpoints with loud accusations and blame. In this environment, the moderated and respectful voices are a welcome contrast, and are therefore rewarded with the most attention. “Short and classy” is never the wrong strategy.

  2. John R. Beck November 11, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Well stated. I will add this to the list of required reading for my Career Development Seminar at the UNC School of the Arts along with many of the other recent articles regarding the current state of the orchestra/opera world. The next generation of artists face many new challenges in making themselves relevant.


  1. Addresses of Minnesota Orchestra Board Members | Song of the Lark - December 1, 2012

    […] before on the Musicians’ Facebook page, keep your letters short, respectful, and handwritten! Here’s a blog entry to inspire you. I know how frustrated you are – trust me, I’m right there along with you – but […]

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