GEORGIA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
By Susan Stensland, Executive Director
Now in its 67th season, the Georgia Symphony Orchestra (GSO) has many years of rich history and tradition in Cobb County and surrounding areas. The continued survival and growth of our organization is a result of the commitment and dedication of hardworking arts appreciators and volunteers who recognize the value of the musical programs that we bring to our community. Thanks to the generosity of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we were awarded an Audience Building grant to help grow our audience and be better positioned to deepen relationships with our community members.
To stay relevant in today’s very social world, we chose to use this funding to develop an action plan to attract new ticket buyers and energize existing relationships with loyal patrons. Our planning work, with the assistance of consultant Sara Leonard (another amazing resource provided to us by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation,) identified key values of the GSO. We value being welcoming, inclusive, accessible, flexible, and collaborative. We incorporated these values in our communications and in our actual events, using the grant to fund the projects.
CONCERTS: A NEW COLLABORATIVE EXPERIENCE
Empathy is a critical element of the design method of planning that we have discussed at length at Audience Building Roundtable meetings. With this in mind, we have committed to listening carefully to our ticket buyers and patrons. We know that our musical performances must be high quality, varied in nature and thoughtfully curated. We found that our patrons enjoy the GSO as a place for social gathering where they are welcomed, recognized, and appreciated. To more fully be a welcoming place, we began to incorporate unique opportunities to enhance the concert experience.
For our Musical Promenade concert, we included Pictures at an Exhibition and added a juried art exhibit to make our pre-concert lobby experience more welcoming, inclusive, and fun. This brought visual artists and their fans to a multi-faceted event. During the performance, a slide show was added with paintings that inspired the musical composition. The audience was then “flash mobbed” by the GSO chorus in the lobby during intermission as a way of further immersing the patrons in the experience.
The America, Vol. 1, concert showcasing works of American composers, included a bluegrass band in the lobby before the performance and the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble in the lobby at intermission. The Just the Beginning concert that closed the 2016-2017 season happened to fall on Earth day, so we created an earth-themed photo booth in the lobby, and the GSO partnered with Trees Atlanta to give saplings to each of our concert attendees. Everyone loved their free gift and the collaborative atmosphere. We added a VIP option to our GSO Jazz concerts, where guests can upgrade to a reserved seating section, and attend a meet-the-musicians reception before the show.
During the 2017-2018 season, our “concert extras” continued on the themes of being welcoming, inclusive, accessible, and collaborative. We added musical performances in the lobby, a new stop-n-shoot backdrop for social media photos, a surprise visit during and after our Holiday concerts by the famous Santa from the Macy’s parades, Valentine’s Day treats, and collaborations with the Morehouse College and the Spelman College Glee Clubs, the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble, and the Uzee Brown Society of Choraliers.
Through spring 2018, we will assess our quantitative data to determine the impact of our new strategies on our ticket numbers. Ticket sales from 2015 to 2017 increased from an average of $5,714 to $6,448 per concert, a growth of almost 13%. We hope for even more growth as we continue our implementation of new strategies. Audience response to the enhanced concert experiences has been overwhelmingly positive, energetic, and appreciated. Attendees have said that they not only look forward to the music but also to the pre-concert surprises which will be there for them!
COMMUNICATION: SHARING OUR VALUES AND OUR “AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE”
The second part of our strategy is to incorporate our values into our communications. This summer we rolled out a new website designed to be up-to-date, user-friendly, and compatible across all mobile platforms. We purchased video equipment and have plans to create blogs, videos, and social media posts that invite our audiences to get to know our musicians, to get a glimpse into the world of the symphony and create a sense of community ownership.
We began an ongoing analysis of our web traffic and trends. Our new website has more analytical capability, which will aid in collection of online traffic. We refocused our marketing on social media platforms, making use of our new video equipment and new website. Early results are positive, with considerable increases in online activity.
Our primary focus for social media has been on Facebook, as it reaches our target demographics and found a 16.7% growth in page likesover the past year. In the past few months, we experimented with different Facebook ad campaigns, testing the results of videos versus event sharing with photos. We found it interesting to note that men clicked on our videos more than women, at a rate of 57% -43%. Women clicked on posts and events more than men: 67% - 33%. The highest number of our fans are online from 9am-9pm on Wednesdays – Fridays. We get the most significant response from videos and are learning to strategically plan when our posts and event reminders are sent and which audiences to target. Our first video post in 2016 received 110 views. Using our new video equipment together with our new data-based initiatives founded on the study of our analytics, our current video for “From Darkness to Light” has received 5979 views. That is an increase of over 5000% which is significant for our organization's visibility.
The Georgia Symphony Orchestra is enjoying the renewed energy and excitement from the community. We are grateful to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable for providing the tools to help us grow stronger as arts leaders and in service to the people of our region. We are happy to share our ideas with the other Roundtable members and with others in the arts and culture community.