Media Using The Masses

It appears as if the mainstream media has gone from glaring at bloggers to embracing some user generated content, perhaps at the expense of their employees. I am beginning to suspect some outlets have realized they could tap in to people’s desire for 15 minutes of fame as long as things ran through an editor for quality control. About a year ago, I started seeing the press releases I sent to the arts editor appearing verbatim in the neighbor specific inserts of the newspaper. I would still get a calendar or photo listing in the paper proper and maybe even a feature story if I was lucky. I have had my releases appear verbatim in smaller weekly papers, but this was the first time it was happening in a major daily.

A little later a mechanism appeared on the newspaper website encouraging people to submit stories of their own. Then a heck of a lot of people were laid off at the paper. I don’t know if there was a casual relationship or not, but I began to wonder if my attempts at promoting my events was contributing to pink slips being issued.

Last night I saw a promo on television announcing a new program the station news department was starting involving citizen contributions. There was nothing on the website despite their encouragement to check it out for more information. I think it had something to do with weather. I wouldn’t be surprised if some point in the next five years they started soliciting people to submit video reports.

Last month started Open Salon where they will actually pay people for creating content.

What does this mean for you?

Well first, people may expect more opportunities to interact and contribute in your events.

Second, you may never know when the newspaper critic is coming because it could be anyone in the audience and a totally different person from last time. On the other hand, if you have a popular show you may hear from 10 people who intend to review your show for the newspaper and want free tickets (and still have an unknown 11th person’s critique printed).

I also imagine that some artists will anticipate expectations and you may find the type of shows they create/offer for performance at your venue beginning to evolve. I have spoken about how people may not be content with the passive experience sitting quietly in a dark room watching a show any longer. As much as I expect audiences to demand more, I also expect artists to start to provide more. As always, some will do it better than others.

In the short term though the implications of media outlets using exactly what you send them are that you better be making a compelling case for attendance. No longer are you trying to convince a writer your event is worthy of a feature story or review and depending on them to conduct interviews and recast your event in an interesting manner. Now what you write has to do both these things. You may not have the alternative of writing two releases, one for the editor and one for publication as is. I have had an editor take a single press release, assign a reporter to follow up to generate a story and forward it to be printed verbatim by the newspaper. It happened at least three times last year.

If you don’t know how to start writing compelling entries, you may want to check out my entry here. Because has changed the way they address their archives, those links to Greg Sandow’s blog don’t work any more. However, if you go to the May 25 -June 15, 2005 entries on his blog, you can probably find them without too much effort.

All The Kids Know It Is More Fun To Sit In the Back

There is a great illustration (in my mind as least) for why arts people need to value learning and be cognizant of what is happening elsewhere in a story out of Orlando. It seems the Orlando Opera Company and Orlando Ballet have decided to try to bump their subscribers out of the balcony and into the more expensive floor seats in an attempt to make that area look fuller and increase revenue.

The subscribers are none to happy and are resisting. Just like the subscribers at the Honolulu Symphony did when the balcony seating prices were both raised and that section closed until the floor section was filled. Just like the subscribers at the Boston Symphony Orchestra did when that organization increased balcony seating prices by 80% in one year. Both Honolulu and Boston backpedaled and admitted the increases were ill advised. I suspect the opera and ballet in Orlando may end up doing the same.

Fortunately, the Orlando Philharmonic hadn’t received the advice the opera and ballet did about changing the pricing structure or this entry would make it seem like orchestras were the only ones making this poor decision. Or at the very least, weren’t doing a good job presenting this new policy to their audiences. I am not sure there is a good way of making such a large change in one year’s time palatable without investing a whole lot of time and money in the campaign.

The Orlando Sentinel article mentions that the opera and ballet had received the results of a study. I wonder who did the study and how they came to the conclusion that subscribers would tolerate this in acceptable numbers. I could believe a study that found people would tolerate a price increase of X amount over what they are paying now. Likewise, I could foresee people grumbling but generally acceding to moving their seats to the floor for the same price if they were told it was a cost saving measure. (Don’t have to pay the ushers for the balconies, perhaps.) It would be a sneaky way to get people out of the seats and raise the prices the following season when you reopen the balcony due to demand. People would probably be rather angered at such a move when it emerged a couple years hence.

I would be rather incredulous at a study that found it would be productive to both displace subscribers and place them in a situation where they were paying more than the previous year. (If anyone knows of a case of the decision succeeding, I would love to know!) I would ask to see the research that back that up and if it didn’t include a fair sampling of my ticket purchasing base, I would be rather skeptical. In other words, I am wondering if they even talked to anyone in those seats. (Or researched how similar decisions played out.) I don’t expect any of them would have answered yes to a question that flat out asked if they would be willing to give up their seats so some extensive communication of the rationale would need to transpire. Which would be a pretty good opportunity to gauge the most effective way to communicate the rationale.

There are obviously too many factors of which I am unaware to make a real judgment about why the decision was made. I feel secure though in stating that their case doesn’t appear to have been communicated well.

Wherein I Send You Reading Elsewhere

I am working tonight (and tomorrow night for that matter) so I don’t have much time to write. I do want to take this brief opportunity to direct you to Ken Davenport’s blog, The Producer’s Perspective. As a producer of off-Broadway shows he has some great insights into the business in NYC like how to get your show produced, how much a risk it is to produce on Broadway, what does a press agent do, and the importance of having those who sell your product believe in it (and why that is tough to accomplish on Broadway).

Since he also takes a look at the implications of policy issues like today’s entry on what the universal health care program being touted by the presidential candidates may mean for Broadway.

I had actually gotten an email from one of his assistants a year or so ago inviting me to see Altar Boyz in New York, but I didn’t know he had a blog (maybe he didn’t at the time.) I have to give credit to TheatreForte for turning me on to his blog with their tireless efforts at indexing arts related blogs.

Stilted Smiles

The impetus for the original entry I followed up on yesterday was writing effective press releases. It got me thinking so when I came home this evening I started looking around for tips for putting together a successful publicity photo shoot. There are plenty of guides on composing a shot but I haven’t been able to find anything on how to get performers to look natural. There are plenty of groups that do a good job with their publicity shots but I have seen enough awful pictures in newspapers and on websites that I essentially consider it a moral imperative to list some sort of resource on my blog.

I have worked with any number of directors who were pretty vigilant about keeping bad acting out of their shows who seem to throw those rules out the window for the photo shoot. You get heavily posed shots where the actors are blatantly indicating their emotions-“Here I am terrified. Boy am I terrified.”

The only advice I can offer is from two different places I worked. Both essentially followed the same scheme. One had the actors run through a scene and the photographer either snapped away or yelled freeze. The other had much more advanced performers and let them essentially improv with each other in character and the photographer snapped away. In the latter case, the photographer was more likely to tell the actors to keep going than to stop so he could catch something. The photographs in got cases tended to have a more organic dynamic to them.

I wonder if someone out there with more photo shoots under their belt might have a more formal list of tips for effective publicity shots. (Or knows of a source that has them.) I would think a list of cliches to avoid would be valuable as well. (Mollified person in foreground with person glaring disapprovingly behind and to the side, for example.) I did find one website talking about photo cliches but it was pretty snarky so I thought it best not to link.

If you have tips or know where to find them, let me know.