The Long Haul Model: Operational Implementation Part 2

A Series for Those Who are Serious About Changing the Narrative

Part 2 of a 3-part series for those who are serious about changing the narrative.

If you’re reading this post, by now you should have read the original description of The Long Haul Audience Development Model and part one of this series. This post covers questions on scalability — in other words, how The Long Haul Model can be implemented at organizations of varying staff and budget sizes — as well as the HR component of this work (e.g. answering questions on staffing structure and why company culture matters in this discussion).

If you’re truly serious about implementing this model, the shift in operations is really a shift in putting the customer at the center of everything we do. I’ve said before that orchestras are generally product obsessed, revenue obsessed, and donation obsessed, which in and of themselves are not bad things. But we are not as a whole customer obsessed. Many people have asked how to lead this organizational shift, and the answer is in one of two ways depending on budget size:

  1. From the top as the CEO/ED. This is more realistic at a smaller budget organization because the Executive Director oversees so much more of the day to day operations.
  2. By a designated senior leadership position over patron loyalty, responsible for marketing and low-level annual fund and the HR component that drives company culture.

At the California Symphony, we started with the former (I led everything described here when I was first brought on because I was very particular about setting and implementing the vision), and then last season moved to the later where I hired a position to oversee almost this exact body of work I’m describing. Note that staff structure alone does not achieve the results we’ve experienced here at the California Symphony. Our strategy included everything discussed in this series about the Long Haul Audience Development Model, in addition to savvy marketing — particularly digital marketing — and smart/clever messaging and content across all channels (ads, website, program book, direct mail, social media, brochures, and appeal letters). When all these things are combined, you always know exactly who you’re talking to and have a plan and message and voice for them that’s consistent across your entire organization.

“Orchestras are generally product obsessed, revenue obsessed, and donation obsessed, which in and of themselves are not bad things. But we are not as a whole customer obsessed.”

What Does A Patron Loyalty Position Look Like?

For those seriously considering the idea of being customer obsessed, a position overseeing patron loyalty has autonomy over the following:

Marketing — all Marketing, Sales, Box Office, Ticketing, Front of House
If this entire model is about having one next step for every audience segment no matter where they are in their patron journey with us, then hiring someone with wicked marketing skills on the forefront of technology is critical, as all these sales and marketing functions create the base of the pyramid. This role must know how to run a department that is a wizard with acquisition, a Jedi with driving repeat attendance, a ninja with subscriptions, and a superhero with understanding how pricing, packaging, and the concert experience drives these various behaviors.

Communications — all PR, Social Media, Program Book, and any other public-facing content, media, or channels
In some larger organizations, communications is siloed to its own department. Sometimes social media falls to marketing and sometimes to PR. Sometimes program book staff and content is its own mini universe altogether. Under the new structure, all these functions must report up on the same team. Why? Because being customer obsessed means acknowledging that the same customer who clicked on that digital ad will also see our posts on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, and will also click/tap through to the website to buy their ticket, and then also read the program book. If we are to be customer obsessed, there must be one voice across all these channels, talking coherently to that same person.

Development — Low-Level Annual Fund
Surprise: smart marketing and low-level annual fund are very similar. Both involve the same tactics to accomplish a transactional goal. Both use direct mail, the phone room, social media, and even targeted digital advertising as tactics. Both drive point of conversion to desktop, mobile, phone, or sometimes mail. Recently I was talking with Jack McAuliffe, former VP at the League of American Orchestras who is responsible for much of the research in our field on audience retention. He told me that a past mistake made by some organizations trying to bring together marketing and development teams was to hire an experienced fundraiser who didn’t know the marketing side very much. He was right to call this a mistake, and he shared that it didn’t work well for those organizations because the marketing piece can’t be taught overnight. What can be quickly taught to the sophisticated marketer described above is the difference between a direct mail piece for annual fund versus ticket sales for a concert: both are designed to elicit an emotional response to drive the transaction; it’s just that the former is often a letter and the latter a postcard or self-fold mailer. Both can and should be supported with follow up via email, direct mail, and hyper-targeted digital ads (all skills the expert marketer had better be used to employing all the time).

I’ve personally seen this play out in my last two organizations, first in myself and then in others. Before becoming Executive Director of the California Symphony, my career experience includes time in the development department at Seattle Symphony (read: basic annual fund understanding), and then several increasingly senior roles in marketing at Seattle Opera (read: marketing experience), followed by overseeing all revenue streams at the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival (read: tons more marketing experience and taking on fundraising, which in hindsight was where I first implemented the Long Haul Model before coming to California Symphony and calling it that). For me, using that marketing knowledge to write fundraising appeals was a no brainer, and it led to growing the donor base right away. It was all the other development functions, like major gift cultivation and grant writing, that I really had to learn, study, and practice to get any good at it. I’ve also seen this play out in the staff I’ve hired. I once made a mistake of hiring a development position that didn’t understand analytics or how to use data in driving decisions, and it hurt. It hurt me personally because I had to step in to guide that thinking too much (time that was taken away from other responsibilities), and it hurt the organization because we weren’t realizing as much contributed revenue as we could have been. I then learned from that experience, and my next senior hire was someone who knew a lot about marketing, using data to drive decisions, and patron loyalty; they ramped up into the annual fund responsibilities pretty easily and have been totally crushing it ever since.

Lastly, in this staff structure where one customer-obsessed department includes low-level annual fund, the traditional development functions remaining outside of this patron loyalty team become major gifts, institutional fundraising (i.e. grants and corporate giving), planned giving, and special event execution (Note the word “execution” here. Post-event follow-up should largely circle back to the patron loyalty staff as special events are bringing in new donors if they are working correctly. More on this in part three tomorrow.)

HR — practices and processes for Hiring, Onboarding, Performance Review, Professional Development, Organizational Culture
Why does HR matter in all of this? Because keeping a customer-focused company culture is a must, and not at all the way we are currently structured. As described above, this applies to the type of people we hire, and as mentioned in part one of this series, how we interview potential candidates. Onboarding and ongoing training matters to this work a lot, too. I can say with confidence that my operations, education, artistic, and finance staff now know that patron loyalty is key to our success, because our audience development plan is discussed with every new hire, regardless of role or seniority. It’s also a part of performance review now, because every function across the entire organization touches the customer in some way, whether programming (what the customer hears performed) or operations (how the customer experiences our art) or major gifts (how the customer decides they can partner with us in a more significant way) or education (the pre-concert talks the customer attends) or even finance (why these expenses matter and how they are working to bring our art in service to the customer). When the entire organization is implementing the Long Haul Model for audience development, the model is more successful, and that means a portion of HR functions need to report up to the senior position overseeing the implementation, or at the very least, this position needs to work exceptionally close with human resources leadership to ensure these things are happening.

Redrawing the department lines among what are traditional marketing, development, and human resources siloes is not new; in fact, it’s right out of the Silicon Valley playbook and helping the most successful tech firms serve their customers better and better. Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, said it best: “Companies that are really, truly successful are collaborative and solving for the customer, and you can’t solve for the customer in siloes. You can’t do it.”

Through the Long Haul model and structure, the organization will be aligned across departments on what it means to strategically keep the patron first in order to maximize revenue over the long term and to fill the donor pipeline, all while generating an internal culture of attracting the best talent in the office like on stage, and empowering that talent to do this work.

“Redrawing the department lines among what are traditional marketing, development, and human resources siloes is not new.”

More Q&A

A few more answers to questions I’m hearing on the topics of scaling the model to different budget sizes and the HR/staffing component:

  • Revenue split expectations? Whereas the traditional revenue breakdown for an orchestra is that less than half of total annual revenue comes from the marketing department and most (if not all) of the remainder is generated by the development department, this restructure shifts the balance closer to a 50/50 split between patron loyalty functions and other contributed revenue.
  • Scalability in practice: what activities are easier or harder as the organization has a larger staff/budget? From my work at institutions of all sizes, the short answer is that some things are easier when you’re bigger and some things harder. For example, working with all this data is infinitely easier on Tessitura than just about any other CRM. Our database struggles with some of the complex reporting with suppressions and multi-buyers, and we do a lot of time consuming data manipulation in Excel because of it, yuck. On the other end of the spectrum, seat carding these various segments at every concert is somewhat easier when there are fewer concerts and fewer seats in the hall. On the other hand, the staff doing that work is small too, so while we have the same two people doing this all time, larger orgs can spread that workload around a lot more. There’s also economies of scale: at a larger organization, there is potentially more expense savings on the table. For example, when we print those first-timer postcards, we’re printing about 500 of those a year. For a larger org, you’d be printing a ton more than that, so the price per unit is going to be a lot lower. Similarly, when mailing lists get smaller and more qualified (i.e. not mailing to every Tom, Dick, and Harry for every solicitation), saving 20% on mailing and printing costs, for example, means saving a lot more bread at a larger org. Lastly, as the National Center for Arts Research recently released, the staff to visitor ratio is higher for smaller organizations, meaning those organizations are spread thinner, serving more people per staff member; conversely for larger organizations, this means that ratio is lower and therefore there’s more staff-per-patron to do this work as it scales up.
  • Several organizations thinking about hiring someone to lead patron loyalty have asked about an appropriate title for this position. While in some ways that’s to be negotiated with the person you hire, when developing the job description, I’ve seen Director of Patron Loyalty (that’s what I originally called the role when implementing it at the California Symphony, and then the employee negotiated for it to be called Director of Marketing and Patron Loyalty). At a large budget organization where this role would be overseeing several teams of people, something like Executive Vice President or VP of External Affairs would work. When we created this type of role at the Bumbershoot Festival, we called it Senior Director of External Affairs & Community Engagement (yes, at that organization, becoming customer-centric meant including “Community Engagement,” whereas in the orchestra world we generally think that means youth education). You could even call it — if reporting to the CEO — Executive Director (sort of emulating LA Phil’s structure). Coca Cola recently rolled out a similar position called Chief Growth Officer. And at the smallest organizations, the Executive Director is calling all these shots. The point is, there are options to explore what fits with the organizational culture you are wanting to create.
  • Lastly, how can you pay for this type of position when not every organization can just whip up a new FTE role? The easiest way to implement this model and pay for it is to restructure when the organization has some open salary cap, such as an open head of marketing or development position. Something like half of all non-profits are searching for a development director at any given time, and that’s a great time to think about restructuring: before the knee-jerk reaction to fill that senior position in the traditional way, or if you’re currently searching and not seeing as strong of a candidate pool as you’d like. That’s how it played out at the California Symphony and at the Bumbershoot Festival, and it worked very well in both instances. At a small organization, the Executive Director can implement this work at any point in the season (i.e. you can start not soliciting donations from single ticket buyers and first year subscribers at any time, for example). If all the top marketing, development, and human resources positions are filled and not going anywhere soon, the options get a little more complicated. It’s really tough to restructure without a major staff change, whether that’s a new ED coming in at the top and reorganizing, or one of the senior positions opening up and the roles shifting.

Tomorrow we’ll post the third and final part in this series [update: posted here], which covers another big category of questions I’ve been receiving: once your organization has worked through the pain points of implementing a different audience development model and restructured staff functions accordingly, then where and how do you roll up your sleeves and actually begin?!

About the Author

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-averse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.