Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oooh'ing and Aaah'ing over The OAE

Just one example of the many techniques to create a 'buzz' with potential audiences, The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment is always open to new ideas. One of the plethora of classical institutions in London, and relatively small in comparison with the modern orchestras in the city, the OAE has done much to "cut through the noise," as Communications Director William Norris puts it.

"We're one of many orchestras who live in the center of London," says William, "and we've had to be innovative in order to attract as much attention as the others with a large budget. We've always been a little bit rebellious in our strategies." The OAE's emphasis in their media strategy has always been on the orchestra members, as they have no principal conductor.

Encompassing the largest staff for a period orchestra in the country, the organization is never short of new initiatives and projects. In January, a video was put out asking people who don't look like the average classical music concert-goer to enter to become a poster-boy (or girl) for the upcoming season. Next Friday, we'll see the results of that contest. A unique approach which has generated quite a bit of buzz, the campaign displays the importance the orchestra puts on developing new audiences. Take a look at the teaser video:

Their website, also a unique design, puts its blog, vigorously updated, with material on a vast array of subjects, front and center. From composer biographies, tour updates, to videos such as the ones above, there is more material there than most in-house orchestra blogs put together. "We're in the process of updating our blogging system," says William, "right now it's a little complicated for orchestra members to blog. They write it, then send it to a staff member who then puts it up." An interesting concern for the communications office, I wonder if giving performers easy access to blogging software is on the top of other orchestras' to-do lists?

Apart from its regular concert series, the orchestra runs three others: The Night Shift, The Works, and OAE TOTS (for toddlers). Focusing on younger audiences (17 to mid 30s), The Night Shift has been very successful, both filling their concerts and receiving a lot of media attention. This past January, The Night Shift took a pub-tour which saw great success. Interestingly, in a post explaining that the pub-tour was in development, the author openly asked for suggestions. That's the first time I've ever seen that in an official communication from an orchestra.

The Works, OAE's most recent series, is targeted towards adults new to, or skeptical of, classical music. An excellent explanation can be found on the initial blog post about the series:
The concept is not rocket science. The heart of it is a concert at 8pm that lasts around 80 minutes, with no interval. In the first part of the concert the presenter and conductor or soloist will give the audience a ‘guided tour’ of the featured piece of music, movement by movement. Then there’s time for a Q+A and then a full performance of it. Drinks will be allowed in and we hope some of the informal atmosphere of the Night Shift will ensue. Before the concert, from 7pm we have some jazz in the bar as a way to start people’s evening off and then after the concert our Education Director, Cherry, will lead a ‘speed-date-the-OAE’ session, which is basically a flash way of enabling the audience to meet the Orchestra (all will be explained on the night)! 
Into its 26th year, the orchestra seems to be putting more emphasis on projects related to audience development than on its regular performances. Their consistent use of high-quality video and photography also compliment their blog-heavy website design.

Take a look at their website, then take a look at the website of your local orchestra. Are there many similarities?

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