BRAND FOR SUCCESS
THE HOW-TO BRAND ACTIVATION TRAINING EXPERIENCE FOR
PROFESSIONALS, FOUNDERS, STARTUPS AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS
PROFESSIONALS, FOUNDERS, STARTUPS AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS
Photo credit (left to right): Third Gears Photography; Bill Hocker; Chris Lee for The Metropolitan Opera; Lyric Opera of Chicago; Brooke Shaden
(Santa Fe, NM) - The classical artist understands that differentiating in a global marketplace counts; the opera and classical music industries are populated by a multitude of talented artists with unique career paths, specializations, and stories. Differentiation in the marketplace begins when unique talent and brand identity create a lane of its own through storytelling, resulting in interest (work) and ongoing loyalty (positive reputation, repeat engagements). Every artist should seriously consider using their unique stories to build a digital and real-world strategy (with day-to-day best practices), whether said artist has representation or not.
However, there's something every classical artist can do right now to begin this process.
Get a hashtag.
It might sound silly, but hear me out. If you already have a hashtag, that's great news. Some questions the have and have-not camps should both review:
Kelli Butler - #Operageek
Kelli Butler is an "opera singer, geek extraordinaire, aria-slinging mercenary" on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But it wasn't always this way. Early in her career, Kelli attempted to follow the more traditional image and reputation management direction of her first manager, which often resulted in self-editing. She ultimately realized that she wanted to integrate her authentic, real-life interests (brand stories) into her opera singer persona. As per her recent blog: "Someone dolled up to the diva nines….playing a Gameboy. Or wearing a Legend of Zelda necklace, or geeking out over any number of videogame, fantasy, or science fiction topics while rehearsing for Mozart, or Verdi, or Puccini." Ultimately, Kelli realized that integrating "girl gamer" into her professional life as #Operageek is where her authentic storytelling gold is found. Full disclosure: Kelli and I are friends and have worked together, but her #Operageek identity was already firmly established. With the foundational support of her manager Kathleen Berger, and voice teacher Susan Eichhorn Young, Kelli is comfortable in her skin as she works with her team through auditions and engagements. In February 2018, Kelli will bring equal parts opera and geek to her Queen of the Night in St. Pete Opera's production of "The Magic Flute."
Joyce DiDonato - #TalkPeace / #DoPeace
Speaking to mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's all-media mastery, I referred to her as "Queen Joyce" while working on brand storytelling with the Santa Fe Opera apprentices. This isn't a stretch. DiDonato's In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music tour - with conductor Maxim Emelyanychev and the ensemble Il Pomo D'Oro - is the first truly immersive opera brand experience of the 21st century. DiDonato begins by sitting quietly on stage with an open curtain for at least 15-20 minutes. In Vivienne Westwood couture and a signature makeup look, DiDonato takes participants on a deeper exploration of pain, sorrow, joy and - most importantly - the search for peace in our world, performing master baroque works found on her In War and Peace album. Integrating elements I've only previously seen at pop concerts (James Darrah-produced video, as well as video in public spaces and onstage as projections, dance, performance art, spoken word, merchandise), this experience breaks through, something akin to the "Three Tenors" concerts of the 1990s and 2000s. Joyce urges participants to #TalkPeace via branded Hallmark card messaging - marketing collateral as momento - and to engage her via #TalkPeace and #DoPeace across social media and through an In War and Peace-branded mini-site designed by Lenny's Studio. This experience is big, but still feels personal and one-to-one due to DiDonato's onstage warmth and full commitment to her message. In War and Peace is also built to foster ongoing engagement with DiDonato and anyone around the world using her hashtags, which is of course impactful for her, but also the art form and, most importantly, its urgent call to action for peace. DiDonato appears to have kept #TalkPeace and #DoPeace as the guard rails that keep her social and real-world storytelling - as well as the way she approaches this tour, master classes, and other international engagements - higher level, positive plus, and controversy-free. Joyce DiDonato reprises the In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music tour in Lisbon in May 2018, and is currently singing the title role in The Royal Opera House's production of "Semiramide".
Carrie Hennessey - #OperaMom
Northern California soprano Carrie Hennessey built her social media and real-life story around one of the most recognizable hashtags in American opera and performance. This brand geek remains impressed with Carrie's #OperaMom, which she began using in 2009. On Google search, #OperaMom as 'American soprano Carrie Hennessey' dominates organically, without a single ad dollar spent. Did #OperaMom help her land the #2 spot on San Francisco Classical Voice's "Best of the Bay 2017" listing? In my opinion, Carrie is so identified with her hashtag, she could have an #OperaMom business card without any other details on it and still connect online (social media, website, CV, reviews) and in person (contact details, management) if people searched #OperaMom on Google. Across social, Carrie integrates everyday life as a Sacramento mom with personal moments, engagements, master classes, media appearances, and motivational storytelling. Whether by master plan or natural evolution, Carrie's authenticity comes through on screen and in real-life, always supporting the #OperaMom story. Most importantly, some of Carrie's followers may have little to no opera knowledge or interest, but they still know and like #OperaMom (cue brand name recognition). Represented by Vox Artists, Carrie already had an established and exciting CV when I met her four years ago. Her momentum continues in 2018 with The Chamber Music Society of Sacramento, The Sacramento Ballet, and Townsend Opera, where she will perform the role Cio-Cio-San in "Madame Butterly."
Ailyn Pérez - #becomingthaïs
I've had the pleasure of being connected to soprano Ailyn Pérez on Twitter for a few years, but achieved dyed in the wool fan status when I saw her sing the role of Juliette in Santa Fe Opera's 2016 production of "Romeo et Juliette" - times wasn't enough! It was also pure delight to meet her at that season's SFO Gala, and to continue building a friendly back and forth across social media. Pérez was already an established multi-platform master on social media, but her digital marketing partnership with Lenny's Studio has resulted in visually compelling advertising, as well as #becomingthaïs, an exciting social campaign showcasing her recent Metropolitan Opera title role debut in "Thaïs." Originating from Instagram, one of Pérez's strongest platforms, with signal boosting across Twitter and Facebook, the campaign consisted of photos, boomerangs, video storytelling and first-person reporting (including coordination with Metropolitan Opera-produced content). Covering everything a major role debut involves, including the armies of colleagues and experts who collaborated with Ailyn to make #becomingthaïs a reality, it was beautifully executed. For those of us who'd followed the campaign, we were perfectly primed to see Pérez's debut in person at The Met, or to listen to the live radio broadcast and engage in real time via Twitter. All told, #becomingthaïs seemed to not only generate excitement, but serious goodwill for Pérez (cue the brand loyalty). Although I'm not privy to the analytics this campaign produced, this is *the* social media case study to review for any significant role debut! Ailyn Pérez continues as "Thaïs" on November 28th and December 2nd at The Metropolitan Opera, performs at the Richard Tucker Gala on December 10th, and returns to The Met in late December through January 2018 as Countess Almavina in "Le Nozze di Figaro."
Nicole Piccolomini - #maddalenatakesover
My first exposure to Verdi's "Rigoletto" was at Santa Fe Opera in 2015. I was fortunate to be consulting with SFO that summer, so I had the opportunity to see dress rehearsals as well as several performances - think we ended up with 8 in total! Unsurprisingly, "Rigoletto" is now one of my favorites. In addition to discovering Verdi's masterpiece in Santa Fe, I also found a lovely friendship with that production's Maddalena, Berlin-based, American mezzo soprano Nicole Piccolomini. In early 2017, I was thrilled to learn that Nicole would be returning to the USA to sing Maddalena - a signature role - in Stephen Lord's October 2017 Michigan Opera Theatre presentation of Jonathan Miller's English National Opera production. When fall arrived, and Nicole was onsite to begin rehearsals, her idea for a production and colleague-oriented "take over" of MOT's Instagram was warmly received. My only suggestion was to storyboard her ideas prior to jumping on Instagram, and the resulting #maddalenatakesover was pitch perfect for her, a fairly private person when not performing, and someone who only recently launched a public-facing Instagram account. Given that Maddalena is one of Nicole's signature roles, she could realistically use this hashtag again for another Maddalena take over at a new house, or simply use it as a fun way to connect career dots across social media. Following Nicole on Instagram was an excellent way to get a better sense of this landmark production set in 1950s Little Italy New York, as well as watching "Maddalena Take Over" on opening night, BRAVA! Nicole performs Hans Pfitzner's Op. 3 with pianist Christoph Staude in Kunnersdorf, Germany on December 3, 2017, and the title role in Astor Piazzolla's "María de Buenos Aires" at Oper Halle in January 2018.
The above case studies demonstrate that for classical artists, hashtags have various secret and not-so-secret powers. Your global brand name recognition awaits!
San Francisco Opera | Photo: James Mowdy
(San Francisco) - In 2014, I received a Google Alert for a Barron's article entitled "The Business of Opera." It linked to a short interview of LA Opera CEO Christopher Koelsch, conducted over a business lunch at Michael's in midtown Manhattan. This, in itself, was a very cool find. Writer Harold F. "Rick" Pitcairn II not only captured the ambiance of the room, the moment, and the personality of an "impeccably dressed" Koelsch, but highlighted Koelsh's passionate advocacy for his company and the art form itself. What struck me most was Koelsch's assertion that "running an opera has a lot in common with running a fixed income portfolio." Pitcairn also describes the risk management and diversified portfolio-like aspects of building a successful opera company, in both financial and critical terms.
From LA to Santa Fe
While working with Santa Fe Opera on a strategic storytelling plan in 2015, several untold aspects of SFO's business story emerged as must-tell. The most amazing item was that the company had been in the black for all of its 60 years due to a super-energized donor base (which is still true in 2017). SFO's newly expanded, cutting-edge facilities build five operas from the ground up - dressmakers, technicians, costumes, sets, welders, carpenters - which is unique in the USA, where many companies rent costumes and sets from others. Working with SFO Media Director Daniel Zillmann, I cited the aforementioned Barron's article, as well as pertinent bullets from a company-wide listening tour. My recommendation was that SFO business storytelling was the "right here, right now," low-hanging fruit that could achieve several SFO media goals. At that point, it became Daniel's job to formulate the right pitch for the best writer/publication/channel. It was thrilling to see Ray Mark Rinaldi's piece in the Denver Post a few months later. Rinaldi did a wonderful job describing the $200MM per annum economic "Opera Factory" that is Santa Fe Opera. Rinaldi's story also received significant traction from Albuquerque Business First EIC Rachel Sams.
Michigan Opera Theatre
In Detroit last month for Michigan Opera Theatre's Rigoletto, I caught a wonderful piece from TBD magazine, a Detroit-based, digital and print publication. In the form of a short, but wildly informative profile of the Michigan Opera Theatre's costume shop, I learned about the origins of the company, important families and businesses that have supported MOT over the years, significant capital improvements and financing, and how the company depended on this network after corporate funding fell off after the 2009 financial crash. TBD's focus on MOT costume design spoke to the greater, premium and well-funded product produced by this particular opera factory.
Opera, with all of its unique artistic and cultural merits, is still an industry. Revenue, profit, profitability, investment, re-investment, and growth all come with the territory. LA Opera's story connected dots beautifully, making the subject of opera instantly palatable for the Barron's readership. The same can be said for Rinaldi's Santa Fe Opera piece, which likened SFO's operation to a self-sufficient "factory" creating economic benefit for New Mexico in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In a slightly less direct manner, TBD's profile showcased Michigan Opera Theatre's resiliency during a national economic downturn, in a city that is known for its long-term economic challenges.
Business storytelling that showcases a solid financial picture, a bright business outlook, or results-oriented leadership is not only attractive to potential investors, but also to the development leads who seek them. Is your story investment grade?
BrandStoryNow is the how-to marketing training experience for professionals, founders, and small business owners. BrandStoryNow helps startups and small businesses establish unique brand identity, compelling storytelling, and winning brand strategy with return. Presented by James Mowdy, founder of BSPOKE LLC, with guest collaborators and presenters. The BrandStoryNow webinar launches in Fall 2018.