The Fat Lady Singing

I connected with Kate at The Audience Business on LinkedIn today. That isn’t her singing by the way.

“Hi, Kate,

Many thanks for connecting on LinkedIn.

I’m a former freelance orchestral percussionist and classical concert promoter, now immersed in digital marketing, some of it for Arts organizations. I have one foot on the stage and another in the marketing department.

I’ve attended and spoken at AMA conferences and events in the past and I retain a passion for understanding the influences and influencers that affect arts event attendance.

I once shared a platform with Owen Pringle (formerly of the South Bank Centre and now at Amnesty). He told me that the average age of concert-goers at the Royal Festival Hall hasn’t changed since 1953. (it’s 49 apparently). Sadly, this suggests that all attempts since, to change this, have failed.

I also attended an ABO conference at which Joseph Kluger (Former Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra) said that he had given up on trying to attract new people between the ages of 20 and 35. He said that the return on marketing investment was just not viable compared to attracting other age groups. There were too many more attractive leisure alternatives and limited leisure time (young children, long working hours etc) “We’ll get them later” he said … presumably when they are 49!

It highlighted to me the broad and untapped range of 49 year old culturally-aware non-attenders. (There are apparently only 30,000 regular concert goers in the whole of London). Sadly this untapped audience often comes up against inaccessible, daunting modern art that may well be ‘challenging’ to the cognoscenti but which is a foreign language from a faraway land for most. The Eroica Symphony will be ‘challenging’ to a 50 year old Londoner who has never before set foot in a concert hall. So it’s a programming issue as well as an awareness and engagement one.

Today, digital communications, the heady possibilities of social media and social influence marketing make reaching and engaging this hidden audience much easier. You just need to identify your super peers and get them to do your marketing for you.

It worked for AquaFresh. They learned that their super peers were women aged between 16 and 25. They trust and share more than most apparently. So they created a website that attracted those women and contacted those they already had details for. They then sent them bucket loads of sample product, invited those women to share the product with friends and then ask those friends to provide feedback on a dedicated website. 1.4 million did just that, spending an average of 6 minutes on the site doing so. 95% also asked to be involved in future trials directly.

I’m currently capitalizing on my unusual stance between the Arts and the social media phenomenon to help organizations who need new audiences and who are understandably failing to attract the least interested down the line of most resistance.

I did a talk on this recently which you can find here:

If this is a subject or area that has relevance for you at The Audience Business I’d be happy to chat futher.

Kind regards,


I’m looking forward to both her reply and to your comments here

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I started learning to play the drums in 1970 when I was 7. Later that year my parents took me to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho to see Buddy Rich. At the time, Buddy was the most famous drummer in the World.

At the interval, Ronnie Scott himself took my hand and walked me backstage to meet the great man. Buddy made me play a paradiddlediddle on his knee and then let me keep the sticks. I still have them.

12 years later and – largely because of that night in Soho – I won a place to study drums and percussion at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama at the Barbican Centre in the City of London. (I produced the GSM&D website by the way)

Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd

At college I discovered the music of drummer Steve Gadd and along with my fellow students spent many happy hours trying to play like him. Not easy. Steve Gadd is one of the greatest drummers the musical world has ever known. I saw him play on a number of occasions at big stadium gigs.

So … imagine my delight when the phone rang on Monday morning and a dear college friend told me he had two tickets for Steve Gadd and Friends at – wait for it – Ronnie Scott’s, that night. The tickets weren’t cheap he said and we only had seats for the first set between 7.30pm and 8.30pm. The second set was sold out and tickets were changing hands for a lot.

“All markets are more susceptible to things other than price”, ask Apple, Ferrari and Rolex. For me, the price of that ticket was utterly irrelevant. I could not put a price on an hour listening and watching a living musical hero in an intimate setting. My “brand devotion” was bigger than any concern about price.

So we got there and I had a quiet word with the receptionist and explained that both Jonathan and I were huge fans and could she see her way to seating us as close as possible to the stage. A winning smile produced a suggestion that we might like the table closest to the stage! Jonathan and I sat, ate and drank within a drum stick’s flick of the great man’s drum kit. Yamaha, of course … like our own. (A classic Super Peer)

Then The Man arrived, sat down with his quartet, started playing and we were transported. There were some quiet happy tears as the years fell away and we tried to take in the fact that we were little more than 6 feet away from the world’s greatest living drummer. We just sat there with Kevin and Perry daft smiles on our faces as we listened to 4 of the finest musicians in the world entertain us.

The hour shot by, as did two bottles of Chablis. I noticed that Steve had not come on to the stage from the back room and would most likely walk through the club to the dressing rooms downstairs, where I’d first met Buddy Rich 39 years ago.

As Steve and his band were taking their bows, I nipped out into the corridor and sure enough, a minute later he was walking towards me. I held out my hand and he took it. I followed him and the band down the stairs and walked – bold as brass – into the dressing room. I introduced myself and told him the Buddy story. He was gracious and unhurried and everything you’d hope a hero to be when you meet them.

Outside in the street, a queue had formed. It was the jazz fans who had tickets for the second set at 9.30pm. In the queue were even more of London’s drummers. Another college friend was there. A great drummer in his own right who has played with Robbie Williams, Madonna and Van Morrison. Ralph Salmins was at the gig with his wife and three sons and there was a big and joyful pavement reunion with them all.

Jonathan and I started to wish we had tickets for the second set. I told him to trust me and remain in the queue which we did, without tickets (it was a sell out) and worried about the cost of the tickets if we were lucky enough to get returns. There weren’t any.

We stayed close to Ralph and his family and when we got back to the receptionist, she recognized me and smiled. Ralph looked back and winked. I didn’t realize how influential he had become. He asked the receptionist if his ‘two good friends here” could stand at the back by the bar. She looked at us … we both smiled like Kevin and Perry again … and she said yes. We were in.

After a few minutes and shortly before the second set I noticed that a table for two had not been taken. So we sat down and ordered more wine. Bold as brass.

The second set was even better, not only because it was free and we were by then, the wrong side of 3 bottles of Chablis. We would both cheerfully have paid many hundreds of pounds for the experience.

We both owe a big drink to Ralph for helping us back in.

Never under-estimate the power of brand devotion or social influence. Being unashamedly bold as brass can also work wonders if accompanied by a confident smile.

I now have another great drum hero story to tell. Very good news for the following “brands”:

Steve Gadd, (thanks for all the music and inspiration, especially the opening to 50 Ways to Leave your Lover and for playing with two sticks in each hand in Late in the Evening)

Buddy Rich (RIP, thanks for the sticks and for “Love for Sale” live)

Ronnie Scott’s

Yamaha Drums

Here is the Spotify link to my Steve Gadd Playlist (Web) (Spotify)

Can now die happy.


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I’ve only recently become aware of the story that broke in July about United Airlines, a broken guitar, a YouTube hit. (Thanks James)

If you missed the story, United Airlines passenger Dave Carroll had his $3,500 Taylor guitar destroyed by the airline’s baggage handlers during a flight last year. After United repeatedly declined to reimburse him for the damage, he wrote a now-famous song decrying their customer service and their brand. It was very funny, clever and completely justified.

Within 4 days of the song going live, millions of people had watched the brand-bashing video and United’s stock price has dropped 10%: It’s unlikely that the video caused the drop. It had been dropping along with other airline stock for many months.

However, as I write, over 5.7m people have watched the original video on YouTube and it has spawned 686 copycat videos … all derogatory. If you search Google for “United Airlines” the damaging video is in the first page of results and top of the video results.

It’s difficult to agree with Chris Ayres’ suggestion that the video alone cost United $180m (10% of its market cap) but it’s clearly not an outcome that United would have wished for.

Flip this over and look at the Sony Bravia TV commercial that showed 250,000 coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco. Over 4m people have “chosen” to watch it on YouTube over the last 3 years and 500,000 have watched the “making” of the commercial. For a while back there it was the most “remembered” TV commercial in the US. But it was never broadcast in the States. Everyone was watching it on YouTube. It was a viral success and free of charge.

What a difference. Equally impactful, both positively and negatively. Do you have any other illuminating case studies?


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