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Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale Achieves 90 Percent Subscriber Retention Rate
December 4, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO—Bay Area historically-informed ensemble Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale led by Waverley Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan for the last 33 years has achieved what few orchestras these days have been able to achieve in the last twenty years—a 90 percent retention rate of subscribers between the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons and a 55 percent increase in new subscribers.
“We are extremely fortunate to have such a loyal core audience,” says Executive Director Courtney Beck. “But we also work very hard to engage with our audience to keep them coming back year after year. “All orchestras lose subscribers every year, but it’s amazing to think that we lost only 10 percent—mostly from natural attrition. We worked tirelessly to retain that 90 percent and worked equally hard to attract new subscribers.”
In addition to PBO’s deeply loyal fans, the organization has developed a winning subscription formula of great artistic programming and loyalty based marketing programs. “We have always thought of our subscribers like a “family” but once we began to actually treat them like family we saw a clear shift in behavior,” says Beck.
Great programming is only as good as an organization’s ability to sell and market its artistry, and it only works in the context of comprehensive relationship building. PBO’s specialty is presenting a range of repertoire from the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic eras, and new works that make sense, in their characteristic “historically informed” fashion. Nicholas McGegan, considered one of the foremost experts in historical performance, has led PBO to international acclaim with three decades of growth through PBO’s Bay Area season, a robust touring schedule, over 40 recordings including two GRAMMY® nominations, the launch of its own record label, a 20-year high profile collaboration with the Mark Morris Dance Group, a critically acclaimed fully-staged modern-day premiere of the original 1745 version of Rameau’s opera-ballet “Le Temple de la Gloire” in 2017 partnership with the Centre de musique de Versailles and Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, and the establishment of its Jews and Music and New Music for Old Instruments initiatives. The PBO 2018/19 subscription season offers an exciting mix of masterworks by Mozart, Vivaldi, and Handel with modern works by Arvo Pärt and commissioned works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. A slate of high-profile guest artists including international star mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and rising countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen add to the appeal. There are few ensembles willing to take such risks but PBO pulls it off regularly to the delight of both critics and audiences across the country.
“Programming isn’t just the artistic product; it’s about how we’re going to engage audiences in the programming,” says Beck. “We really want to show the world the beauty, flexibility and range of a period instrument orchestra and chorale. So we push boundaries—not so we can check the boxes, but because there’s been thoughtful consideration and long-term planning. I think our audience recognizes the risks we sometimes take and rewards us with their continued loyalty,” continues Beck.
In addition to great programming, PBO introduced a loyalty based renewal program for the 2018/19 season offering new benefits on top of regular subscription benefits like lower subscription pricing, early access to special programs, guaranteed seating, bigger discounts for add-on tickets, premium gifts and more for renewing early. With the launch of that program, PBO was able to reach a 60 percent retention rate by the early renewal deadline that occurred 6 weeks after the initial mailing. By the time the 2018/19 season began on October 3, the retention rate had reached 89 percent.
Another key to the success of the subscription campaign was the season brochure. For the first time in its history, the organization took a holistic approach and invested in a hefty 32-page brochure with the full story of PBO including all of PBO’s artistic initiatives, education, outreach, tours, recordings, and events as well as details about the upcoming season. The brochure was sent to both renewing and prospective subscribers.
“We felt that prospective subscribers deserved to hear the whole story, not just a sales pitch for our Bay Area concert series. We’re an organization with national and international reach, doing all kinds of things that go way beyond this concert or that. Why wouldn’t we want everyone to know about all of our programs in the Bay Area and points beyond? It’s shortsighted to think that we’re just selling concerts. We’re not. We’re taking the long view and believe that everything we do reflects back on the music. Plus, how do you ask new patrons to commit to a subscription when they only know a small part of our story,” asks Beck.
By giving prospects the full story, PBO saw a 55 percent increase in newly acquired subscribers including returning lapsed subscribers. The new acquisition campaign earned more than 3 times the revenue earned within the first six weeks of its launch compared to prior year.
“We received so much positive feedback on the brochure. Even our longtime subscribers tell me they had no idea about the full range of what we do,” says Beck. “There’s a false sense of security with program books and e-communication. We presume it’s all been absorbed but that’s clearly not the case.”
In addition to the full story, the “holistic” PBO brochure offered new, flexible, user-friendly subscription options that were designed to work for anyone. Rather than multiple, complicated, prepackaged options explained in code, patrons could easily pick and choose concerts that met their schedule and budget. “It’s a very honest approach that respects all patrons—renewing and new. And it’s a real departure,” says Beck.
The exciting programming performed at the highest levels by PBO’s historically informed musicians and guest artists combined with fully realized patron-focused marketing programs have been key to PBO’s subscription retention and growth. “We’re keeping our subscriber family very happy and we couldn’t be more thrilled that they keep coming back for more. And it’s so gratifying to see how many new faces we’re seeing as well,” smiles Beck.
ABOUT PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE ORCHESTRA & CHORALE
Under the musical direction of Nicholas McGegan for the past 33 years, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) is recognized as America’s leading historically informed ensemble. Using authentic instruments and stylistic conventions of the Baroque to early-Romantic periods, the orchestra engages audiences through its signature Bay Area series, national tours, recordings, commissions, and education projects of the highest standard. Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area 37 years ago, the ensemble is the largest of its kind in the United States and is known for its versatility in programming and joyful performances.
PBO’s musicians are among the best in the country and serve on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Harvard, and Stanford, among others. The Orchestra performs an annual subscription season in four venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the orchestra’s popular alternative concert series for younger and new audiences—PBO SESSIONS which has regularly sold out since its inception in 2014. In April 2017, PBO performed the modern-day premiere of Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire.” The fully-staged opera included an international cast of singers and dancers and celebrated sold-out audiences and critical acclaim from around the world.
Each season welcomes eminent guest artists such as mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Anne Sofie von Otter, countertenor Andreas Scholl, violoncellist Steven Isserlis, fortepianist Emanuel Ax, and maestros Jordi Savall and Richard Egarr. The Orchestra enjoys numerous collaborations, including an ongoing partnership with the Mark Morris Dance Group and tours regularly to venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Tanglewood, and Weill Hall at the Green Music Center. In July 2017, PBO co-produced the critically-acclaimed modern adaptation of “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” in partnership with Anthony Roth Costanzo and National Sawdust in Brooklyn.
Among the most recorded orchestras in the world, PBO boasts a discography of more than 40 recordings and launched its own label in 2011, on which it has released ten recordings, including a coveted archival performance of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Berlioz’s “Les Nuits D’été,” and a Grammy-nominated recording of Haydn symphonies. The orchestra released a recording of its modern North American premiere of Alessandro “Scarlatti’s La Gloria di Primavera,” which coincided with a tour in May 2016 and released the world premiere recording of the original version of Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire” with the unedited libretto by Voltaire in July 2018.
In 2015, Philharmonia launched its Jews & Music Initiative—a permanent effort to explore and understand the relationship between Jews and music from the 17th to the 21st centuries. The initiative brings Jewish historical context to classical music and provides opportunities for significant collaboration with SFJCC, the Jewish Contemporary Museum, Oshman JCC, and The Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley, among others. In 2016, Harvard and Yale universities invited PBO to present “Jews of the 17th Century Italian Jewish Ghetto” featuring works by Salomone Rossi and Monteverdi. The program was reprised at the University of Chicago in April 2018 and was deemed “shimmering….stylish, precise and expressive” by the Chicago Times.
PBO launched its New Music for Old Instruments initiative in 2016 as an effort to commission and perform new works written expressly for period instruments. Recent commissions include a co-commission with London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with composer Sally Beamish, two works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, the first for mezzo-soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter that enjoyed its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in April 2016 followed by the second piece in the song cycle for soprano Dominique Labelle in 2017. A third piece will be premiered at Lincoln Center in 2019. Additionally, PBO commissioned “To Hell and Back” by Guggenheim Fellow Jake Heggie. Future seasons will bring new commissions by Caroline Shaw, Matthew Aucoin, and Mason Bates.
To nurture the next generation of historically informed performance, Philharmonia and The Juilliard School’s Historical Performance program partner to bring the star students
of Juilliard415, the school’s acclaimed period instrument ensemble, to practice and perform alongside PBO’s seasoned professionals. Annual residencies include masterclasses, coaching, and a culminating side-by-side showcase of PBO mentors and J415 students.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was founded by harpsichordist and early music pioneer Laurette Goldberg.