The role of the Communications Department in an Orchestra

An interview with Nashville Symphony’s Vice President of Communications, Jonathan Marx

What is the primary goal of the Communications department?

The objectives of any Communications department will vary at least a little, depending on the institutional ecosystem in which it operates. But from my vantage point, our job at the Nashville Symphony is to promote visibility and awareness of the institution, with the goal of driving public participation, brand loyalty, revenue, community engagement, donations and any and all other forms of support (but not necessarily in that order — our priorities are constantly shifting, converging and overlapping).

How do we do that? By effectively telling the story of the institution through all tools at our disposal: digital media, written communication, oral communication, graphics, photography, video, PR, media coverage and any- and everything else we can think of.

What is easy about sharing the story of an orchestra?

The orchestra is such a large and multifaceted entity, and the art form is so rich — sonically, aesthetically, historically — that there are numerous opportunities to explore storytelling.  With so many members of the ensemble, and so many guest artists, we have a large and constantly evolving source of storytellers, each with their own unique ideas and intentions. If, to cite Gustav Mahler, a symphony must be like the world and “contain everything,” then the possibilities for storytelling truly are endless (at least in conceptual terms), particularly if we are willing to be open and creative to new ideas and approaches.

What is challenging about sharing the story of an orchestra?

In some ways, the vastness of possibility can be a challenge, mostly because we have limited resources and time, particularly with so many concerts and institutional initiatives to promote. For me, the biggest conceptual challenge is how to convey the ways in which orchestral music can be interesting and compelling to everyone, whether they are familiar with the art form or not. Most frequently, this translates into the challenge of helping our Marketing team drive ticket sales, particularly when we are operating in a marketplace where there are so many entertainment options.

Another challenge is negotiating some of the complexities and dynamics revolving around the labor-vs.-management relationship that characterizes professional American orchestras. There are times when we’re not always clear about the ways in which our strategies and tactics may be at odds with the goals and viewpoints of the artists themselves, which is a humbling experience, as our goal of course is to promote their artistry. At the same time, I really welcome hearing diverse thoughts and opinions from members of the ensemble, as it reminds me, once again, of the breadth and variety of opinions and ideas that shape our world. And so the orchestra once again becomes a metaphor for complexities we navigate in everyday life, ideally making the work we do that much more relevant and rewarding.

How can the Orchestra Operations department contribute towards the goals of the Communications department?

By helping us interpret, understand and navigate all of the complexities of keeping an orchestra functionally healthy. And by providing us insights and information that wouldn’t be readily evident to us because we either lack depth of knowledge, or we may simply be overlooking compelling ideas and opportunities due to our divided attention.