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Is This Orchestra’s Strategic Plan an Example to Follow?


I’m back from the midwest where I drank coffee and beer, and watched basketball. 

Yesterday, a few folks forwarded me a post about a “strategic plan” for a smaller orchestra with a similar question: “Is this what a strategy document should look like?”

The short answer: No. 

A friend of mine called it “strategy theatre” and I’m stealing that term from here on out. 

The full document can be found here!

Let me give you _ lessons from this document that you can apply in your own organization:

1. Overall it is too long: 

No one is working through this much stuff to take action. 

I’ve done over 100 strategy workshops and strategy sessions, if it doesn’t fit on a single sheet of paper or a full whiteboard, no one is doing it. 



Action Oriented. 

I get them on a page, maybe two. 

2. 3 specific focuses as a lens, I’ll allow it: 

You do need to have a hypothesis for change. 

This is essential. 

The need for change has to be clear and specific. These 3 points do that. 

3. A strategy document needs to be specific to you. 

Why other nonprofits struggle or have “mission drift” is irrelevant. 

Your strategy document is about you. 

  • Why has your orchestra had “mission drift”? 
  • Why has your orchestra been unfocused?

Those are the things the board, the staff, and key stakeholders care about. 

4. Mission/Vision is great, but you don’t need both. 

The framework I use in my workshop is pretty simple, we start by defining “What does success look like?”

  • That’s your mission statement or your statement of values. 
  • You don’t need both. It is distracting and confusing. 

5. Strategy before tactics: 

“Statement of Programs”: that’s putting the cart before the horse:

  • Diagnosis: What does the world look like?
  • Strategy: Targeting/Positioning/Objectives
  • Tactics: 4 Ps

This order never changes. 

If someone tries to convince you of something else, hide your wallet. 

If you don’t know where you are going, everything can seem like a good idea. 

6. Be careful about making assumptions based on limited data:

I find that in most industries people overestimate the power of “retention” or “heavy buyers”. 

Jan-Benedict Steemkamp writes about buyer distribution

In this document, you have 5 ticketed performances…

How are you defining heavy? 

Are people not coming back to a second performance because:

  • They don’t know about future performances? 
  • They are attracted to one specific type of performance? 
  • Do they forget you exist? 

You have to be careful assuming that one kind of buyer over another is going to solve a problem. 

Also, this is tactics, not strategy

7. Comparisons/Averages: Dangerous Stuff!

“Ads a percentage of annual budget” is an irrelevant number. 

Any decent marketing professor is going to teach you that benchmarking your budget against what other “comparable” businesses are doing is stupid. 

Full stop. 


Because your strategy is yours. 

It isn’t someone else’s. 

How much you spend should be a reflection of your goals, your objectives, and your plan. 

What others are doing is meaningless to you. 

The same goes for ticket prices and measuring your price against the average of other “comparable” venues. 

That isn’t how people buy. 

Price = Value. 

You need to maintain the perception of value and you don’t do that by benchmarking yourself against “comparable” venues.

Because most of the time, what you think is the competition is wrong. 

8. “Acquisition by advertising”: The Dangers of Last Click Attribution

A few key points here:

  • Last click attribution is dangerous because it doesn’t reflect all of the touchpoints that have gone into getting your ticket buyer to the point of purchase.
  • All data has happened in the past. In this case, removing the data from the COVID-19 recovery era skews the data even more. The question you always need to ask yourself is “What would have to be true for this situation to repeat itself?”
    • If you remove the 2020 onward data…

9. Tactics…any road will get you there:

  • Pricing decisions aren’t strategy decisions. Pricing decisions are a tactical tool to execute your strategy.
    • Do you want to price more effectively?
      • Why?
        • Do you want to make ticket prices more accessible? 
        • Do you want to have a higher yield? 
        • Do you want to attract a new audience?
      • These are all good questions to ask, but pricing isn’t the best way to answer them. 
  • Setting up assets and deliverables in a strategy document.
    • No. Those are tactics. 
  • “Moves Management”
    • It is tactics. 
    • It neglects the top of the funnel and it fails to look at buyer behavior: what makes a buyer buy. 

I applaud people for thinking about their strategy. 

I also worry that what passes for “strategy” is often “strategy theatre.” 

You should be able to fit your strategy on a sheet of office paper. 

It is about choice. 

  • What does success look like?
  • Who are we talking to/targeting?
  • Why are they spending their money/giving us their attention?
  • What resources do we need to be successful?
  • What actions are we going to take? 

Because I love you and want you to be successful, I’ve created a FREE 1 hour webinar called: Beyond Boom and Bust: Stabilize Your Revenue with Smart Strategy’.

I’ll teach you where to focus and some of the pitfalls to avoid in setting a strategy. 

It is January 31st at 11 AM Eastern Time. 

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Do you see your organization falling down the same “strategy” rabbit hole? 

Let me know. 

You can hit reply and it comes right to me. 

Join the ‘Talking Tickets’ Slack Channel and say hello!