David Devan, Opera Philadelphia’s General Director and President, had taken it as far as he could on intuition alone. Opera Philadelphia was losing subscribers and not recruiting new ones, despite fresh programming, exciting collaborations and changes of venue. Performances were full and audiences were enthusiastic, so what else could be done to create more dependable revenue and stabilize the future? “We figured we needed to do market research, and that’s where Barra comes in,” Devan said.
Devan, 51, who studied at Stanford and has a marketing background, looked for inspiration on the internet. What he found may set Opera Philadelphia, and potentially, the entire ailing arts community, on its ear.
As in Coca- Cola.
As in a nimble, bold, responsive corporation that aims to double its revenue with new products and intuitive product placements. A smitten Devan began showing Coke’s 70-slide power point marketing methodology presentations at business meetings. It may be unheard of for an arts organization to perceive salvation in a soda bottle, but a driven and fearless Devan was willing to try anything. With foundation money, Opera Philadelphia engaged prominent market researchers with commercial clients to focus solely on the motivations and priorities of its audience, just as Coke had done.
The research so far has been eye-opening, and contradicts common theories about what ails opera—that it’s a fusty ancient art that’s no longer relevant, for instance, or that tickets are too expensive, neither of which has proven true.
The research is entering its final phase, after which a new marketing plan will be developed.
“I’ve never had this kind of data available to me,” Devan said. “Now we’ve got the tools to reinvent an opera company for the 21st Century. Because if we don’t adapt to changing consumer buying patterns, we’re dead. It’s that simple.”