Welcome to Program Book Talk. I’m Norm Orlowski, your host. Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes”? Our guest today is Bruce Loving, who has over 23 years of experience in arts organizations, public relations, media, marketing, and advertising. I caught up with Bruce on his current assignment with the North Carolina Opera, one of our clients. I thought it would be interesting to get his take on our publishing services. Join me now as we walk in his shoes.
NORM: Tell us a little bit about your background.
BRUCE: Well, I have been involved in arts marketing, PR and development since 1994. I’ve worked primarily at opera companies, but also other non-profits. And I really come at it from a rather different background than most people in that I went to law school and practiced law for five years, and then got the bug to become involved in the arts and then have really pursued that career ever since then. So it’s been an interesting path, but, you know, one that I’m really pleased I made.
NORM: Has your law education played a part in the marketing at all or not?
BRUCE: I think to a certain extent. I think it just shows you to be analytical in making our decisions, and to be logical. And, that’s really probably the extent of it.
NORM: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been at several organizations, and mostly operas. What would you say as you look back, have you been famous for, so to speak, that you’ve brought to the organizations, and after you’ve left, you’ve improved something dramatically?
BRUCE: Well, I think that many of the organizations that I have joined had challenges, and that I will say that sometimes there’s a certain inertia that develops over time in that if you’ve always done something one way, that you have to continue to do it that way. In many groups you grow up thinking about history of the organization, and there almost becomes a mythology of how you got from the beginning of the organization to where you are. And sometimes as an outsider coming in, you can look at it and say, so, really is that the way that it really worked, or have we thought about doing this.
BRUCE: So, I’ve done things a little bit differently, and some of those have succeeded, and some of those haven’t. But I think that when you come in as an outside observer, you’re able to really look at the facts on, you know, the challenges facing an organization and, that could be done a little bit better.
NORM: When you come in and you’re fresh on the job and you, with all the experience that you have, and you see the things that need to be changed, what are some of the internal hurdles that you face in an arts organization in trying to get people to go along with some of those changes?
BRUCE: Well, first is that no-one likes change at all, ever. I know that President Obama ran on Hope & Change, but really people don’t like change. They don’t like somebody to move their cheese. It really becomes, almost — if you’re wanting to change things, and sometimes it can be perceived as you’re attacking what really has been done, and that’s really not the case. You just maybe want to try and see if there’s a different way to do it. Sometimes you’ll come back to the same way that it’s been done from the beginning, and other times you don’t. I think, too, that when, I alluded to this earlier, is that when a mythology builds up in an organization, people tend to not look at what happened, but what they thought happened and they put their own spin on what happened when maybe if you look at objective data, you say, well that really doesn’t make sense with what your goal was and your outcome was. So it is a challenge, I think, getting people to look at things from a new perspective. It is like that, I am sure, in every organization across the country.
NORM: What specifically are some of the challenges facing performing art, anything really stick out in your mind that might be common throughout the organizations?
BRUCE: Well, there’s never enough time, and there’s never enough money. And those are, that’s what it means to be a non-profit organization. One thing that I’ve learned is that over the years, and it took me a very long time to do, is that you should not sweat the small stuff. And I have done that in the past, and you can’t lose sight of what your real goal is. And your goal if you’re marketing the organization, is to have tickets sold and patrons in the seats —
BRUCE: — and I think a lot of times, certainly I’ve done this, you get bogged down in the details of things that you really need to do, but in the scheme of things they don’t matter. Many people, and myself included, often have a hard time in doing that because you think that that is in some way reflecting negatively on you.
I think that when you outsource something that can better be done by professionals outside the organization, that that’s not really a defeat, that’s actually realizing that it’s just a better distribution of resources.
BRUCE: And I think that’s one of the things about having — that it just is really a godsend to people who are looking to maximize their efficiency and time on things that really matter. You could spend an inordinate amount of time doing a beautiful program, and it looks great and it’s wonderfully on-brand, and it’s really pretty, but in the scheme of things that doesn’t really — that’s not the heavy lifting on the marketing that you need to do to get people in the seats.
NORM: I see.
BRUCE: So I think that when you have an organization like yours, that can come in, it’s easier to have someone else worry about the things that can become very much headache, but can still produce a great product. I think too, you know, I’ve worked in organizations where the programs have been done all in-house, for the most part — this is really the first time I have worked with that, you know, one that had been done from an outside source, and I can tell you that it really helps internally on deadlines for submission of materials and when things actually have to go to press. I think when you do things internally, oftentimes you have a sense that you can change everything up until the moment that the curtain comes up. And with an outside organization such as yours, you do get someone who is being the bad guy saying, well, you know, we can’t do that because we’re past the deadline now.
BRUCE: So that way I think it makes the process of this go so much more smoothly than it has, than I’ve experienced with in-house publication of the thing.
NORM: That’s very interesting that you mention that because I know one of the hurdles that we always face is that when someone has been doing it internally, there’s this reluctance to give it up because they think they give up control. And then the other thing which you interestingly enough said, actually having someone on the outside setting up the schedules and being the bad guy, really helps people in the organization to get in tune and march to the same drum.
BRUCE: And that frees up just so much more time to focus on things that are much more important. And I think you still — that doesn’t mean you sacrifice a good quality product at all. I think that in many respects the product is better. There are many organizations, in particular festival organizations, that do these beautiful perfect bound huge program books, and they’re beautiful and people keep them for years and years, and really, you know, I’m going through some of the things that I’ve collected over the years, and they’re nice and they’re pretty, but that’s not why I went to the performance.
BRUCE: I’m not going to their performance because they have a nice program book.
NORM: One of the things that you had mentioned when we talked earlier was that lots of times you look at, well, here’s what the advertising sales were when we did it ourselves, and here’s what our printing cost is, and it looks like we’re making a little bit of money. But I think you mentioned that when you really peel back the onion and you look at all of the staff time that it takes to really be in the magazine publishing business, it opened people’s eyes and they see that it’s maybe not as good as they thought it was.
BRUCE: Yeah. If you were spending the staff time of five or six people from every level of their organization up, to do proofreading and rewriting and so on and so forth, it really at a certain point becomes a waste of time.
BRUCE: And, having seen when product is done, primarily in the first draft and then quickly edited, there might be some differences that you see, like the organization that I was talking about that have the huge souvenir program book, that’s one thing, but, in many instances these programs are not kept forever by the patrons or even the organization, so, it just — when you total up the amount of time, and really, just aggravation and effort that you go through to do it the other way, for me it’s worked much better to have it being done by a group such as yours. It’s sort of like you’re aspirin…in that, you take away a lot of headache.
NORM: So there you have it…Onstage Publications — We’re like aspirin…we take away the headaches.
Thanks again to Bruce Loving. You can reach him through the North Carolina Opera. I’m Norm Orlowski…Good selling!