Wednesday, April 27, 2011
We can do this!
Well this has been an interesting day to say the least. I just finished with a meeting in Santa Fe. I had been looking forward to this for a few weeks. The meeting was with Paula Kerger who is the president of PBS. The timing of her visit to Santa Fe was perfect to say the least. So I wrote up a lengthy communiqué after having sent an initial letter a couple weeks ago prompted by the events leading up to the Springfield Illinois show. I’ll not go into details about all that but suffice it to say I and others were at our limit for the lack of planning, coordination, and communication that seems to surround our favorite artists. So rather than just gripe about it I’m a person of action not just words. There are flaws in the system and have been from day one that needed to be addressed and now they have with people who can actually make a difference. Celtic Woman would not exist were it not for PBS. None of the artists would be as well known as they are without the vehicle for them that Celtic Woman has become. The artistic elements have been top drawer from the beginning. Each of the artists past and present has endeared themselves to a great many people. The music and the messengers are healing and powerful forces that have touched many lives deeply and in positive ways. I’ve heard countless stories to that effect in person and on line. So, as a supporter of these amazing artists and an advocate for a large and avid section of their audience I believe the mechanism that surrounds the artists needs serious refining.
I’d like to thank Paula Kerger, Polly Anderson (station manager of KNME), Heidi Brown, Franz Joachim, and all the staff at KNME for this opportunity. It was a nice evening with plenty of discussion about PBS, its future, its challenges, and thinks on the horizon of interest. I was able to give Heidi a document to pass along to Ms. Kerger with some of the details of that below. I also told her my story and gave her a Liv CD. I was also able to discuss my show idea and found a receptive audience from the station and look forward to the possibilities there. Ms. Kerger made it clear that KNME was in the upper echelon of stations in the PBS system in many ways. I agree and some things I chatted with Heidi about are exciting too. Stay tuned for that. Thanks again to KNME and Paula Kerger. It was well worth the drive. Thanks to PBS for bringing us Celtic Woman and other great programming. A photo of Ms. Kerger and I is included here in this post.
So what did I put in my communiqué to Ms. Kerger and what did we discuss? I’ve always been a firm believer that you don’t gripe without offering solutions. I’ve gone into many a business in my life and created positions for myself to address shortcomings in their operations. My ability to do that here is limited. So what are the areas I and others see as flaws? One is the inconsistencies from station to station and show to show on seating and on price. Another that dovetails with it is the lack of advanced planning and prompt confirmation of tours and shows that results in scrambles right up to the start of a tour. Finally there is the issue of fan relations and communications. I went into great detail from my own experience of 60 shows as well as stories from other fans and the challenges they faced. I explained that in a time where funding from both government and private sources is drying up PBS cannot afford to have its stations or donors mistreated.
On any given tour there are dozens of stations pledging for Celtic Woman shows. Celtic Woman has been the number one fund raiser for most stations almost since the group began. But for the most part those stations are kept out of the loop on changes in the line up that have occurred over the years. This may be lack of communications on the part of Celtic Woman or a lack of diligence on the part of a given station. In any case, not a show goes by without questions about who left and why. Easy enough to solve up front if there is a desire to do so. As we have found out in the fan community there are many who are all about one specific artist in the group. They leave a show wanting when caught by surprise when their girl is no longer there. Changes must be communicated during the pledge drive. Very simple. But the more pressing matters are the seats. Many stations do not have the tickets in hand when a pledge drive offers the show. In fact many don’t have a clue as to what seats they will be given. So the person who calls in to pledge is engaged in a crap shoot in hopes they will get the best seats in the house. Many times it works out but in quite a few it does not. In my communiqué I detailed several where it did not. Part of this is the late planning of tours. Most every successful artist or group publishes their entire year schedule so folks can plan. You’re lucky to get a few months warning from Celtic Woman. They are dragged kicking and screaming to posting schedules when diligent fans run across leaks and spread the word. Most people need notice enough to let an employer know they will be out of town if traveling to a show. Not everyone is well healed and can just pop off to a show at the drop of a hat. Most aren’t going to travel a distance for an average seat. Let me be clear that while PBS offers tickets and meet & greets as a “gift” nearly everyone views them as a purchase. They assume they will acquire the best seats in the house based upon how early they call in and pledge. They have every right to expect that. But at some venues, such as Red Rocks, the promoter controls the venue and does not give PBS the best seats. You don’t know that when you call in and it is not disclosed. Frequent concert attendees discover that by trial and error. Why would you pay a mark up price for a seat far worse than just buying it through a ticket agency? The reason is you don’t know and in some cases neither does PBS. Meet & greet tickets should universally be pit seats if that section exists at a given venue. No exceptions. The station in New Mexico has an outstanding lady there who makes certain if a show cannot assure best seats in the house for her donors then she won’t pledge the show. Every station needs to take that same approach. If the promoter, Madstone, cannot do that then the station should decline the show until they can. In addition tickets for the show must be in the hands of the station prior to the pledge and a donor told exactly what seats they have acquired with their pledge.
One way to address this is the way Ovation and Ticketmaster handled it in Australia in 2010. The system was simple and uniform. You went on line and to the show you wanted to attend. You pulled up the seating chart of the venue and selected the exact seat you wanted. You then checked the box if you wanted the meet & greet package. The price was uniform for each of the seven shows at $350. What did you get for that? The seat of your choice from the ones available, a pre-show cocktail gathering, a goodie bag with a signed program, breast cancer awareness ribbon, bottle of water, an Ovation DVD, a lanyard with a Celtic Woman VIP pass, and the post show meet & greet with the four girls. No Russian roulette with seating, no waiting for the tickets and passes, and a uniform price and experience from show to show. Ticketmaster/Live Nation and PBS need to make that same arrangement here. Drop the Madstone middleman. The pledge occurs on line and a portion of the proceeds goes to the station sponsoring a given show. The price is the same from station to station. Bringing that system about may take some work but it is not that difficult if the desire is there to streamline the system and make it fair to all. In addition, a uniform price that is reasonable would allow most to afford a meet & greet whereas now in some places only the elite can afford such a thing.
One thing PBS has started doing at some stations is to have a lottery for meet & greets. There is no extra charge for the meeting. Nice in theory but has proven to be poor in practice. Why have some stations gone that route? Two reasons. First, stations did not want to field angry calls because the seats for the meet & greet tickets were poor. Well they should never be poor. See the above paragraphs. Second, too many people were disappointed their favorite girl wasn’t one of the two at the meet & greet. There’s an easy way to cure that one of two ways. Announce with the tour schedule which two will be at the meet & greet, or have all four at the meeting. Barring that the lottery becomes a pure gift and you get what you get. But the system is not properly run. Not everyone who pledges wants a meet & greet yet all are thrown in the hat to be drawn. Some may have no desire, others are too shy, and others may not have the extra time after the show. So, how do you address that? When a pledge calls in you ask them if they want the meet & greet. If they do not then they do not go into the drawing. If there are no shows, as there have been on this tour, then you have a list of standbys to call to fill the vacancies. Simple. It is all about customer service.
That’s where we go next. You see EMI, Madstone, CW LTD, Ticketmaster/Live Nation, and PBS, you aren’t just in the entertainment business. You’re in the customer service business. Like it or not. If you don’t like fans and all they bring with them then don’t tour. Without them you may as well just busk on the streets of Dublin. That having been said, it is understood that the artists can only do so much. They have lives of their own and are entitled to their free time. The Celtic Woman tour schedules over the years have not been kind in allowing a real life outside the group or during a tour. This year thus far has been better. Changes were also made this year in the personnel Madstone has on tour and the Celtic Woman personnel at the after show meetings. Dustin with Madstone and Bubba with Celtic Woman are outstanding and actually seem to like what they’re doing! Novel concept. Gone is the grumpy rep Madstone had before who clearly was not a people person. Gone from customer contact though still with the tour is the Celtic Woman tour manager. She was moody and you never knew which mood you were going to get. At times she has been great and at others wicked witch suits her perfectly. Now they are calling her “product” manager, a term I find disgusting. The artists are people not products. In any case, the changes have been refreshing.
But there still exists this phobia about fans, especially male ones. They seem to have bought into this politically correct garbage that all males are a threat and predators. But others too have been made to feel like they are some sort of threat such as a woman and little boy who were denied a brief meeting recently with the artist the little boy admired so much. OK, I get that the suits are worried they might lose a precious meet & greet dollar. Guess what, you won’t! I get that you think if you grant one such request you’ll have to grant hundreds more. Not true either. I will say that there have been times when Celtic Woman has been very gracious for special events and the artists most accommodating. Those are rare events but certainly appreciated. One thing that has happened in the past few months is an increase in online activity by the artists. Chloe and Lisa K have blogs (they no longer seem to use) as well as Facebook and Twitter sites that get a good workout. Lisa Lambe is on Twitter as is Mairead. The latter also has a blog she uses to good effect now and then. But it is apparent to many that the artists respond on their sites almost exclusively to females with only a few exceptions. What fans need to realize though is that on Twitter these artists are followed by hundreds of people and simply cannot respond to all of them. If you get a response you’re pretty lucky. Several though and it begins to look like a bit too much favoritism and folks won’t understand why. Some have received private messages on Twitter from some of them and that is just fine. Nice touch and no one else needs to know. Some have been good at answering fan questions while others have not. The issue was pressed recently and now all the girls are taking questions on Twitter (a neutral site) with answers to be given in a series of video postings. Good idea and one well received. So, in some ways things have improved. But clearly some inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and phobias need to be addressed. It is better for PBS and their stations, their donors aka Celtic Woman fans, and the artists themselves. That way all can get back to enjoying their role in it all. It is my hope that addressing these challenges with people who can actually make a difference that a better system can be put into place. What the suits need to know is that if the artists are happy, and the fans are happy, the bottom line will be happy. The economy is only going to get worse. So let’s do this together and get back to what brought us all together. Have a great rest of the tour and safe travels, Celtic Woman!
That’s it for now, Scott