There is a story about a UK symphony orchestra that was rebranding. At the eleventh hour, the orchestral members discovered that their Management were planning to have a new slogan - ‘We’re All Over the Place’ - plastered across their orchestral truck. A risky choice of motto for any organisation, you might think, but in a musical context, dire.
Musicians love the story because of its moral - always consult your players. But to my mind, that tale of botched rebranding raises questions about the wisdom of muddling the Arts with modern business practice. So much in our lives is dictated by the rules of a market economy. Shouldn’t Art be immune from that? Should orchestras actually be Brands?
When asked recently to participate in the rebranding of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, I admit I felt sceptical. Marketing consultancies don’t do this sort of thing for free. Against the backdrop of a colossal recession, could I justify such a project? With the January ice thick outside, I sat through meetings on board the Leith Agency’s barge (yes, our consultation meetings took place on a barge) wearing my winter coat and hugging a teacup for warmth. I consoled myself that at least we were not wasting money on trivial things like heating. But then, I wondered, were we overspending on pastries?
Had I known about the branding fiasco that was being brewed up in Glasgow by the Commonwealth Games and their design consultancy, I might have felt even more doubtful. At our meetings we discussed cautionary tales of the unpopular ‘London 2012’ with shivers of horror. But the story that unfolded last month of the recycled logo for the 2014 Games, costing 95K, really takes the biscuit. No wonder senior marketing executives say the episode has ‘tarnished the industry’.
But I have to hand it to the guys on that agency barge - they converted me. There is such a thing as good design. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing properly. A new brand is not just an expensive doodle on a designer’s pad. It is everything that goes with the logo, into the public arena, to represent who we are and what we do. We cannot deny that as an orchestra we exist in a competitive marketplace. We need to distinguish what is special about ourselves, and communicate that to people.
Mind you, some orchestras do take their focus on ‘brand’ to what I consider the limit. The Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra is on record as stating that their 2006 project to produce DVDs for babies was ‘all about brand recognition’ within a ‘cradle-to-grave development idea’. Their website sells synthesised ‘LSO’ ringtones for your phone as well. For that, I cannot shout Bravo.
So far SCO hasn’t offered ringtones, but by rebranding right now we are seizing the moment. We have a huge advantage from our recent appointment of Robin Ticciati as principal conductor. Our Mozart recordings with Sir Charles Mackerras continue to receive fantastic reviews. We should capitalize on this momentum - and so we’re back to business practice. As Managing Director Roy McEwen puts it, now is the moment to celebrate ‘recent successes and our future promise.’
The new SCO brand is now launched, and I am left to walk off the pastries I consumed during those meetings, and to reflect. For an organisation like us, rebranding is about raising our profile. It signals to the world that we mean business - literally.
But for me, the best part of the whole process was asking ourselves the Big Questions; Who am I? And what do I stand for? It is good, both as an organisation and as an individual, to know the answers to these questions. For one thing, it focuses the mind and encourages action. Once you’ve said it, you’ve really got to do it. And besides that, I found the process of affirmation uplifting. I listened to my colleagues articulate why we are all proud to play with such a group. I heard each and every one of us articulate why we love the SCO. How often, in the business world, is rebranding actually a joy?
(Article printed in the Herald - Saturday 17th April 2010)