Tom Reel  

The Virginia Symphony Musicians' PR Brochure: Hampton Roads' Major League Team!

Tom Reel
October 16, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The importance of symphony musicians' developing a positive PR campaign is often overlooked during preparations to renew a CBA (collective bargaining agreement). But presenting a carefully-crafted message to the community about the role the symphony musicians play in the arts life of the community can be a very effective tool to garner public support. Tom Reel, bassist with the Virginia Symphony and long-time Orchestra Committee member, explains in detail how he and his colleagues in Virginia went about designing a PR brochure and creating an in-house website.

- Ann Drinan

The musicians of the Virginia Symphony recently published a Public Relations brochure with the above title and started a website. What were our objectives and what was the impetus for us to undertake this project?


With our CBA due to expire after the current season, we requested the services of AFM Negotiator Nathan Kahn. ICSOM President Bruce Ridge is an alumnus of our orchestra with whom we also met. Both Nathan and Bruce suggested that we needed to renew and maintain a relationship with local media – bothprint and electronic. This was important not just when preparing for a negotiation but should become an ongoing relationship, they said.

The Symphony had recently added a Public Relations Director to the staff and we had seen truly excellent results from her work. The institutional PR and Development messages were focused on the musicians – with good results –more than at any time previously. But we agreed with Nathan and Bruce that having direct media contact for the artists was worth pursuing. And with negotiations for a new CBA due to commence, there was no time like the present.

Getting Started

The musicians’ Negotiating Team seemed a logical group toembrace the task. We had to narrow our focus and decide on a core message. The Negotiating Team (of five) had elected co-chairs – Amanda Armstrong and me. Amanda also served on the Orchestra Committee, which would fund our efforts (but with limited resources). We looked at various options and shopped around for printers.

The first draft for our brochure carried a dual message – one focused on public relations, including both our value to the community as resident artists and also our reputation for quality. The second message focused on facts surrounding our upcoming negotiations, including our present circumstances and the progress we expected to make in the next contract.

Although we allotted considerably more space and emphasis to the PR message, we knew that our pay would likely draw as much attention from readers, if not more. We never changed that dual focus throughout countless drafts. Amanda used her desktop publishing software to develop a mock up of what our piece might look like.

Early Challenges

We decided early on to limit our information – no pie charts, no graphs – offering concepts more than details. We wanted to limit the size to one leaf, probably folded twice, providing six panels (front & back, 3 + 3). We had seen impressive documents produced by other orchestras but we wanted ours to be thoroughly read – not too thorough to be read.

Editing the material was challenging because we knew we wanted photos and we had so much to say! Ultimately we increased our space by opting for legal-sized paper (thereby expanding our column width by one inch).

As drafts were worked and reworked, we kept our Negotiating Team updated and involved them by requesting their input for additions and deletions. Ultimately everyone had specific input on concepts but Amanda and I always did the writing.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

Bravo to Tom Reel and the musicians of the Virginia Symphony! This brochure is a real model for selling an orchestra in a community. I especially like the title's "Major League Team" reference. When you think about it, orchestras and sports teams have a lot in common. Both are made up of talented people who make the community a better place to live. -Timothy Judd
timothyjudd on September 25, 2019 at 6:56 PM

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