Arts Marketing Fail, FWSO Edition

Woo-boy.  I’ve chronicled various marketing disasters from the world of classical music before… but I don’t know that I’ve run across something like this.  In other cases, the mishaps were often the result of good intentions gone wrong (been there), ideas that seemed good at the time (been there), working too fast (been there), or some similar reason.  In short, they were unintentional.

This one by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) was not.

To begin.  It’s helpful to remember that last fall the FWSO was on a three-month strike.  The FWSO management had been mired in contentious labor negotiations with its musicians for over a year—and at least part of that time, negotiations included Federal mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Pay was a major stumbling block; the musicians accepted a 13.5% cut as recently as 2010, in order to help the organization survive the Great Recession. The economy improved, and the FWSO’s ticket sales rebounded, but management is demanding more cuts. In their last proposal before the strike, the FWSO management was seeking pay cuts that even into the fourth year of the contract (the year 2020) would be more than 5% below what compensation was in 2010.  Other concessions were sought, too, especially in the area of health care.

Not surprisingly, the musicians declared a strike.

By and large, the community sided with the musicians, particularly after a series of embarrassing missteps cost the management good will and trust—a particularly egregious email deriding community donors and slandering a musician advocate has since passed into legend.  The community members supported the musicians by wearing green shirts and carrying green signs.

Fortunately the strike ended in December, but the bad feelings persisted.  So too have the embarrassing blunders by the FWSO management, apparently.

For example.

Here is a Facebook post that went up this week, promoting a free concert:


Notice the nice sized crowd gathered to enjoy the music.  Here’s a larger version of the photo:


But wait.  Others on social media are calling out that something isn’t right with that picture.

In fact, this is what that original picture looks like, uncropped:


In fact, its an edited version of a photo that appeared last year. The key difference?  A number of audience members in this shot are wearing green. As in, they are wearing green shirts in support of the musicians.  But the photo that the FWSO has used in its Facebook ad has been cropped to remove many of them… and some audience members have their green shirts Photoshopped… into different colors.

Like these people:

Or like this gentleman:


This last one is especially curious… its hard to read clearly due to the fact that the FWSO photos are lo-res for Internet use, but it appears the lettering on his shirt still references support of the musicians.

So… the FWSO management altered a photo to remove references to support of the musicians, going so far as to target clothing worn by members of the community.

Given the fact that the FWSO management has gotten into trouble for unforced errors over the course of its dispute with the musicians, why would it do something so blatantly obvious like this? How does it suppose the community members are going to respond to having been Photoshopped to make it appear they are not, in fact, supporting the cause they came to that plaza to support?

Truly bizarre.




5 thoughts on “Arts Marketing Fail, FWSO Edition

  1. The day when a nonprofit management team decides that any aspect of its patrons’ appearance is so disagreeable that it must spend what precious little time it has to alter a photo of its own audience, without the permission of those pictured – and markets that photo back to the same audience – is a day too late for a graceful exit of a failed leadership. Whoever signed off on that decision must be ousted, and a cultural shakeup is overdue, if the current organization has any hope of saving face.


  2. A poorly thought out marketing strategy for sure. Retouching photos in social media is such an unfortunately commonplace practice. I think it more likely though, this was just one person, doing the best they could to get a post out to their subscriber base in a timely fashion. Because, it’s his/her job. On the other hand, the orchestra itself has been sounding great. Really looking forward to hearing them with the Cliburn finalists in June.


    • …mmm, I see no way that photoshopping individual t-shirts could be said to contribute to getting a timely post onto the orchestra’s Facebook wall. There were surely other options, somewhere…if that photo truly stuck in someone’s craw.

      The thing is, had it been left alone, no one would have given it a second thought. The musicians and their supporters went to some effort to wear green t-shirts on that day. It’s not a predominant theme in the photo of the crowd.

      Who is so threatened by it, and why?
      *buffs fingernails*
      *glances meaningfully at the notoriously touchy and defensive FWSO executive director Amy Adkins*


    • Retouching photos in order to enhance an effect – that’s one thing. Retouching photos to alter history is another. These were musician supporters in the crowd, deliberately wearing green t-shirts to show their support.

      In no way can this process be said to help “get a post out to their subscriber base in a timely fashion”…because they took the special effort to do this work!

      You gotta admit it’s petty. Could be coming from a staff member, or it could be that a staff member was instructed to do so. Still…it’s petty, and small-minded.


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