THE CUSTOMER WHISPERER I BY GREG BILLINGS
Music Store Idol
don’t like “American Idol.” It aggravates me when people talk about it
GETTING OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY
as if it were something important or significant. I’ll confess that I’ve ur first task was to select
never watched more than three minutes of it. I’ll also confess that the
reason I don’t like “American Idol” is because I’m a snob. I’m not even
O t h e r i g h t c h a r i t y. We
wanted to benefit our own
that good a musician, but I’ve been playing and listening long enough to S t e i nway P i a n o S o c i e t y
know when it’s real and when it’s not. Scholarship Fund, but we also
That said, I love what “American Idol” has done for our culture. needed something the docs
Fascination with this musical melodrama has brought about a democrati- could identify with on a gut
zation of how we view talent. Now, everybody believes anybody l eve l . We s e l e c t e d t h e
can be a star, and they believe they can be stars, too. America is Neighborhood Health Clinic
not only willing to watch amateurs, but we’ll forgive their flaws (NHC) because hundreds of
— even root for them. physician volunteers work
The “American Idol” phenomenon presents a wonderful there. The hospital was happy
opportunity for music dealers. No one is more susceptible to the to support the NHC because it
allure of spotlights and applause than our customers, so talent keeps uninsured people out of
shows are a perfect vehicle for community-oriented dealers who the ER. Plus, NHC is easy to
want to build their local reputation and strengthen their customer work with and grateful for
relationships. We can put our customers and prospects onstage support.
and make them “music store idols.” Best of all, we can generate Community involvement
valuable PR, the kind you can’t buy. eventually comes down to
money. There are only two
THE TALENT SHOW FORMAT kinds of philanthropy: the
lmost five years ago, we stumbled into our first talent show, kind where you are giving
A mostly by accident. We were at a Steinway dealer meeting
and saw a short presentation
away your own money and
the kind where you are giving
about an innovative way Schmitt away other people’s money
Talent shows are a Music was cultivating doctors — (or OPM, as I call it). As
an important but elusive demo- music dealers, we can’t do
perfect vehicle for graphic to piano and high-end much good with the amount
dealers who want to guitar dealers — with a physi- of our own money we can
cians’ piano recital. My wife is a afford to give away. The key
build their local nurse, and through her job at the to getting OPM is partnership.
reputation, strengthen hospital, she’s acquainted with By partnering with NHC, a
most of the doctors in town. She door opened to partner with the
their customer told me that she could recruit local physicians’ association and
relationships doctors to perform if we sup- gain access to its well-guarded
ported the right charity, and she list of doctors’ home addresses.
started putting out feelers. That relationship opened a door
One of the docs said, “That sounds boring. Why don’t you do a talent to bring the hospital on as a
show instead?” In that moment, the Physicians’ Talent Show was born. (I principal sponsor ($5,000 of
later found out that Schmitt Music’s piano recital also evolved into a talent OPM), which opened the door
show.) What followed had a dramatic effect on our presence in the com- to get additional sponsors (even
munity; our relationships with clients, vendors and prospects; and our more OPM).
advertising budget. Partnership can be very use-
44 I MUSIC INC. I SEPTEMBER 2009
ful for a dealer without a disappointment, the talent
501(c)(3) charter because the applicants represented a broad
dealer can take tax-deductible s p e c t r u m . We h e a rd f ro m
contributions and sell tickets many guitarists and singers
under the partner’s charter. If but only a few pianists. We
you pick the right partner, it also heard from horn players, Schmitt Music’s
may be willing to do the book- comedians and dancers. We show
keeping, provide volunteers and even had a magician and a
conduct a silent auction. Not- dentist who played the musi-
for-profit organizations pay less cal saw. It quickly became b TALENT SHOW
for everything, from theater rent apparent that this was going
to advertising. Not to mention
the press loves not-for-profits.
to be a variety show. I would-
n’t have been surprised to see
9 Pick a date four to six months in advance when your business is off-cycle.
Using the physicians’ asso- a juggler or a dog act.
You’ll need to devote time to the event.
ciation list, we mailed a post- We found physicians who
9 Select a venue big enough to accommodate the show but small enough
card to all the local physicians had bands, some who had put
that you can fill it, where your talent will be proud to perform.
inviting them to perform. This themselves through medical
9 Find the right charity to benefit. (Ask your talent for suggestions.)
also promoted the event. We school playing in saloons and
approached the local newspa- many who hadn’t played for 9 Identify a principal sponsor, and go after the big bucks.
per, city magazine and public years. Soon, we realized the 9 Identify other sponsors, and start pitching.
radio station and offered them small number of pianists was- 9 Set up a Web site to post rehearsal schedules and other information.
the opportunity to become in- n’t a problem, after all. Greater
9 Startrecruiting talent. When in doubt, schedule informal auditions. Mail post-
kind (non-cash) sponsors for variety made the show more
cards to doctors on your mailing list, and find appropriate partners with lists.
our “charity” event. The PR entertaining and the entire
9 Get free recruitment and show ads from local media by making them in-
machine was in motion. event more festive.
In addition to free advertis- Once we had a talent roster
9 Make personalized posters your talent can display in their offices, and give
ing, we’ve had newspaper sto- finalized, we began rehearsing
them tickets to sell. (Keep careful track. No free tickets for anyone until 24
ries before and after the shows, in our recital hall. When peo-
hours before the show and only if you need to fill the house.)
magazine articles, society page ple visit your store three times,
9 Every time you send an e-mail, thank people for their support and
pictures, and full-hour National they begin to identify with it
Public Radio affiliate inter- and are much less likely to
9 Put together a backup band, and appoint a music director. Use your
views. Last year, the local PBS visit a competitor — ever.
employees and customers. Worship bands are a great place to find
TV station produced an 18- They are also much more likely volunteer musicians.
minute segment about our to recommend your store to
9 Encourage the talent to do material they can do well and that
show for its video magazine, others. And docs are likely to
translates well live.
Connect. It filmed physicians in seek referrals from other docs.
9 Recruit volunteers: sound people, stagehands, ticket sellers, servers, silent
our Gallery talking about the We needed about four weeks
auction staff and PR people. There are many college students who need
importance of music in their of rehearsal since physicians’ community-service hours, and some of them are probably your customers.
lives and about our commit- schedules are so erratic.
9 Selecta venue for the dress rehearsal. Churches are good because they
ment to the community. The Rehearsing here is broadly
have sound and are happy to help.
program ran more than 20 defined. Some acts, such as the
9 Host a cast party after dress rehearsal, hopefully at your house. Let your
times. It’s hard to put mone- magician and the Klezmer band,
charity provide volunteers to do the work.
tary value on that kind of PR. were self-contained and required
9 Start rehearsals four weeks out. Record rehearsals on a simple recorder,
no work at all. A few hadn’t
TALENT SEARCH such as an Edirol R-09, and e-mail talent their tracks. This is remarkably
played for years and needed the effective and also helps time the acts.
e had four business objec- band to carry them. Many
W tives in producing the
Physicians’ Talent Show: raise
needed help selecting appropri-
ate material. Almost all of them
9 Write a script, and time the show. Keep it under 90 minutes. A rule of thumb
is the show will run double the sum of the time of the individual acts.
9 Make sure the emcee knows he has to stick to the script, and drill it in that
awareness about our Gallery required encouragement and
it’s his responsibility to keep the show moving.
among the medical community; cheerleading. Clearly, the doc-
9 Record the dress rehearsal rather than the show, and post the tracks
raise our stature among the tors had ventured beyond their
where your talent can get them.
medical community; generate comfort zones, and we were able
9 Take lots of pictures, and post them, too. Send thank-you notes.
favorable, free press; and bene- to use our calm, assertive leader-
fit the NHC and our Steinway ship to guide them. 9 Recognize from the beginning that you are the show’s producer. Lead with
Piano Society. We promised each physician calm assertiveness. Be firm, friendly and fair, but most of all, be decisive.
To our surprise, and initial that we would make them look 9 Err on the side of simplicity.
SEPTEMBER 2009 I MUSIC INC. I 45
and sound great. Often, this two weeks surrounding the ture stores, restaurants, and McDonald House.
meant suggesting the song that event, we were the No. 1 topic wine merchants are good candi- “It brings together teachers,
he or she wanted to do wouldn’t at water coolers all over town. dates for sponsorship. students and professional musi-
work in a live setting and that It is a lot easier than you cians to a common cause: rais-
executing something simple RAISING FUNDS think to sell sponsorships. ing awareness for the benefits
well is preferable to executing und raising also benefitted Sponsors get a one-page ad in of piano study,” Foster said.
something complicated poorly.
(It’s vital to gain their trust.)
F our image. Even at $75 per the program, four preferred
ticket, we could only raise so seating tickets and an acknowl-
Ellen McDonald of Hartland
Music Center in Wisconsin has
More important, we promised been conducting a Hartland
Steinway Piano Society’s
them that they would have fun! Pastors’ Talent Show Idol talent contest for high
school kids, complete with
FINDING VOLUNTEERS local celebrity judges, for the
s we accepted talent appli- last two years. Other dealers
A cations and narrowed the
material, a few things became
have hosted open mic nights.
We recently presented our
clear. If I was going to keep that second Pastors’ Talent Show.
promise, I was going to need a It has drawn a much bigger
pretty good band. And that audience (at a lower ticket
band would have to be able to price and with a different
play everything from country to group of sponsors), and we’re
jazz to broadway to gospel. We seeing a similar benefit to our
were also going to need a vocal reputation among the church
coach, accompanists, an emcee community. Of course, the
and many other volunteers. local Christian radio station
The great thing about being much money in a 300-seat the- edgment from the stage. More was happy to partner with us.
in a music store is that you can ater, and a certain number of important, they get to schmooze What caught us by surprise,
f in d a ll t he help yo u ne e d tickets got gobbled up by the with the medical community’s though it shouldn’t have, was
among your employees and cast. (We give two free tickets elite before and after the show. the profound effect being in
customers. This has the added to each performer, and they the show had on the perform-
benefit of getting prospects and almost always bought more.) ALTERNATE FORMATS ers. For many, their love of
customers involved with your The best ways to increase rev- alent shows aren’t the only music was reawakened. For
staff. And when you ask your
friends to contribute their tal-
enue are selling sponsorships
and holding a silent auction in
T way to get your customers
onstage. Schmitt Music has
some, standing onstage in front
of their friends, families and
ents to a worthy charity, it’s the lobby before the show. done a great job with its peers was the fulfillment of a
hard for them to say “no.” This is community outreach- Physicians’ Piano Recital, and d re a m . A n d f o r m o s t , t h e
To keep things manageable ing at a grass-roots level. R. Scott Schoppert, keyboard camaraderie of preparing the
and to encourage camaraderie, You may recoil at the idea of manager of its Sioux Falls, S.D., show forged strong bonds with
we asked the more talented asking others for money, but location, found a way to escape their fellow performers and
physicians to help back up the when you ask someone to pur- local medical politics. By bene- with us. I’d be surprised if any
other acts. We also arranged chase a $1,000 sponsorship — fiting the Children’s Care of the physicians, pastors or
duets and ensembles. By show or, if that’s not possible, to con- Hospital, he was able to sell volunteers in any of our shows
time, we had a large group of tribute a gift item to a silent auc- $5,000 sponsorships to both of ever patronized one of my
committed people working tion — you’ve taken your stature the big competing hospitals in competitors. We have become
toward a common goal — and up several notches. You’ve tran- town. More than 800 people friends — trusted friends.
doing so in our store and look- scended being a businessperson attended his fifth show this Dealers that want to do more
ing to us for leadership. They and become a philanthropist in year. “Originally, we leveraged than just talk about community
started getting their associates, everyone’s eyes. it into a selling event, but now I involvement will find present-
friends and family to buy tick- There are many businesses get residual sales from physi- ing a talent show a natural vehi-
ets, and they started buying thankful for the opportunity to cians almost every month with cle. It’s a great way to embrace
strings, cables, wireless kits take their messages directly to no overt marketing,” he said. and motivate your staff, your
and wardrobes. an elite medical audience: phar- And physicians aren’t the customers and your prospects.
Soon, the show took on a maceutical companies, assisted only group worth featuring. Most of all, it’s fun. MI
l i f e o f i t s ow n . B y d re s s living facilities and home health Jim Foster at Foster Family
rehearsal, friendships had service providers. Also, banks, Music in Davenport, Iowa, has Greg Billings whispers to customers at the
Steinway Piano Gallery in Bonita Springs,
formed, and the perception of financial service providers, created Piano Celebration, an Fla. He welcomes questions and comments
our Gallery was enhanced. For high-end designers and furni- annual fundraiser for Ronald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
46 I MUSIC INC. I SEPTEMBER 2009