The Personal Touch

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Chamber Music America’s very informative, helpful and free “First Tuesdays” workshops which focus on a different professional development topic each month. This particular one, which was called “The Art of the Cold Call”, was expertly led by Marc Baylin, president of Baylin Artists Management. When asked by an artist manager how they should communicate with a presenter who was not responsive to their calls and e-mails, I was surprised to hear him suggest a letter. My first reaction was, who writes letters anymore and why is that likely to prove more effective? Mr. Baylin believes that a letter demonstrates extra effort on the part of an artist or manager and it is less likely to be discarded than an e-mail which might immediately be deleted. Most people will at least open the letter and glance at it, since they receive very few of them. It is also something tangible that they might keep on their desk until they are ready to deal with it. This got me thinking about other types of communication that seem to increasingly get neglected in these very fast paced times.

Two of the most powerful words in interpersonal relationships may well be “thank you”; yet, too often, those words go unarticulated. I have met artists who didn’t feel the need to thank their manager for securing a particularly meaningful engagement or attractive fee for them because, after all, they pay them commissions for their efforts and the higher the fee, the more the manager earns. I have also met individuals who may have considered the idea of giving their supervisor or employer a gift on their birthday but chose not to for fear of coming across as trying to gain favor with them. In my view, generosity of spirit and genuine expressions of appreciation will never lead someone down the wrong path. In fact, they help to build relationships that enrich our work experiences and offer incalculable rewards over the course of a lifetime.

In speaking with Steven Shaiman, Senior Vice President and Artist Manager at Concert Artists Guild, I was very heartened to learn that there is generally a climate of appreciation from the artists for the work that they do for them in launching their careers. Some take the time to write personal notes to the staff and others may bring in home baked treats. A good number write notes to presenters following their performances, having been encouraged to do so by their managers. This gratitude continues after they have graduated from CAG, when they take care to mention in interviews the valuable role the company played in their career development. It is not surprising that some of these personal gestures may become less frequent as artists’ schedules become more demanding. I asked Ken Fischer, President of the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, how often he gets personal thank you notes from artists and he said it was rare. When it does happen, it makes a huge impression on him. One memorable note came from a singer who wrote to thank him for personally driving her to the airport early on a Sunday morning. I know that Mr. Fischer doesn’t think twice about doing something like that, nor does his staff complain about the work involved in preparing personal welcome packets for every guest artist arriving on campus, including individual members of foreign visiting orchestras, who receive packets prepared in their native language. Still, none of this should be taken for granted. He is gratified by the opportunity afforded by Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with artists after they leave the campus. The ongoing communication that some artists opt to have often heightens the sense of anticipation that precedes a return visit. He also stressed to me how much it means to him and his staff when a manager takes the time to pay them a visit. Many of us may come to a performance because we think the artist expects it of us. Over the years, I rarely thought about what such a gesture might mean to the presenter, especially in the case of a veteran such as Ken Fischer. Presenters also cherish the generous community that they are a part of, sharing ideas and celebrating one another’s successes. It was no surprise to me to learn that so many of Mr. Fischer’s professional colleagues are also close personal friends.

I asked Mary Lou Falcone, the venerated public relations specialist, how she felt about employees going out of their way to make gestures of support and appreciation. I gave the example of an assistant placing a bouquet of flowers on her desk at the conclusion of a week that had been particularly challenging. Would she ever think that such a gesture was motivated by some other agenda? She responded by saying that it should never feel awkward for an employee to show kindness to an employer if it comes from a place of sincerity. Even small gifts at holiday time or on a birthday are not out of place. For the employer, it can be deeply touching and memorable. I also asked her how many former employees stay in touch with her and she said that about 50% still do. One woman who worked for her 30 years ago and who has gone on to a highly successful career in real estate still calls once a year to say that it would never have happened without her. We shared our mutual admiration for pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who never fails to call us on our birthday no matter where he may be in the world, long after our personal representation services for him have ended. She confirmed my belief that there is no one at any level who will not appreciate a kind gesture and a congratulatory message on a job well done. She takes great care to pass along this message to the students in her course at Juilliard, “Completing the Singer”. She tells them that to say thank you and give credit takes nothing away from us. It helps to build and nurture relationships which are the foundation of a long and rewarding career in our industry. She summed everything up beautifully by adding: “No matter what your function, thoughtfulness is never out of style.”

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Please Note: I will be taking a spring break from this column over the next few weeks and will return on April 11, in hopes that it will actually feel like spring in New York by then! If you are celebrating a holiday during this time, I wish you a very happy holiday.

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