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Peter Gladstone, vice president of marketing for the Jacksonville Symphony, stands on the conductor's rostrum on the stage in the concert hall at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, for which he orchestrates the filling of the 1,800 seats.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 28, 201612:00 PM EST

Workspace: Peter Gladstone's mission is to fill the hall for Jacksonville Symphony performances

by: Fran Ruchalski Contributing Writer

About three years ago, as the winter’s fourth major snowstorm pounded Annapolis, Md., Tracy Hannah was done.

And she let her husband, Peter Gladstone, know it. They had a house in St. Augustine and that’s where she was going.

“You can join me if you’d like,” she told him.

Being a smart man, Gladstone, then vice president of an award-winning advertising agency in the Baltimore area, thought he’d better start looking for a job in Florida.

At that point, the Jacksonville Symphony was looking for someone to direct its marketing efforts.

He hadn’t worked for a nonprofit before, but he knew he had the skills to tell the symphony’s story.

Gladstone has been in advertising for most of his career. He started out at the legendary advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York.

He worked for several advertising and marketing companies, including a stint with the New Jersey Devils when they came into the NHL. Over the years, he worked his way down the east coast to the Baltimore area.

A few years ago, Gladstone, 65, and his wife were considering their options as they started approaching retirement age and decided Florida was in their future.

He envisioned relocating somewhere on the Gulf Coast, but his wife thought they should look at St. Augustine.

As a college student, she had visited the ancient city once and remembered it fondly.

When the couple visited one weekend about five years ago, they were enamored with the city’s charm. They bought a house before they returned home.

For a while, they rented it out and used it as a getaway from their home in Annapolis.

Then came Hannah’s decision to escape the snow and cold.

Once Gladstone was under consideration for the job with the symphony, he sent a barrage of emails about how he would be a great fit.

“After all, if you’re going for a marketing position, you have to be able to market yourself,” he joked recently.

The management team of the symphony didn’t want someone who knew music. There were plenty of people in the organization who knew a lot about music.

They wanted someone who could tell who the symphony is and what it did.

Good thing. For even after years of piano lessons, Gladstone admits he wasn’t very musically gifted. But he knew he loved the music.

“Music stirs the soul,” said Gladstone, the vice president of marketing for the symphony. “We wanted to stir the soul of Jacksonville by reimagining what a symphony could be.”

And to change the image that many had of the symphony: that it played old, stuffy music for old, snobby people in tuxedos and uncomfortable clothes.

Gladstone set out to change that perception.

First, he and his team designed a new logo, signage and marketing materials that reflected the vibrant spirit of the symphony.

Then they went to work on the website.

“When one of the members of the board called me and told me he couldn’t figure out how to buy tickets on the website, I knew we had a big problem,” Gladstone said.

While other symphonies sell most of their tickets online, a huge percentage of ticket sales for the Jacksonville Symphony came through the box office.

The website was revamped, making it more attractive with stories and better photography and making it more user-friendly.

The team embraced social media to tell more people about the symphony and its programs.

It’s working.

Ticket sales for last year were up over 11 percent and sales for this year are on track to be even better. Online sales are now more than 40 percent of ticket sales and are climbing.

As Gladstone sees it, there are about 1,800 seats in the Robert Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts and it’s his job to fill them all.

“I get a sick feeling when I come into the hall and there are too many empty seats,” he said.

When he joined the symphony two and a half years ago, new President and CEO Robert Massey told him, “We want people to ask ‘Is the symphony playing this weekend?’ rather than ‘What is the symphony playing this weekend'”

Because they want people to think that whatever it is, they will enjoy it.

To this end, the symphony has added programs and projects. Popular music offerings and collaborations have been expanded. More movie nights were offered, as the symphony plays the scores while the movie is shown. And Sunday afternoon matinees were added.

One new program is “Symphony in 60,” concerts that start after work on Thursday evenings.

It is a 60-minute concert, with a happy hour before and time after the performance when attendees can chat with the conductor and musicians.

These performances are geared to a younger audience who work Downtown and may be looking for something to do after the workday.

Attendance started with about 400 tickets sold, then grew to around 700. It looks to be much more than that for the upcoming concert.

This program was the brainchild of music director Courtney Lewis, who Gladstone describes as a marketer’s dream. Being young, animated, good looking, totally committed and speaking with an Irish brogue, Lewis has brought a lot of interest to the symphony.

The group also is reaching out to younger patrons by offering free tickets to children’s programs and by performing in the schools. They rank behind only the Duval County Public Schools in the amount of music education provided to area youngsters.

Gladstone believes without an influx of younger fans who are excited by the music, symphonies will die a slow, agonizing death. He’s not about to let that happen in Jacksonville.

Gladstone intends for the Jacksonville Symphony to not only survive, but continue to thrive.

And if you’re happy about that, make sure you thank Tracy Hannah for bringing him here.

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