Company Front – Issue 9
Drum Corps International: Building a Strategic Partnership for Success
Most people associated with drum corps are finely tuned into ‘on the field’ decisions being made for the upcoming 2008 season (such as amplification) or the number of seats on the Drum Corps International Board of Directors. However, others are focused on ‘off the field’ issues such as everything that happens logistically between the drum corps and the show event sponsors. From the strategic planning of tour schedules, securing of housing and stadium facilities to reservations of transportation resources to managing a pool of volunteers and coordination of resources and money. There’s more than meets the eye (behind the scenes) when a drum corps hits the field.
In January, I attended the Drum Corps International Annual Meeting and Conference Weekend which involved members of the drum corps community, including directors, instructors, and tour event partners. I was impressed with the overall theme of "Excellence is in the Details" which focused on not only what is important ‘on the field’ but ‘off the field’. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate theme in my opinion.
To view the DCI picture slideshow of that weekend, click here: http://www.dci.org/media/photo/2008/index.cfm#id=album_1&num=1
To view the DCI video highlights, click here: http://www.dci.org/news/view.cfm?news_id=2077c477-cee0-4f17-8255-4b5cda4cbb6f
During the conference, the Tour Event Partners, (the people associated with supporting drum corps shows and other related events) hosted a panel of veteran tour directors and show sponsors to share their ideas and experiences. The intent of the discussion panel was to provide an opportunity for an active dialog between tour management and show organizers in an open forum. This type of interaction has been occurring between the judging community and drum corps instructors for many years at these meetings. But, this was the first formal open discussion between Tour Event Partners and drum corps managers. This open forum illustrated how vital it is for everyone to understand who does what ‘off the field’.
I was honored to be asked by the Tour Event Partners to join the panel and share my experience. I was surrounded by legendary show sponsors, housing coordinators and tour directors with dozens of years of combined service. Most people involved in drum corps may not realize how incredibly vital the Tour Event Partners are to making the drum corps tour a success. After this very informative weekend, I believe tour logistics is being brought to the forefront due to the challenges involved in today’s drum corps ‘business’. It is one of the most important facets of today’s drum corps.
The panel moderator kicked-off the discussion by listing three main thinking points:
1. Schools seem to be run more by ‘risk managers’ than educators these days.
2. More schools are seeking higher financial compensation for hosting drum corps.
3. Hosts are more sensitive to potential legal issues, (ie: alcohol/tobacco bans on campus, dress code and noise ordinance restrictions).
These three items really put things in perspective. Not only have drum corps show changed and evolved over the years, but the business and profession of managing a drum corps itself has become increasingly important as well. This responsibility is also shared by those who host drum corps in housing facilities and show events during the summer. Planning must be deliberate and well coordinated well before touring begins.
After a quick run-down of a day in the life of a tour director and show coordinator, we jumped right into questions from the Tour Event Partners. It quickly became apparent what some of the biggest issues at hand are today – assuming a lot of planning and coordinating is already taking place (when they weren’t) and the realization that tour directors and show/housing coordinators are real people just like you and me.
The panel stressed good planning practices and coordinated communication as important aspects regardless of who you are. I like to think there are two types of planning in the drum corps activity: deliberate and crisis response. Although deliberate planning originates from military planning, it still encompasses the same ideas needed in drum corps logistics. Deliberate planning is a process for the ‘deployment’ of a drum corps tour or volunteers at a show and its utilization of resources. Deliberate planners rely heavily on assumptions regarding the circumstances that will exist when the plan is executed. It clearly defines what the organization intends to accomplish, how and when this will take place, what resources will be used, and who will be responsible. The purpose of this planning technique is to avoid surprise and prevent panic. This technique requires drum corps and show managers to anticipate problems (as well as opportunities) and to prepare courses of action well in advance of emergencies.
Of course, everyone has dealt with a crisis and crisis response is just that – but in drum corps, we all have to try to respond to a crisis in a calm, logical manner. You may not be able to anticipate every crisis that could occur, but if you face it in a professional manner and consider your team and the tools you have to deal with it, you can minimize the anxiety levels that may already be sky high. Also, keeping everyone ‘in the loop’ on what’s going on is important to minimize wild assumptions of ‘all hope is lost’ among the group.
Once we realized that everyone involved in the drum corps activity are hard-working people with good intentions dedicating their lives to the betterment of the activity, we found we had that same thing in common. We were breaking down barriers and stereotypes that had inhibited stronger bonds between the tour directors and show/housing coordinators in the past. This was an important milestone reached – no longer should it be a case of ‘us vs. them’.
Last month I spoke with JW Koester, Tour Director for the Phantom Regiment, for his perspective on this topic. If you missed it, I recommend reading it here: http://www.drumcorpsplanet.com/content/view/2839/39/
I followed up with JW after the discussion panel.
GM: JW, how do you feel things went on the discussion panel?
JW: I thought the discussion went quite well. I think similar sessions should be scheduled every year. If we can get more of the drum corps to send their tour directors to these meetings that would be a positive influence on the overall touring process. Something to consider would be to develop a timeline for (new) tour directors for when they should start their annual housing process. Another good tool might be developing a standard form that drum corps could use to advise the housing coordinators of their arrival and departure times. The housing coordinators could also utilize this form to advise the tour directors of their "on site" contact name, phone, and other pertinent information.
GM: Thanks, JW.
For this column, I wanted to get input from a member of the Tour Event Partners. At the conference, I spoke with Hank Wharmund, a veteran Tour Event Partner for many years. He’s well known for his help hosting THE EXSIGHTMENT OF SOUND drum corps show in Houston, TX and is a founder of Drum Corps Tigers (www.drumcorpstigers.org) whose mission, according to their website, is "to promote and support the drum and bugle corps activity and the outstanding musical athletes who participate in it."
GM: Hank, I am glad you could participate in this discussion. What did you get out of this discussion panel?
Hank: I am glad I came because I learned something new. Trust seems to be a big issue for both sides. Some tour directors may not trust the housing and show paperwork they receive due to mis-information they may have received in the past, which is understandable. Some housing coordinators may make assumptions or have not completely thought through every step that will occur when a drum corps visits their town. Having this discussion panel helps develop a rapport between tour management and show organizers – it’s a positive step forward.
GM: I believe we realized a few things that both sides assumed were happening but were not. For example, a lot of people tend to think every drum corps is run exactly the same way.
Hank: Yes, and every drum corps show is not run exactly the same way. If we can keep in mind that hard working people are doing their best to ensure a successful event, we can keep things in perspective.
GM: What else should Tour Event Partners and drum corps managers keep in mind?
Hank: The tour director should do his or her best to communicate with the housing folks. If I don’t hear from a drum corps, I begin to assume the worst. Then again, other show hosts may assume everything is just fine. We as Tour Event Partners need to be aggressive in our communication and feedback to the tour directors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The tour directors are very busy and may not get the tour information disseminated to everyone on the drum corps staff (ie: drivers). I’ve been told that I send way too much information, but I’d rather send too much than none at all.
GM: That is definitely an issue for everyone to keep in mind. What do you think about the changes that Drum Corps International has made for Tour Event Partners to raise the bar when hosting a drum corps?
Hank: I’m glad to see Drum Corps International is holding people accountable when it comes to show events and housing requirements for drum corps. This should help all drum corps get better facilities, not just the top World Class groups. Raising the standard for the way shows are run should improve the overall quality of the event. But, along with that, I hope the same high standards will be expected of the drum corps organizations as far as their planning, coordination, and communication with the Tour Event Partners. A lot of what we do depends on knowing their travel plans, vehicle types, and total number of people in order for us to ensure top quality housing for them.
GM: I agree. Drum corps directors and tour directors should also be held to a high standard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Hank.
Since the conference, I have realized that the two most important things remain constant: proper planning and consistent communication. Both are still keys to success. In looking at the big picture, no one person can do everything. It takes a good team to plan, organize, coordinate, and execute drum corps events of such magnitude every summer.
One last thing–I recommend registering at www.dci.org. It’s a good way to get important updates on the latest news in junior drum corps.
Company Front is a regular series of articles and essays, written by a group of young authors that have published books related to the marching arts. You’ll find all of the issues of Company Front by clicking here.
Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, Gregory M. Kuzma (who goes by "GM") has performed with several drum & bugle corps (junior and senior level) as well as spent time as a director and tour manager. He is a freelance writer and author of "On the field from Denver, Colorado…The Blue Knights!" One member’s experience of the 1994 summer national tour." which is available from www.gregorymkuzma.com. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author, who may be reached by writing to GMKuzma [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DCP%20Company%20Front.