NEW YORK - As you descend the Penn Station escalator to Track 3 for New Jersey Transit, your eyes are ambushed by an ad with a blazing headline:
"The man. The myth. The Yannick."
And there he is, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in a raspberry pink vest, baton in hand, and head somewhere in heaven.
Well, that was fast. Nézet-Séguin was appointed to the Metropolitan Opera only on June 2. But what might seem like a miraculously timed advertising strategy was a happy accident.
It's New York Penn Station Domination - an ad campaign created by the nonprofit Visit Philadelphia. It includes 264 placements, 20 of which involve the Philadelphia Orchestra. These, in turn, come in two forms, one devoted to Nézet-Séguin and the other with the orchestra onstage at the Kimmel Center, stamped with the slogan "Brotherly Love Sounds Better With a Symphony."
The National Constitution Center, Barnes Foundation, Franklin Institute, Sesame Place, Please Touch Museum, and National Museum of American Jewish History are also part of Penn Station Domination. The slogan "With Love, Philadelphia," followed by that reddish-orange heart and XOXO, wraps around pillars and decorates steps, making Philadelphia truly inescapable during this month at Penn Station.
"We always wanted to be part of that conversation, and it has worked out for us," said Matthew Loden, executive vice president of institutional advancement at the Philadelphia Orchestra.
"It's already bringing people to Philadelphia," said Meryl Levitz, Visit Philadelphia president and CEO. "Sometimes you just need a final invitation. And the New York audience and people on the Amtrak corridor, what we chose is the messages that are most appealing to them. And Yannick and orchestra is one of the most appealing messages of Philadelphia."
Future cultural tourism campaigns include Washington, D.C.
Orchestra violinist Amy Oshiro-Morales looks at the "brotherly love" poster and says she thinks this is something the orchestra should have done a long time ago. The key difference, she says, lies in the subhead, "Witness the Power of the Philadelphia Orchestra" - as opposed to just hearing it on the radio.
The ultimate point, for longtime orchestra violinist Davyd Booth, is that the posters are there. "Yannick is now one of the most famous classical musicians in the United States," he said. "He should be all over the place, all the time."
One might suspect that the Visit Philadelphia campaign was hatched with inside information about Nézet-Séguin's recent appointment as leader of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But both Levitz and Loden swear to the contrary. "It was a very very happy set of circumstances," said Loden. But it also involved financial participation from the orchestra. Visit Philadelphia did not just wake up one day and decide to advertise the Philadelphia Orchestra - especially not when the June campaign cost $270,000. The orchestra declined to say how much was its share.
Ad campaigns like this tend to meet their clients' needs only approximately. And the orchestra is a little unusual as a cultural destination - best heard during its September-through-May season at the Kimmel Center, and on special occasions, such as the spring performances of the Mahler Symphony No. 8. But during the high-travel summer - in contrast to the Barnes and the Franklin Institute, which stay in one place and have regular hours - the Philadelphia Orchestra is literally a moving target, playing in a variety of venues (from the Mann Center to Longwood Gardens to Penn's Landing), with out-of-town residencies in Vail and Saratoga. In effect, more planning is required.
Loden seems relatively untroubled by this element, saying that campaigns of this sort have a "soft power" element, image-building in other words, planting a seed for a future visit.
"This isn't just about a smart exchange of information," said Loden. "We know [Visit Philadelphia] have a deeper reach than we do from an advertising standpoint."
The number of impressions the posters will make in busy Penn Station - are expected to reach around six million.
Visit Philadelphia also has the advantage of knowing the ever-shifting travel market; the organization obviously was a significant factor in Philadelphia attracting 41 million visitors in 2015 - a record number.
An additional tourist draw comes in 2017, when Opera Philadelphia shifts its season toward a tightly clustered festival that allows visitors to hear much music in a short period - what the company's general director David B. Devan calls the operatic counterpart to binge-watching.
And the Philadelphia Orchestra's appeal can only increase as Nézet-Séguin's Metropolitan Opera presence does - particularly if he's advertised in something other than a raspberry pink vest.
In fact, the buff conductor has appeared shirtless on Facebook. Last summer, he was photographed swimming in an Austrian lake near Salzburg in what could easily be a "come-in-the-water-is-fine" travel poster.
That could sell tickets, admitted one orchestra administrator in private conversation - if Nézet-Séguin were photographed at the Jersey Shore.
Loden's response to that idea: "The Philadelphia Orchestra has no intention of exploiting our music director without his clothes on."