Lyric Opera of Chicago

Redefining what it means to be a great opera company in the 21st century

For 65 years, Lyric has brought together the timeless power of voice and acting, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus—coupled with theater, dance, design and magical stagecraft—to transport audiences to worlds both familiar and unexpected.

But a rapidly changing cultural landscape, demographic shifts within Chicago, changes in how entertainment is valued and consumed— and the continued perception of opera as elitist, expensive, foreign, and “not for me”—posed significant challenges for Lyric.

It was clear that Lyric needed to focus on making its offerings more relevant and “must-see” for a wider group of people, while simultaneously re-thinking fundraising to garner increased support from both traditional and not-yet-connected prospective donors.

And, interestingly, Lyric had never attended to its brand. For decades the seats and coffers were full based on the strength of performances and the elevated standing of the company within the Chicago cultural and social landscape.

But that had changed.

Vision and guiding principles

We were brought in to work with leadership, marketing, and development to help broaden audiences, increase giving, reinvigorate Lyric’s standing in Chicago—and evolve a meaningful, authentic, compelling brand.We collaborated to craft a new vision for the organization, one that would increase the relevance of Lyric’s offerings, draw on the diversity of the city, manage away misperceptions, and expand and communicate what opera could mean in this century.

We developed a set of guiding brand attributes, key storylines and messages, and a brand architecture that replaced disparate names and logos with a system that ensured that the value of the company’s different efforts—innovative chamber operas, recitals, creative engagement with Chicago public schools and the city’s diverse communities—accrued to Lyric and the Lyric brand.

Emotive + Evocative

Across the country, opera companies have historically relied on wide, proscenium images of productions to promote offerings. While showing scale, they are hard for viewers to get into. A new evocative approach to imagery gives prospects an intriguing, emotional way into productions— and sidesteps the ongoing problems of presenting images for shows that have not yet been staged, or images borrowed from other companies. Show-specific typography provides another level of imagery. All is tied together by a strong Lyric framing device.

Subscription and single-ticket collateral

Lyric’s season brochures—in versions for both subscription renewal and new acquisition—combine “emotional” spreads that reinforce the overarching brand narrative with offering-specific pages. Offerings that were once set apart under separate sub-brands are now incorporated—bringing the more innovative aspects of the company’s work into the fold—to build a 21st century opera brand.

Much more than the evening's event

Our engagement with Sametz Blackstone was not a ‘rebranding’ so much as a ‘branding’ project. In Lyric’s 65 years, we’d never strategically thought about our brand, having been tactically focused.

Lisa Middleton, Vice President, Marketing and Communications

Program books now serve a variety of purposes. Beyond giving specific show information, they present the overarching brand story, provide “ways in” for prospective donors, and generate excitement around what Lyric is doing beyond the stage.

A reconfigured architecture to increase giving

Entry-level “Friends” communications begin to move annual fund donors toward “investment” and philanthropy.

Mid-level “Patron” communications incorporate key storylines and engage prospective donors as partners and collaborators.

While evolving Lyric’s brand, Sametz worked with us to craft a vision statement that re-imagines our role in the cultural landscape and gives donors and prospects a personal connection to the company.

Patrick Nugent, Vice President for Individual and Organizational Giving

“Benefactor” communications welcome donors to the “family” and make clear that their support is needed to advance a new vision for opera in the 21r century.

Bringing it all together

Lyric’s new website provides visitors with quick access to what they’re looking for, while reinforcing an overall brand narrative. Based on extensive user testing and user experience exploration, the site makes the complex easily comprehended—and encourages visitors to learn more about Lyric and opera.

We needed to achieve buy-in across the company. Sametz engaged everyone—from union stagehands to prospective donors—helping them embrace our new vision and empowering them to advocate for the company.

Lisa Middleton, Vice President, Marketing and Communications

Delivering a long-lasting asset