Sunday June 10, 2012

LENOX -- In a bid to help the town become the outdoor sports capital of New England, the Marketing and Events Committee is recommending $2,500 in funding for regional promotion of the Josh Billings Runaground triathlon -- subject to Select Board approval.

The event’s director since 2002, Patty Spector, had sought $4,000 for new marketing assistance to dramatically expand participation the 36th annual event by promoting it "to between 2 and 3 million people within 120 miles of the Berkshires."

Spector explained that funding is needed to target her Web-based marketing campaign to athletes who bike, run and paddle.

"It’s a way to bring people to the Berkshires in the shoulder season after Tanglewood," she said.

The goal is to expand the triathlon to 500 teams -- which range from four members down to single "iron-person" participants. According to Spector, the event could attract up to 4,000 people -- participants, friends, family members and spectators -- to town on Sept. 16.

"Our job is to listen to those who want to create events," explained committee Vice Chairman Carl Pratt after Arcadian Shop owner Larry Lane sought clarification of the group’s mission. Lane is also president of the Josh Billings organization.

"You have something that’s got legs already, that’s already proven," Lane commented. "You have the opportunity to use that to promote the town as the central location. It seems like you’re focusing on events rather than marketing the town."

The discussion centered around promoting the Josh along with the Berkshire Cycling Classic, held in early May, the Memorial Day Mara thon and the Brock Trot, the annual fundraiser for lung-cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. That event, scheduled this year for Sept. 23, raised $45,000 for the institute last year.

Attending the meeting as a liaison from the Select Board, Channing Gibson expanded the discussion into an examination of the town’s "Lenoxology" marketing campaign.

"The confusion about marketing has been about how to run discoverlenox.com, what the content should be, and what we can support," said Gibson, referring to the web- site created by the town’s New York PR agency, Bodden Hamilton Partners. With support from the Select Board, the firm devised the "Lenoxology" campaign last year.

Gibson declared: "There’s no way for us to support the ‘Lenoxology’ campaign going forward."

"I don’t think there’s any intention to re-hire Bodden Hamilton at this point," he continued. "We would like to continue to support discoverlenox.com, but have it redesigned, not based on ‘Lenoxology’ and make it an effective portal to all the good things going on in the Berkshires."

That comment reopened the debate over the value of the branding concept, with committee member Robert Romeo citing a "very loud, vocal minority in town" that opposes the ‘Lenoxology’ moniker. He vowed to argue forcefully on behalf of keeping the slogan.

But Gibson contended that "most people will discover Lenox by typing key words into Google."

Committee member Eiran Gazit told Gibson: "To come now and say, it [’Lenox ology’] has not done its job, excuse me, it’s not serious."

"That’s a bit over the line," Gibson responded. "People have put their best efforts into it, with the town’s best interests at heart. But the question is, are we going to spend money on an advertising campaign like the one designed by Bodden Hamilton or is it more effective to put the money, much better spent, into Internet ad buys."

He also supported the notion of "taking a really strong body of events we have right now and giving them additional support."

Said Pratt: "I think there’s a very strong need for this town to have events that don’t currently exist. We can’t ignore the fact that the events that occur now are not driving as much to the town as they have the potential to. We have to build these off-season months, it’s an absolute Š we can’t ignore that."