Sunday July 22, 2012

LENOX -- An intense effort to lure younger audiences as well as full-time Berkshire County residents to Tanglewood appears to be paying off, according to new marketing studies by the Boston Symphony.

In an interview at Highwood Manor on the summer festival's grounds, chief marketing officer Kim Noltemy, now in her 16th summer with the orchestra, cited a variety of strategies, including an expansion of pre-season programming, which drew large audiences to concerts by James Taylor, jazz-pop artist Diana Krall, the Boston Pops with Broadway star Bernadette Peters, and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

"I wish we could get the lineup every year that would work," Nol temy said. This year's pre-season was "opportunistic" because of the performers' availability, she said.

"It is always our goal to see what we can do early," she said.

A similar approach is planned for the BSO post-season, with a three-concert Labor Day weekend lineup of pop performances by two rock bands, Train and Evane sence, followed by the Boston Pops.

According to just-released statistics, atten dance by Berk shire County residents has grown from 3 percent for the 2008 BSO season to 8 percent last summer. When popular artist presentations are added, the figure grows to 24 percent.

"When we saw that 3 percent number, it was alarming," Noltemy said, "so we created the ‘grass pass.


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The grass pass is a full-season coupon that allows year-round local residents to attend all BSO and Boston Pops performances for $75. Non-residents and second-homers can purchase the same pass for $200.

Another recent major change, she said, widened free-ticket availability on the lawn for young people to 17 and under, compared to the previous 13 and under.

"Everyone who has kids, local people in particular, weren't as motivated to do it when you had to pay for the kids. I have two teenage kids, so I know that if you're dragging them in for free, it's much easier than when you have to drag them in and pay," Noltemy said with a chuckle.

Overall for the season, 75 percent of Shed seats are filled, a figure that has varied little over the past 20 years.

"Five-thousand seats is a huge indoor capacity," she said. "Even with the new indoor [video] screens, sight lines are an issue in the rear of the Shed."

Except for "must-see" shows, the back sections tend not to fill up except in bad weather.

"Once you get people to come and they have a great experience, that's a huge asset for us," Noltemy said, noting an upsurge of competition from other destinations and a sharp increase in lodging costs.

Social networks are "an unbelievable resource that generates a huge amount of sales," she said, with 60 to 70 percent of the audience purchasing tickets online.

But bogus websites that sell tickets at scalpers' prices are a time-consuming downside, along with a constant need to monitor and update the website, the BSO's Facebook page and its mobile app that's about to be optimized for tablets and smartphones.

At the same time, the traditional printed brochure is crucial to drive ticket sales to Tanglewood's mostly older core audience.

Bringing the average age down is a work in progress. According to the marketing surveys, it's holding steady at 68 for classical concerts in the Shed, which Noltemy considers an accomplishment since it had been 69.

Although more people come to Tanglewood than ever before, she explained, they don't attend as often. "That's where the real challenge is," she said.

Average attendance per summer has held steady at around 350,000 -- still, by far, the biggest audience in the Berkshires.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.