Lenox chamber's social media campaign to tout town's cold-weather attractions

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LENOX — The historic downtown business center is far from what some called an icy near-wasteland years ago, most restaurants now are busy, even during the depths of winter.

Still, the tourism-driven economy has much headroom for expansion from November to May.

To that end, the Lenox Chamber of Commerce is mounting an aggressive social media campaign to sell the cold-weather attractions of the town.

The campaign, prompted by members' suggestions to step up promotion, begins with a "Get Sweet on Lenox" promotion for the upcoming Valentine's and Presidents Day weekend, and the Select Board has agreed to kick in some extra money to add momentum.

Making the case for cash at a recent board meeting, chamber President Rob Murray urged consideration of an expanded economic development budget.

"Our plan includes a full calendar of events to help activate the downtown," he said, "as well as help to recruit new visitors to Lenox, primarily in the nonsummer season."

Executive Director Jennifer Nacht, who took the reins of the chamber last June, said she has expanded the hours of the chamber's Visitors Center at Main and Housatonic streets, tightened up on administrative expenses, and created events and promotions for sectors such as inns, shops, restaurants and art galleries.

Nacht has focused on digital marketing through advertising on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and on making the chamber's website, lenox.org, more streamlined and user-friendly.

"I am shocked by the amount of foot traffic in the Visitors Center, even in the offseason," she said.

Among the immediate incentives for midwinter tourists is a "stay, shop and dine" promotion this weekend, including a "Sweet Bucks" $30 credit for restaurant dining distributed by participating inns and stores, valid for the next three weekends.

A recent advertising push on area publications and digital media has reached about 70,000 people, Nacht estimated. The promotion cost the chamber about $3,000.

Murray cited Nacht's efforts as a "big step forward for us" by having members trust the chamber to act as a "broker" handling the bundling of activities and cash incentives, modeled on a similar approach in Newport, R.I.

Bullfrog + Baum, a New York City marketing agency, has proposed to the chamber a $35,000 digital marketing campaign aimed at 300,000 people within a three-hour driving distance of the Berkshires, including social media "influencers," personalities followed by Instagram and Facebook users, Nacht said. For Lenox, the effort will be aimed at "hipsters and millennials" and mothers in young, active families with household income of $150,000 or more.

"The short-term goal is to expand the visitor base and the tourist season," she told the Select Board members. Except for July and August, when the town is "filled to the brim," younger people are needed starting in the fall to keep local businesses humming, she pointed out.

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The long-term goal is to convince at least some of the new visitors to become residents of the town, she said.

"You're going after the right target audiences," said Select Board member Marybeth Mitts. She cited the attraction for urbanites of a less-hectic lifestyle with easier commutes and a family-friendly environment. "I want Lenox to be that place," she said.

The tourism-driven economy has helped infuse the town's treasury with two consecutive summer and fall record seasons, raking in $1.4 million from the room occupancy tax. The 12-month hospitality tax total is nearly $2 million, based on 6 percent returned to the town from the state's 11.7 percent lodging levy.

"Selling tourists on coming to Lenox is working," Selectman Neal Maxymillian said. But, the chamber's focus on "tourist and shop spending" doesn't meet the town's "greater need, attracting population to sustain our schools and other things," he said. "It feels like we're trying to ramp up sales at our inns and restaurants in the shoulder seasons as our first priority."

He advocated reaching out to Boston-area residents, since the economic development agency 1Berkshire has seen 2,000-plus job openings in the county, many of them high-end positions at General Dynamics in Pittsfield, Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing in Lee and other employers.

"I don't feel like we're accurately telling the story that we have great schools, that it's the recreation mecca of Massachusetts for outdoor activities and it's an arts mecca, a great quality of life," Maxymillian said.

Mitts noted that the town's new master plan, now in preparation, touches on nearly all those issues.

"More economic development and more marketing needs to go on in Lenox if we're actually going to be bringing younger families to relocate here," she said. "That's one of the serious needs throughout Berkshire County. We have to market the town of Lenox, and this is a great start."

She suggested that the chamber is targeting the "right people that we're trying to get to relocate here from the right geographical area."

"Our endgame is to bring people to town long term," Nacht said. "This is like the first step; it's not a lot of money to reach a lot of people and see what that does for us."

"Our main goal isn't just to prop up the retail segment," Murray said. "What we're doing is bringing people into town to make Lenox more vibrant."

As Selectman David Roche put it, "We have what it takes, we just have to get the word out there."

The Select Board unanimously approved the chamber's request for increased funding, raising the town's economic development budget for fiscal 2021 from $90,760 to $109,400.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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