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Trio of Arts Communications Pros Speak at MAMP Kick-off Workshop

Posted By Josie Gulliksen
January 29, 2015 at 1:47 PM

Trio of Arts Communications Pros Speak at MAMP Kick-off Workshop

The Arts & Business Council’s Miami Arts Marketing Workshop series kicked off on Jan. 27 at the Arsht Center. Titled “Reaching Audiences in an Expanding Universe,” representatives from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts took the podium and spoke about their innovate marketing and communications strategies.

Stephen Belth of the Arts Marketing Network served as moderator for the workshop. Belth has more than 38 years of marketing experience, 22 of them in the arts.

Kim Noltemy, vice president and chief marketing officer with the Boston Symphony, focused her presentation on their recent strategic planning efforts. They formed a media and technology committee with experts from Twitter and MIT because they know the importance of being both artistically and technologically innovative.

Creating multiple brands is also key in getting audiences to do more and buy more; plus, they are also aware of the recent demographic shifts in the classical music and orchestral audience.

In general, their audience is well educated and the average age is 48, which is much younger than other orchestras, Noltemy says.

They’ve had great success creating packages with a built-in discount that include a ticket to the performance and dinner or drinks, something their audience members have asked for.

And because price points are a key to attracting younger audiences, they created the 20 under 40 deal, making $20 tickets available for patrons under 40 years of age. These turned out to be popular, resulting in nearly $10,000 worth of these tickets sold.

They also work with local colleges for their adult education BSO 101 program, which features 14 free concerts. These attract 250 attendees with half under 30 years old and the other half over 60 years old. “This truly shows the dichotomy of our audience,” says Noltemy.

Instead of outsourcing their social media, video and audio needs, they work with musicologist on staff and the payoff has been great. Their Facebook likes have increased dramatically and their pod cast has 130,000 subscribers. They also include clips of all their in-house produced audio and video of their concerts in their e-blasts.

For the first time this year they did a Webcast of the Boston Pops concert that attracted 1.4 million viewers. In comparison, the television audience for that concert was only 450,000. Scheduling a major twitter campaign prior to the Webcast was a major factor in its success. 

At the Tanglewood Music Center, the symphony’s Academy for Advanced Musical Study, they have the recently formed Tanglewood Learning Institute, a completely immersive experience with the orchestra. They also offer master classes, which attract 30,000 viewers per class and this summer, they filmed six students immersed in the summer program as they were mentored and coached by symphony members.

“The film was viewed by 450,000 people on our site and will be distributed by the Associated Press in June,” Noltemy says.

When there’s a lull in sales, they host pop-up concerts at unusual spots around town for a boost.

She left workshop attendees with these few bits of advice:

  • You have to prioritize, so subscribers and members are key but also don’t forget any of the key segments, and that is a marketing challenge. What is good is that social media is not expensive and you can put together a good video without any expense.
  • And always think outside the box and try new things. That way, you can reach new people and get the attention you deserve.

At the Houston Grand Opera, Director of Communications Judith Kurnick talked about the huge immigration into Houston, and their concern about how to reach these new audiences coming in.


She cited their five drivers of success: offering programs of the highest artistic quality; aligning with a local brand; having a nimble financial model with little overhead; having a philanthropic culture focusing on development; and authentic community engagement.

They aren’t afraid of taking programming risks, like hosting the U.S. premiere of The Passenger, a show that focused on the Nazi death camps which, although was a tremendous success, was also a risk due to its sensitive nature. And currently they are presenting the Ring series, “which is visually dazzling and shows we aren’t afraid of trying big new things,” Kurnick says.

In 2007 they cut subscription prices by 50 percent, allowing them to increase subscriber base by close to 38 percent. They also initiated NEXUS, a program allowing businesses to invest in a broader audience and giving them a way to serve a greater Houston community.

Through NEXUS, businesses underwrote one program that included many of their outdoor performances and dropped tickets to $12.50.

“NEXUS has allowed us to build connections with new companies,” Kurnick says.

To focus on philanthropy, they invested $1 million to build a staff to focus solely on development and by doing this raised an additional $5 million. “It showed us how people like to be thanked,” Kurnick says.

They built community engagement with the Veterans Songbook, performing throughout the city at community centers that allows the community to see the opera differently, and exposes the opera to a broader audience.

The Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial prasing the Houston Grand Opera for being an example of an organization that knows their community and is great at collaboration.

Finally, she stressed having a relationship with the city is critical, citing the example of a $5 million campaign roll-out by the Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote the arts in Houston. They have been using Houston’s four major cultural groups as part of that campaign and the collaboration with the theater is going to bring them a different geographic footprint.

From the Lincoln Center in New York, Senior Advisor Betsy Vorce detailed the venue’s the challenging context from 1998 to the 2000s: particularly an aging physical plant, changing arts environment, and changing relationship with the city, community, donors, and audience.

Those observations resulted in a $1.2 billion transformation from 2006-2012 that included:

  • Using digital technology and signage to help pull people in and make it easier to find their way around.
  • Creating more green spaces like the new lawn roof, as well as an eatery for dinner and cocktails before the show.
  • Building a new visitor center for purchasing discount tickets and gathering information.


“We did all this because we realized people have trouble navigating through our complicated space,” Vorce said.

During the construction phase, they had to effectively and creatively communicate the massive changes taking place. They needed to make visitors understand what was happening.

Using the construction itself as a model, they crafted their message. “We made sure we said the right thing and we were very consistent and talked about what we were doing in the community,” Vorce said.

They used catch phrases such as “when you trip away and see what’s underneath.”

She offered several other takeaways to workshop attendees: always take advantage of other’s social media followers; be aware of your influencers; and identify mutually beneficial partnerships. One example was how they worked with the different companies that were involved in their structural changes, including Citibank and the power company.

They provided a blueprint for the local groups in attendance, top take these stories and incorporate them into their own marketing strategies.

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