Summer Overtures

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Orchestra seats may be choice tickets in a concert hall, but at summer classical music festivals, the lawn is the real scene. Couples lounge on beach blankets, sipping wine in long-stemmed glasses, while other people daydream in their lawn chairs, the sounds of Beethoven floating by. Carol Gradowski, 53, has been part of the scene for the last 15 years at Tanglewood, the outdoor summer venue for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox, Massachusetts. Next month, when the season begins again at Tanglewood, she and her husband will be back on its manicured lawn, perhaps with a picnic basket.

The Gradowskis will find plenty of company their age. More than half of concert-goers at Tanglewood are 55 and over; another 27 percent are 45 to 54. Other festivals of classical music face graying audiences as well. The Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, has seen the median age of its audience jump from 57 to 61 in the last four years. The challenge for marketing directors at these and other classical music festivals is clear: How can they reverse the aging process? Many venues have tweaked their lineups, adding popular performers like Wynonna, to attract new segments of buyers. Some offer family-friendly events, distribute freebie passes to college kids, and run special concerts for classical newbies. None of these efforts matter, though, if the target audience doesn't show up. As their seasons kick off this month, festival marketers are trying various ways to boost their exposure-and ticket sales-among younger consumers. "We're all learning from each other about how to be more accessible and, at the same time, not compromise the art form," says Debbie Ayers, director of media relations at the Aspen Music Festival and School.

Like other businesses, classic music festivals are following young consumers online. Today, many venues have Web sites where people can download season schedules, purchase tickets, and request more information. Perhaps most importantly, the sites can also capture valuable data on people who drop by, says Jean Oelrich, director of marketing and public relations at the Ravinia Festival, the summer venue for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Highland Park, Illinois. Just check out Ravinia's Cyber Club program, launched in April on the festival's Web site. People who join the club disclose their e-mail address, demographics, music tastes, and leisure activities; in return, they receive e-mail alerts on discount tickets and contests. Because of the depth of information collected, Ravinia can finely segment the database and target e-mail by users' interests. It could inform members who enjoy chamber music about performances that fit their tastes-or send out last-minute promotions to fill empty seats, Oelrich says. The online data might also lead to new marketing strategies offline. "If we find that alot of members are into biking, we might pursue partnerships with bike shops to reach more people," Oelrich says. To drive traffic to the site, Ravinia plans online promotions on Metromix, the Chicago Tribune's arts and entertainment site, and Microsoft's local Sidewalk site.

Tanglewood aims for a similar push online, with ads on AOL, Yahoo, and The New York Times site, says Kim Noltemy, director of sales and marketing. Noltemy knows there's a lot of potential out there. Last year, Tanglewood started selling tickets on its Web site and rang up an impressive $250,000 in sales with hardly any advertising. The festival's online receipts represented just 4 percent of its total take in 1998, but here's the rub: 60 percent of those cyberbuyers were new to Tanglewood. When this season's tickets went on sale in March, the site brought in $60,000 the first week alone. "The younger demographic is definitely driving the Web," Noltemy says.

Festivals are also trying to shed their stuffy image through direct mail pieces. Glossy season brochures show concert-goers dining by candlelight, fireworks exploding in the sky, and kids dancing on the lawn. The Cleveland Symphony Orchestra sent out 170,000 brochures for its annual Blossom Festival this summer, and turned to various sources for names, says Carolyn Schwartz, marketing and advertising manager. Besides mining its in-house database, it also traded lists with various arts groups in Cleveland that had good cross-over potential. Schwartz identified those organizations through a large-scale marketing study done by Cleveland's Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. The report analyzed the geographic, lifestyle, and demographic characteristics of nearly 300,000 arts patrons in northeast Ohio.

Ravinia mailed its season brochure to 600,000 addresses culled from in-house databases, trades, and rental lists from sources like The New Yorker and BMG Classical. There were other mailings as well, including one about the festival's Soundbytes series that went to young professionals, 25 to 44, both new and past visitors to Ravinia.

The Soundbytes series is basically "Intro to Classics 101"-one night, billed as "Classical Music's Greatest Hits," features familiar pieces like Beethoven's Fifth and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It's just one way the festival tries to reduce the "intimidation factor of classical music," says Ravinia's Oelrich. "I just don't want more people coming here," she adds. "I want more people coming for classical music."

Still, they come for the pop and jazz acts too. Ravinia has the Doobie Brothers and Donna Summer lined up this summer. Tanglewood will mellow out with James Taylor and Dianne Reeves. Wolf Trap, the national park for the performing arts in Vienna, Virginia, sprinkles a bit of everything into its season, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Seal, Dwight Yoakam, and Ballet Hispanico. Such a diverse lineup requires a diverse media plan, says senior marketing director Krishna K. Roy. Alternative rock stations, Hispanic television, and outdoor ads are all part of the mix.

The demographics of festival goers across the country are quite attractive. They're educated (roughly 78 percent of Wolf Trap patrons have at least an undergraduate degree) and loyal (50 percent of Tanglewood's audience has been coming for 12 years or more). They attend auctions, visit art museums, and travel frequently. In fact, people who attend classical music performances at Ravinia are 2.3 times more likely to travel business class on overseas flights than people in the average U.S. household. Nearly 49 percent of Wolf Trap visitors report incomes between $75,000 and $99,000; at Tanglewood, 70 percent make more than $75,000 a year. Says Lance Helgeson, managing editor of IEG Sponsorship Report in Chicago: "It's a luxury marketer's dream."

Tareq Salahi, owner of Oasis Winery in Hume, Virginia, thinks so-his vineyard just signed on as a Wolf Trap sponsor. For $100,000, Oasis is now the venue's official wine and champagne; its name and logo will appear in all brochures, advertising, and other promotional pieces. And, of course, they'll be selling bubbly at every event. Perfect for a picnic on the lawn.

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