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Community-based marketing makes up for tourists: New Yorkers experiencing city's museums.

When tourists don't flock to your doors, go after your neighbors. That's the message New York City cultural institutions are taking up. With declines in tourism striking at attendance figures, many cultural nonprofits are finding support from more city and regional based populations. Some recent visitors had not been in a museum before.

"Since 9/11, we have taken a less Manhattan tourist-centric approach to our marketing and community outreach," said Peter N. Foley, marketing director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). "In the past, we always had the benefit of relying on tourists to make up a huge chunk of our attendance."

Of 1.5 million people who go to MoMA each year, international tourists make up approximately 33 percent, and domestic travelers account for 27 percent. However, results from the community-based marketing makes Foley optimistic. Despite attendance dropping 40 percent in October, 2001, the November figures were down only 20 percent and increased 3 percent in December compared with projections for this year.

"The fact that we ended up ahead meant that we were doing something on the local front," he said. "We had to attract people from the tri-state area and closer to the five boroughs of New York City."

A series of "Boro Days" on selected Saturdays drew people, sparking the resurgence. These visitors simply had to show an ID verifying a residence in the borough. Also they could bring as many as three friends for free regardless of where the friends lived.

"For Staten Island Day, we had 500 people from that area," he said. "On a normal Saturday, we would have had only three."

MoMA increased its marketing bud get 15 percent to accommodate the increased advertising. This approach targeted major print publications of the city's boroughs. MoMA also reached out to weekly and dailies in New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island. "We continue to nurture those areas and have seen a jump in people from Long Island," he said.

Part of the marketing included 750 window cards of 12 inches to 18 inches that resembled the ad announcing Boro Days. These cards, were distributed through the borough in grocery stores, libraries and community centers. Complimenting the window cards, a batch of 5,000. small cards that matched in design went into stores where residents spotted them on counters.

"People would come into the museum and hand in these cards as though it was an admission ticket," Foley said. "We kept the message simple, come to the museum for free."

Targeted areas fueled a rebound. MoMA's average yearly visitor numbers ballooned from Queens and Brooklyn. Instead of the usual 3 percent of total attendance from each borough in November, Brooklyn recorded 10 percent, while Queens registered 9 percent.

Further uptown nestled by Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has always maintained a regional focus. "But we are now even more involved with marketing potential visitors who live closer to the museum," said Gary Zarr, vice president of communication and marketing for the AMNH.

The AMNH traditionally has 25 percent of its attendees arriving from international destinations and 25 percent are from other domestic cities. Another 25 percent are from the Northeast region and 25 percent are from the city.

Partnerships with Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) reach out to residents who regularly take the train to work.

Zarr also serves as the volunteer chair of the Cultural Institutions Committee for NYC & Company, the convention and visitors bureau of the city. "Since 9/11, the cultural groups have worked to build a regional advertising to spur local activity, he said.

The partnership featured 68 cultural institutions joined in an ad campaign tied to the state's, I Love NY effort, which was supported with $1 million in advertising.

"The cultural institutions could have a value offering such as our Butterfly Conservatory, which was free on weekends," Zarr said. "This marketing shows the enormous power when the city, state and cultural communities combine efforts."

Zarr could not quantify the success, but stated the results were anecdotal based on sold-out weekends. Zarr is now seeing attendance picking up especially on holidays, such as Presidents Weekend.

Zarr has worked closely with the MTA promoting the city's Metro Card in return for ads on subways and buses. The ads mention the use of the card and encourage people to visit the museum.

A recent exhibit called, Baseball as America, is similarly coordinated between the city and museum so the literature promotes public transportation in a cross-market approach.

Despite an initial attendance drop of 50 percent, the museum now records a decline of 25 to 30 percent. "We're climbing slowly from the effort and also from exhibitions that tend to bring in people."

NYC & Company shows the city losing 14 percent of visitors for 2001, with the lion's share hitting after 9/11. The drop reflects around 5 million fewer visitors than the previous year, according to Keith Yazmir, spokesman for NYC & Company.

"Museums have a little less than two-thirds to three-quarters of attendance from outside of the city," he said. "That significant number affects the entire tourism industry."

The program, Insider Hour, attracted people for special hour-long tours at 65 various institutions - from museums to the Bronx Zoo and Lincoln Center. The tour either highlighted an overview of the institution or displayed a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of the organization.

"We linked many cultural institutions in marketing the same program," he said. "This became a chance to carve out an hour-long experience for business people so they could enjoy the experience without becoming overwhelmed because of their business obligations."

The campaign, Paint the Town Red, White, and Blue brought around 26,000 bookings. The effort was a package deal that offered discounts at hotel, cultural institutions and restaurants. The advertising appeared in regional print, television and radio spots in key cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Hartford.

"Such a unique experience has never happened before," Yazmir said. "Many nonprofits fail to market together in such a manner."

The Guggenheim Museum usually expects to find 70 percent of its audience from beyond the greater metropolitan area and took a major hit of approximately 30 percent.

However, a strong attendance in January and February compared to last year resulted from a Norman Rockwell exhibit that drew more people from the metropolitan area.

"We received terrific press and effects from the banners outside," said Laura Miller, director of marketing. "The exhibit is widely known due to a spot on 60 Minutes, which was very timely and the press helped us weather the down period."

While the Guggenheim finds itself with limited marketing dollars, several programs educate specialized markets. A Mexican film opening targeted radio spots in the Latino community. Meanwhile a flyer was distributed through the Mexican Cultural Institute.

"With limited resources, marketing comes down to audience development," she said. "The city has seen a growth in the Latino audience which calls for presenting exhibits for them as well as the Chinese and African communities."

MoMA recognized increasing minority participation for its Queens Day event where 50 percent of the attendees were minorities, according to Foley. "I saw 10 families that came up to the desk with the children translating for their parents," he said. "The parents saw the ad and wanted to bring their children to expose them to art."

MoMA's marketing department works closely with the communications effort. To attract minorities, the press office reaches out to Korean, Chinese and Pakistani print among other ethnic groups in the city.

Recognizing the value of neighboring boroughs is a must for MoMA. The museum has temporarily moved to the Queens suburb between May, 2002 this year and 2004. Until the new building of 650,000 square-feet is completed, MoMA will use the old Swingline Staple Factory building in Long Island City.

"Queens residents are starting to feel an affinity for the museum," he said. "We're trying to build that relationship and get people to walk through the doors of MoMA QNS."

MoMA believes people from out-of-the-country or Manhattan will cross the river to visit the museum, but expanding the base with people in the neighborhoods is a major challenge.

Opportunities exist by listening to the communities, according to Foley. For long-term health, cultural officers need to do a better job of marketing to local constituents.

People have not recovered from the 9/11 tragedy and nonprofits are still vulnerable to fluctuations from tourism, according to Foley. "Each new museum visitor is more important than getting 10 people from tourism," he said. "The local community is our life blood and we have to build audiences for the future."

Tom Pope is a New York City-based journalist who writes about management issues.
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Title Annotation:New York museums make up loss of tourists with community marketing
Author:Pope, Tom
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 15, 2002
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