Berkshire Visitors Bureau Highlights 'Trendsetters'LENOX, Mass. — It's one thing to enjoy the Berkshires, it's another to put the county on the map.
Tourism has been a driving force behind the area's economic success recently and, said Lauri Klefos, president and CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, that force is only getting stronger thanks to local businesses.
Last Tuesday night at Seven Hills Inn, the BVB presented the Trendsetter Awards, the first of its kind, to five area businesses and organizations "who are doing exceptional work in promoting themselves and the Berkshires." The awards were honored as part of the BVB's Berkshires in Bloom celebration.
"This is all about celebrating tourism and marketing the Berkshires," Klefos said in a phone interview. "We are all about bringing people together to talk about marketing in the Berkshires. We wanted to recognize that there are a lot of people out there doing a great job at getting the word out. They are so excited to talk about this place that we often take for granted."
Laura Roudabush, director of marketing at Barrington Stage Company, accepted the Online Marketing Award for the company's "2.0 Initiative," which used online resources to broaden the theater audience by providing video diaries of various performances. This behind-the-scenes look into the theater world is, said Rhoudabush, the new face of the stage.
"Coming up with a fundraiser for marketing is a great idea," she said. "I don't think this kind of award has ever been given out. It's our job to keep ahead of the market trends and I think a lot of arts organizations tend to have the most forward-thinking, creative marketing. We got a grant to try some new technology marketing initiatives.
"Basically, it's the spaghetti against the wall test, you have to throw it out there to find out what sticks," she continued. "We have lots of media resources in our arsenal. Social media has exploded within the last two years. Everything is 'shareable' these days. We want to keep putting different things out there and see what people respond to."
E-newsletters, YouTube and iPhoto booths are just a few of the tools that Barrington Stage is using to boost and attract a diverse audience. In fact, technology has a very prominent place at the table of most Berkshire organizations. Megan Whilden, director of Pittsfield's Office of Cultural Development, accepted the Inspiring Community Award on behalf of Cultural Pittsfield. She said the marketing challenge for most organizations these days is not a case of too little, but of too much.
"There are so many different channels to put this information," she said. "Now there are so many media messages and ads and the messages are more personal or individualized. It's been an uphill challenge. This is my seventh year in this position and I feel like we've raised the ante for everyone and this is a good thing. We've inspired other communities. It benefits the Berkshires to have a vibrant and creative Pittsfield. There's no doubt about it that being in the Berkshires is one of the city's greatest assets."
Whilden's charge is unique. While most cities are focused on hard-scape infrastructure to spark growth, her job is all about attitude.
"I think I have the only municipal job with a description that starts with 'create an atmosphere,'" said Whilden, who helped usher the former GE milltown to a Creative Commonwealth Award in 2009. "A great place to live is also a great place to visit. The Berkshires has a very good understanding that quality of life is essential."
Boosting the image of an entire city and delving headfirst into cyberspace are no small accomplishments, especially when money is tight for most businesses and organizations. Molly Kerns, owner of Tsubo Massage in Williamstown, said that keeping a ground's-eye view has allowed her to continue to operate her business and provide for her employees. Tsubo was presented with the Marketing on a Shoestring Award, something that Kerns is very familiar with.
"It's an irony that tourists come here for the quaintness of Williamstown and we're all running around feeling very busy," she said. "People come to this area for the small businesses. We're active role models and we're not giving anyone massages who are going to go home and have bonbons in the afternoon. Most people come in for 30 minutes because they need to make that time. With this business, I'm not looking to make retirement, it's not about that. It's about my staff being comfortable and being able to pay their mortgages. I've got a dedicated staff that's unbelievable and the Visitors Bureau has been so encouraging to me."
Taking care of staff and her family is Kerns' top priority, and she knows that she is not the only Berkshire business owner juggling everything. In fact, she said she is inspired by the many women business owners and community leaders who continue to forge ahead.
"What's so awesome is that women have such a huge role in our community," she said. "There's no competition but a lot of 'count me in' entrepreneurs who want feedback and who give great feedback."
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Clark Art Institute and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art also received awards for advertising, public relations and "Putting the Berkshires on the Map."