Arts center sings multichannel tune

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The Brooklyn Academy of Music is the nation's oldest continuously operating performing arts center, with its first season in 1861.

What does a 145-year-old theater have to do with online sales and marketing? Surprisingly, it employs some of the most cutting-edge technologies around, including video, thanks to a recent upgrade to its e-commerce site.

"Much of the work that we show is multidisciplinary and it is not always easy to understand, so video helps us give previews to what the performance is really about," said Stephen Litner, senior manager of marketing for BAM.

The video previews can be viewed at www.bam.org, where BAM sells all of its tickets in-house through a Tesoro software application. The video for the upcoming "Kagemi," a Japanese dance piece, was the first to run on the New York Times site at www.nytimes.com as part of the Next Wave Festival running this fall.

The academy's facilities include a 2,000-seat opera house, a 900-seat theater, art house movie theaters as well as a cafŽ and a retail store. The repertoire includes modern dance, opera and ballet like "Still Life With Commentator" composer Vijay Iyer's hip-hop style narrative about the relationship between both sides of the camera covering the atrocities of war. Also in the Next Wave series is a modern rendition of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by Montreal-based 4D Art group.

Besides video marketing, BAM has had success with e-mail. Its 80,000-customer database includes 40,000 opt-in e-mail addresses, acquired through the bam.org e-commerce site or at a kiosk in the theater's lobby.

"We have a very low unsubscribe rate," Mr. Litner said. "Our click rates are 7 percent, and our open rates are 30 percent."

E-mail newsletters about planned performances are sent weekly. Additional e-mails on upcoming performances go to customers based on their preferences. And because these e-mails are so targeted, they have an even higher open rate than the weekly newsletters. E-mails offering discounts are used only to acquire customers, because BAM does not want to train customers to depend on coupons.

More traditional channels such as slim-jim mailers, print ads, radio and television are used when needed. But some money from the print budget is being shifted online, Mr. Litner said. Spring is the theater's biggest ad spending time because it is the most profitable time for ticket sales.

The theater tried search, but Mr. Litner said it had difficulty because the performances are so specific.

The goal of the updated e-commerce site is to let customers have a login that stores personal information like ticket purchase history, membership fees and donation history as well as to manage one's own preferences in communications with the theater.

"We want our members to be able to use our site to get the information that they want from us," Mr. Litner said.

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