WASHINGTON — When Dale A. Petroskey took over as president four years ago, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum had only 3,700 members. Today, membership has more than trebled to 12,000.
That achievement was one of many explained yesterday by Petroskey to an audience of direct marketers at the Direct Marketing Association of Washington’s 48th Annual Conference and Expo.
“Our biggest challenge is showing people the benefits of joining [from] outside the driving limits,” he said in the conference’s opening keynote session. “Sixty percent of the members are within driving distance” of the Hall of Fame’s Cooperstown, NY, headquarters.
For years the museum was thought of as a local institution, more mom-and-pop than professional, and it was run as a break-even operation. Plus, Cooperstown was not easy to travel to.
So Petroskey, who came to the Hall of Fame via the National Geographic Society and before that as President Reagan’s assistant press secretary set about a number of tasks. Not only did he want to raise membership. But he also wanted to increase repeat visits, strengthen ties and boost merchandising.
To boost awareness, he organized the first “Baseball as America” tour. Five hundred of the museum’s most priceless objects are on a two-year tour through Chicago, Cincinnati and Washington’s Smithsonian Museum.
Last year about 350,000 people visited Cooperstown and the identical number visited the traveling exhibit when it was in Los Angeles and New York.
The National Geographic Society supported with a companion book with 75 essays by Tom Brokaw, Jackie Robinson and John Grisham, among others. That coffee table publication is in its third printing.
Petroskey then went on to highlight the 57 Hall of Famers who served in the military right through the Korean War. In the same vein, he invited the surviving Hall of Famers to the museum with their wives and families. They fly first class. He also dines with them when in their neck of the woods.
Museum staff was energized. Petroskey solicited ideas from employees. One suggestion adopted was to play the unused audio footage while museum callers were kept on hold.
Enthralled, one caller told Petroskey, “I’m sorry you even came on the phone.”
Building stronger ties with educational institutions was essential for a renaissance. About 7,000 students each year visit the museum. Petroskey has struck alliances with museums like the Whitney in New York, the Johnson Space Center in Houston and Chesapeake Bay Institution.
He struck alliances with an Indiana university for distance learning via the Internet. Two such programs yielded online audiences of 20 million and 21 million respectively.
Another project was highlighting the contribution of African Americans to baseball and the role of the Negro Leagues.
Under consideration is the idea of Hall of Fame seats at various stadiums that can be sold for a premium.
So besides the online distance learning, what direct marketing tactics did the museum use?
Apart from beefing up on-site membership recruitment with a better location on the premises, the museum now mails four times a year its Memories and Dreams book. The publication is up to 36 pages, from 20 pages.
The museum sends three retention letters – one six weeks before membership expiry, another two weeks before that deadline and two weeks after the expiration.
For acquisition, lists are rented from Baseball Weekly and The Sporting News.
Petroskey also introduced a Hall of Fame membership card. The continuity series boasts images of Hall of Famers. Ted Williams was one. People can frame their cards and also collect them the way they do regular baseball cards.
A free e-mail weekly newsletter goes out each Monday to recipients who have opted in on baseball.org, the museum’s Web site. It is called “Inside Pitch” and obviously has baseball tidbits. Marketers can advertise in that as well, Petroskey said.
“We have a mailing of 26,000 and it’s growing,” he said.