Pay to Play

As a museum person, I seem to have a natural aversion to these words. But as a marketing professional, I know that they are a necessary and true tenet of the profession. In today’s world of declining newspaper dailies and magazines, museum marketers must often reconfigure how they advertise, promote and communicate. Often this can be accomplished through partnerships, packaging and earned media coverage—relatively low cost tactics—but more and more museums have to pay to play just like everyone else.

Most museums have limited, even shrinking, budgets, making the success and return of our paid promotional tactics more important than ever.  Several sessions this year have offered concrete ways to ensure that museums are not wasting their time, or their money. Here are just a few of the juiciest tidbits:

•    The four key drivers necessary to generating a positive ROI:
Comprehension: Did they get it?
Connection: Do they care?
Credibility: Do they believe you?
Contagiousness: Does it stick?
(courtesy of James Chung, Reach Advisors)

•    Make your customers RAVE:
Research: understand your audience
Alliance: collaborate, leverage strengths
Value-added products and promotions: create added value to everything you do
Earned media promotion: reach out in new ways, experiment!
(courtesy of Emily Dibella, Mt. Vernon)

Anna M. Bentson, director of public relations and marketing, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest


The Next Generation…

AAM is committed to inclusiveness and cultivating a new generation of museum leaders in fulfillment of its mission to enhance the value of museums to their communities.

2009 AAM Diversity Fellowship Recipients, with AAM Board Chair Carl Nold, Immediate Past AAM Board Chair Irene Y. Hirano, and AAM President Ford Bell

2009 AAM Diversity Fellowship Recipients, with AAM Board Chair Carl Nold, Immediate Past AAM Board Chair Irene Y. Hirano, and AAM President Ford Bell

Visitor Experience Experiences

The museum visitor experience is a recurring topic at this year’s annual meeting. Information and resources on visitors to museums can be found in expected and unlikely places.

The Visitor Services Professional Interest Committee is a great place to start and meet an amazing group of museum professionals focused on the full scope of visitors’ museum experiences. The new AAM publication, Life Stages of the Museum Visitor: Building Engagement Over a Lifetime by James Chung and Susie Wilkening, offers research-based findings that look to future museum visitation indicators. And an exhibitor forum focusing on museum stores but addressing key issues in the museum visitor experience is another great resource.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at a number of sessions that have recognized the importance of having great visitor services and front-line staff, but there’s still more we can do to bring credibility and recognition to these frontline museum staff with enormous influence in our visitors’ experience.—Ann A. Fortescue, director of education & visitor services, Senator John Heinz History Center

Cafes, Cafes, Cafes

Breaks between sessions have shown to be the perfect time to check out all the cafes the conference has to offer—from the AAM Cafe (located at the back of the exhibit hall), where you can pick up a quick bite to eat, to the various Cyber Cafes and the AAM Career Cafe (Room 112B), where I dropped by today to chat with fellow attendees and AAM staff about the different career opportunities within the museum profession. Whether you’re a new or emerging museum professional or a seasoned pro, it’s always beneficial (and fun) to share insights with fellow museum folks.

Before heading to the much anticipated keynote address by Malcolm Gladwell tomorrow, I’ll also be sure to check out the Mentoring Roundtables (12:15- 1:45 p.m. in Room 113 B/C) where “newbies” like me will get tips on my career, build relationships and exchange ideas in an informal setting.Silvana Pop, public relations coordinator, Please Touch Museum

AAM: My Professional Support Group

Last year marked my AAM conference debut. And I found that AAM and its professional branches was all about helping me. AAM and PRAM (Public Relations and Marketing) are like career support groups. When I arrived in Denver last year, I had been working in the museum world only five months and the AAM conference experience was invaluable. As the director of communications for the Honolulu Academy of Arts, a mid-size encyclopedic art museum, I attended every communications-related session I could. PRAM members were welcoming and generous with information. The connections I made have been invaluable as I learn and grow into my position. I was particularly fired up by a session on rebranding. So much so that I made a proposal for the 2009 conference as a follow-up. And it was accepted—and I was asked to chair it.

Then a few months later a little financial crisis hit the planet, and the travel budgets at our museum were wiped from the slates. But thanks to the Emerging Museum Professionals program, a fellowship allowed me to make it to Philadelphia.

When I checked in at the conference on Thursday, AAM President Ford Bell was working his way down the line I was standing in, saying hi to conference attendees. When he got to me I was able to thank him for the opportunity the fellowship allowed me.

That in a nutshell is AAM—it’s a big organization with members stretching coast to coast, yet its core staff is accessible and hellbent on helping museums and their employees work toward a bright future. There are a lot people at this conference, and the big cheese personally introduced himself to me. It’s kinda incredible.

A little advice: If you’d like to get more involved in AAM, I highly recommend chairing a session. I learned so much working with the four panelists I rounded up. I was totally schooled on rebranding by Mark Minelli (Minelli Inc.), Beth Tuttle (Met Strategies), LeAnne Ruzzamenti (Crocker Art Museum) and Bernard Uy (Wall-to-Wall Studios). And they’re just really nice people who generously shared their expertise with attendees at “Extreme Makeover 101: Rebranding Museums” on Thursday.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m off to find out how to attract YoCos!—Lesa Griffith, director of communications, Honolulu Academy of Arts, PRAM member

Milking Multimedia

In this economic crunch time for museums I was pleased to attend the session Friday morning entitled “Multimedia: Big Impact/Low Budget.”

The session was co-chaired by Sara DeAngelis from San Jose, Calif., and Suzanne Sarraf from Washington, D.C. Despite a few technical media-related difficulties, the presenters showed some great examples of low cost multimedia projects from museums around the country to illustrate their points.  The presenters also mentioned useful economical and open-source tools that were used in specific projects.  An interesting tool in this regard (and new to me at least) was Voice Thread, a file-sharing site.

You can get the whole session low-down and see the low-budget/high-impact multimedia examples highlighted in the session at the AAM Media & Technology Committee’s website.

On the subject of high-quality, budget-minded choices, AAM attendees might also be interested in partaking in the dim sum at Ocean Harbor on Race Street between 10th and 11th streets, just a short walk from the Convention Center.—Paul Orselli, President and Chief Instigator, Paul Orselli Workshop (POW!)

Triumph at Triumph

A packed house of 175 emerging museum professionals and those who love them gathered at the Triumph Brewing Company for Jenga, Connect Four and a whole lot of mingling. AAM President Ford Bell and Board Chair Carl Nold were in attendance, lending their support and cheering on the Jenga players.


But mostly the attendees were interested in chatting with each other and unwinding. (Are you sensing a theme, too? After last night’s festivities, it seems we should do this all day in L.A. next year.)—Susan Breitkopf, AAM editor in chief. Photo Credit: Del Baker