Does a Small Museum Really Need a Marketing Person?For a long time, I was super skeptical about marketing and public relations professionals. At their worst, they seem like self-deluded cheerleaders for their organization/cause/event, wielding exclamation points instead of analytical rigor. I've had bad direct experiences with high-priced PR firms that are slaves to antiquated promotion calendars. I love Trevor Donnell's brilliant book and blog, Marketing the Arts to Death, in which he documents the disasters caused by our inability to be audience- and data-driven in our marketing efforts.
So I assumed we didn't want a marketing person, or at least, not THAT kind of marketing person. At our museum, we distribute marketing tasks--some with our membership director, our programs staff, and our visitor services staff. The people who produce the programming or who have the relationships produce the messaging, so the conversations are authentic and personal. Curators and front desk staff blog about their interactions with objects and visitors. Program staff invent guerrilla marketing techniques, run the photobooths and program evaluations, and send out the follow-up emails. As director, I post, tweet, and talk with visitors along with the rest of my team.
For a long time, I thought this was the best approach. It allows us all to be involved in promoting and documenting experiences at the museum. It cuts out the middleman--when someone from the press wanted to know more about an event, they talk to that event producer. It invites spontaneity and diversity of voice on a range of social media outlets, from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest to Instagram. And it cultivates authentic relationships between staff members and the awesome community members who can make our museum better.
But then, a few things happened. We started...
- to see the limits of our distributed approach to marketing. We sometimes lose track of the big goals that should underline all of our promotion, and we don't spend the time to develop and refine those goals based on research. Our programs staff are overtaxed and spending a lot of time putting together materials to promote their events. We rarely get the chance to go deeper or follow up when creative opportunities arise. No one has time to analyze the results of our approaches when it comes to what is and isn't working. In other words, we're getting tasks done, and we're doing it creatively, but no one is steering the bus... and thus, we're not learning and adapting as much as we could.
- imagining possibilities that no one "owns" currently. Our programming and exhibitions staff work with visitors to co-create a huge amount of stuff--from giant yarn-bomb sculptures to funny breakup stories. We don't "do" much with this content currently. We'll post a few stories on Facebook, share photos, and of course, let visitors take things home with them. But we started imagining a person who could focus a bit on these collaborations and say--hey, let's turn those stories into a funny little book, or let's make sure the local radio station knows we're capturing people's bird sounds and get them in on it. Recently, Alpo hosted a block party in Santa Cruz inspired by a guy who came to our Wearable Art Ball in a costume made from dog food bags... but we didn't have anyone to get the museum involved in the followup. We produce a lot of "wasted" media here with our visitors, and with a bit of tweaking, it could become something really amazing and shareable.
- realizing that there are community-based organizations that do marketing really, really well. Only they don't call it marketing. They call it advocacy. I got so many emails over the past year from political and cause-based groups that are super-smart about how they build movements and inspire participation. They do constant A/B testing to understand what is and isn't working. And they are driven by a passion not just to advance their cause but to do so by increasing the engagement and involvement of collaborators and supporters. That sounds a lot more like what we want to focus on at our museum than selling tickets.
- meeting people in arts marketing who changed my perspective. My favorite new conference in 2012 was the National Arts Marketing Project in November. I went into it pretty nervous--how would a group of marketers respond to my talk about active audience participation, inclusion, and social change? Turns out they were the MOST engaged, the most thoughtful... and in their other sessions, having really interesting conversations about experimental projects, diversifying constituents, the neuroscience of choice, and the ethics of pricing. It made me think that this kind of person could help our organization if we could articulate the position properly. And smart people I met there, like Clay Lord, helped me think that through.
And so we came up with a job for a person who is part marketing/PR task-master, part journalist/media-maker, part community organizer. We made research and creative collaboration key parts of the job description. I'm excited to see what comes of it, and if this sounds like you, by all means, please apply.