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Museums, Marketing, Missions and Me

In 2004 when I first began at the IMA, our marketing offices were in a small  cottage adjacent to the main museum building. Built in the early part of the 20th century, the home was part of the original estate on which the museum now resides. Fresh out of grad school and new to the working world, I loved the cottage for its warmth and coziness. The PR and marketing coordinators sat in what used to be the living room. The graphic designers were squeezed into two upstairs rooms that were once perhaps the nursery. I shared a corner bedroom/office with my colleague Jessica.

Former Marketing cottage (view from main IMA building)
Former Marketing Cottage (View from main museum building)

We enjoyed the peace and quiet of our little haven as the rest of the museum toiled away inside the big building yards away. For the first few months it seemed ideal. But as I spent more time in the cottage bonding with my department, I realized that I had met very few of my colleagues in other departments. More remarkably, those colleagues barely knew the members of the marketing department (some had been on staff for several years). It slowly became apparent that our insulated, cozy existence had led to misunderstanding and turmoil between our department and the rest of the staff. The physical separation was also a cultural separation. We were seen by many as the “others” – a department that utilized “corporate” strategies and in turn, diluted the artistic mission of the IMA.

Despite the unique physical separation, we were not unique in our department’s divide from the greater organization. Rifts between marketing departments and other museum departments occur frequently. Last year, I was reminded of this during an email conversation with a well-respected colleague at another museum. As part of the exchange, the person referred to marketing as “anti-community.” I have to admit, the phrase shocked me. I had never received such a blatantly negative response to the work that I do. I was crushed. I don’t think it was intended to be a personal attack, but I took it to heart.

As in many cases, I think the negativity was due to a lack of understanding about what marketing is. While we are hired for our talents in communicating with the public, often marketers fail in how we communicate with our fellow museum colleagues. Just like my early days at the IMA, we can become isolated and comfortable operating within our department and fail to reach out to the greater museum. Some of us need to make a better attempt at understanding the collections side of the operation. We also could to do a better job of teaching our peers about how and why we serve the mission.

Through my new series of biweekly blogs, I’ll attempt to do just that by sharing my daily experiences as an arts marketer. Over time, I’ll tackle questions such as: How do campaigns get created? How do we collaborate with other departments to accomplish our work? What are best practices in the field? What challenges do we face as we work to promote the museum? Who is our audience, and how do we engage them?

In the meantime, if you have any questions about marketing at the IMA, please ask. I’m happy to share.

Filed under: Marketing, Musings

10 Responses to “Museums, Marketing, Missions and Me”

  • avatar
    Samantha Says:

    As one of her previous interns, I found that Meg is an excellent communicator and a valuable resource to the arts marketing world. Her insight is genuine and her contributions to the field will make an impact for years to come. I feel lucky to have worked with her.

  • avatar
    Meg Says:

    WOW! Thanks for the endorsement, Samantha. That’s so generous! I feel lucky to have worked with you as well.

  • avatar
    Leann Says:

    Well stated :-)

  • avatar
    Heather Baria Says:

    I was the IMA’s Tourism Coordinator from 1999-2001 and helped move the Marketing Department into the house! We had a lot of fun times there. I had the office adjacent to the kitchen. Married with kids, living in San Francisco now, but I often think of my days at the IMA. Great memories!

  • avatar
    Conxa Says:

    Congratulations for the initiative. I’ll be keen to know more about your marketing strategies, successes and difficulties. When we explained in our blog the communication campaign for our last exhibiton at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and showed the rejected images, it aroused great interest. I think the public (and us museum people) really want to know more about how things are done and how we can improve our performance.
    http://tinyurl.com/y8j3kxd

  • avatar
    Anne R. Says:

    Nice post Meg. But ever the editor, I must correct you on one teeny point. 1330 House was never part of the Oldfields estate, nor was it ever owned by J.K. Lilly. The owner held out for ridiculous sums that J.K. was not willing to pay–although J.K. did manage to snap up and tear down all the rest of the properties that were part of the town of Woodstock (as was 1330) and si they became part of the estate.

    I am about 99% sure that 1330 was purchased by the Art Association/IMA once the museum owned all the surrounding land and were preparing to break ground.

  • avatar
    Kristi S. Says:

    Why, oh, why did we not bake cookies every day while we had that oven? It might have helped the angst. ; ) Miss working with you!

    Oh, and since my office was not linked to the central air or furnace, I’m pretty sure I was working in what was the attic–not a nursery. I hope.

  • avatar
    Meg Says:

    All-Thanks for your responses. It’s great to hear the feedback and the anecdotes. Keep them coming!

    Anne-I should have consulted with you before I published this as you are the safekeeper of IMA history. BTW-Your office at 1330 was always my favorite!

  • avatar
    Aaron Law Says:

    On a completely different topic but one related to public relations. Years ago, the IMA had a juried exhibition for artists from Indiana called Works on Paper. It was wonderful to have work accepted and exhibited in such a prestigious museum. Both the IMA and the practicing art community could gain from resurrecting this practice. Please consider this at your next planning meeting.

  • avatar
    Anne R. Says:

    Meg: Word to the wise. No matter how cool it look, never work in a round office. I swear I was like the mad woman in the attic, a la Jane Eyre! =D Or Rapunzel, minus the flowing locks. OK … not really very Rapunzel at all, but certainly crazy!

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