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.
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.