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Cultural snapshots: 4 PR pros who are curating vibrant arts communities


June 1, 2012

For our Arts & Culture issue, Tactics spoke with four PRSA members who are engaged in vibrant arts communities throughout the country. Communicators from the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Portland Art Museum and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra talk about their areas of specialization and experiences galvanizing consumers around artistic and cultural events. Each discusses how technology and social media have changed their jobs, their daily challenges and why the role of public relations is critical to their organizations.

Ashley Zink, director of communications, Charleston Wine + Food Festival, Charleston, S.C.

What role does public relations play in building the Festival brand?

It’s incredibly important. The world of food festivals gets more crowded each year, and it’s crucial for the Festival to be able to stand out as offering something unique. We feel very strongly that our biggest asset is the city of Charleston — you can go to any festival and see celebrity chefs and TV personalities, but you will have experiences here that you can’t replicate anywhere else.

What are the challenges of developing communities and reaching audiences of different backgrounds?

We work hard on generating awareness in drive markets and direct-flight cities to encourage people from those areas to visit Charleston and come to the Festival. Charleston is getting a lot of national recognition for being a great place to visit, so that works in our favor.

How has social media and real-time news changed how you reach your audience?

The growth of social media has been a huge asset for the Festival and something that we are devoting more time and effort to. It’s a great way for us to communicate with Festival guests and give them a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into our events as well as provide last-minute event information and updates during the Festival weekend.

What social media initiatives is the Festival implementing?

Our 2012 Festival survey found that half of our guests heard about the Festival online or through social media, so that’s huge for us. The Festival has a strong Facebook presence and we’re working on growing our Twitter following. We’re also constantly evaluating new platforms to see if they make sense — we don’t want to jump into new areas of social media if they’re not a good fit for our brand.

Discuss the evolution of the Festival and what goes into the creation process year-round.

The Festival has come a long way since its inception! It was the brainchild of a small group of locals who loved food and wine and were convinced a festival in Charleston could be great. The Festival takes place the first weekend of March each year, which used to be a slow weekend for the city — a great opportunity to boost the local economy.  There were definitely some growing pains, but we learn from our mistakes and continue to challenge ourselves to create new and exciting events for our guests.

The Festival has a full-time staff of six as well as short-term contract staff and volunteers. We also work with the College of Charleston on analyzing surveys to learn about the Festival guests and their experiences.  The 2012 Festival welcomed over 21,000 guests from across the country.

What do new technology and sharing platforms mean for arts and culture?

One of the most important parts of social media is that it allows the world of arts and culture to be more accessible to everyone. Not all of our guests can afford to pay $1,000 per person for our Food + Wine With a View dinner, but they can get a sneak peek of Andrew Carmellini, Marc  Vetri and Mark Ladner in the kitchen prepping for the dinner through the Festival’s social media platforms. It gives us access to a wider audience that we can’t always reach through traditional media outlets.


Beth Heinrich, director of public relations, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Ore.

How have you seen your day-to-day role change through the years?

My role has moved from strictly tactical to more strategic [and] has also broadened to encompass all aspects of communications from advertising to media relations, from digital strategy to special events, and from print publications to mobile apps.

What role does public relations play in building the Portland Art Museum brand?

Public relations plays an important role in the presentation of our brand. Brand is more than a logo and is reinforced with strategic and consistent messaging that builds the brand promise across all channels.

How has museum outreach developed as the media landscape has changed?

Visual arts organizations are challenged with the decline in daily newspapers and in particular coverage of the arts. When I started six years ago, I worked with numerous journalists who wrote specifically about the visual arts.  Today, there are only a handful of art beat reporters.  Arts coverage has declined and journalists are more likely to be general assignment or cover all areas of entertainment.

How has social media changed how you reach your audience?

Social media has picked up some of the loss from the decline in arts coverage. It allows us to speak directly to our core audiences and enhances the Museum’s presentations by encouraging visitors and art enthusiasts to talk about their experiences.

What social media initiatives is the museum implementing?

Museums are often ahead of the curve in social media initiatives. I am constantly amazed with the creative strategies that are being implemented by my colleagues at other museums. In Portland, we have a social media plan with goals that can be benchmarked.  A couple of creative social media projects include creating a Twitter feed for the artist M.C. Escher and tweeting his entire life from birth to death in 140-character posts during a three-month exhibition on the artist. During an exhibition on the art of tattoo, we created a Flickr channel and encouraged people to share images of their ink. The images were projected on a gallery wall and became part of the exhibition.

Does digital technology affect museum attendance, engagement or educational initiatives?

Digital technology allows us to extend our reach. Like many museums, we are digitizing our collection and putting it online for students and scholars around the world.  Through podcasts, videos, mobile apps and more we can expand our educational initiatives.

The Museum has a popular installation called Object Stories. We have a recording booth in a gallery and invite people to come and share a story about an object that has significance to them or about an object in our collection. The stories live in an online archive and are also accessible through touch screen displays in the gallery.

What’s the importance of continuing education and what advice would you give someone interested in working in the arts?

Staying up with the latest in technology and best practices keeps you relevant and effective.  Also, it is important to stay current with your industry so that you are speaking the same language with the CEO and other leaders. Being a member of PRSA has been beneficial in helping me stay current and providing professional development opportunities.

To work at an art museum, you have to love art of all kinds and an education in art history would be helpful.


Frank McNally, public affairs specialist, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

What role does public relations play in building the Smithsonian brand? 

Public relations not only supports the brand but also has a role in protecting the brand.  The Smithsonian has embarked on a project to “re-brand” itself, promoting the original research it conducts, its relevance to all age groups  and its potential for global outreach. The arrival of  the space shuttle Discovery was a test case for the project.

What are the challenges of developing communities and reaching tourists?

One of the keys that we have used is building coalitions with travel and tourism industry partners that are chasing the same challenges that we chase.  The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center marketing team consists of the  Virginia  Tourism Corporation, Fairfax Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Loudoun Convention and  Visitors Bureau, Capitol Region USA (CRUSA), Destination D.C., and other regional tourism promotional organizations. CRUSA is an international organization that works cooperatively with Virginia Tourism Corporation, Fairfax DMO, the Loudoun DMO and Destination D.C., to promote the area to Europe, Canada, and Latin and South America.

Has real-time news changed how you do your job and reach consumers?

Blogs, tweets, our website and emails — including email direct marketing — are great ways to reach on-the-go consumers.  We also have a Facebook page and produce a monthly email newsletter titled NASM News Now, which helps promote upcoming special events at the museum.

How successful have the National Air and Space Museum’s social media initiatives been?

With the arrival of  Discovery, the queen of the shuttle fleet, we had two really big days: the arrival from Florida day in which Discovery conducted a “missed approach” at Dulles and then flew to the National Mall where thousands of people waited to catch a glimpse of  Discovery on the back of the NASA 747 carrier airplane. The Museum produced a “Spot the Shuttle” public awareness campaign. Both LCVA and Fairfax DMOs had a team of people tweeting and blogging, and the  Virginia Tourism Corp. had their electronic marketing team doing the same. Our own NASM outreach team — Web and New Media, Communications, and IT — worked with NASA’s social media team to help them produce thousands of images and messages of the activities.

Talk about the arrival of space shuttle Discovery and what initiatives occurred around that event.

Both celebratory days, the arrival day and the ceremony day, when NASA transferred ownership to the Smithsonian, were key events to Discovery’s future role as an education artifact of the museum. It was truly a team effort to generate the Welcome Discovery arrival emotion that not only brought people out but also gave them a tie to Discovery’s future.

In February, members of the tourism industry and media were invited to a Launch the Launch briefing at the museum in which all the activities and plans were previewed by the industry. Attendees were encouraged to develop packages and menu items celebrating the Welcome Discovery theme.  The Spot the Shuttle program encouraged individuals to gather at National landmarks to see the shuttle and email our website and send images and videos.

Melissa Sanders, senior director of communications, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta

How have you seen your day-to-day job change through the years?

The understanding and acknowledgement of what public relations can do for an organization has shifted this field [into] a leading role over the last decade. The biggest difference is a stronger integrated marketing/communications approach, which is effective in achieving institutional objectives. 

What role does public relations play in building the Atlanta Symphony brand?

The primary focus of public relations in the nonprofit industry is to help create and support an environment in which marketing, development and education initiatives can be successful.

Nonprofit is mission-based, so most people connected to our artistry have been impacted by musical experiences, and want to ensure accessibility to as many members of our community as possible.  The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues to affirm its position as one of America’s leading orchestras by performing great music, presenting great artists, nurturing young talent and engaging with our community.

How has Orchestra outreach developed as the media landscape has changed?

The newspaper/media industry has changed substantially, altering the way we approach media relations, and is pushing us to find even more outside-the-box platforms to tell our stories — such as the violinist who is a skier, the conductor who is a chef or the journey of a student at their first music camp. Music impacts and shapes lives, and we can tell that story through internal and external communications channels, social media, and with a choice of video, photos or narrative.

How has social media and real-time news changed how you do your job?

Social media has become a great strategy to engage our fans around the world.  We are active on platforms including Facebook,Twitter,  YouTube and Tumblr.

While many of our audiences still refer to traditional media outlets, our website is the primary hub for information, and our social outlets are growing daily.

We want our audiences to have the best-possible user experience on whichever platform they use to engage with us.  Our new mobile site and app will make us even more accessible to those on the go — whether buying tickets, donating or watching videos.

How do initiatives like Phish’s Trey Anastasio playing modern pieces with the Orchestra reach new audiences?

We offer something for everyone and our audiences have come to expect this.  Trey Anastasio performing with the Orchestra [this past February] was a phenomenal evening with a sold-out crowd, and a completely new and younger audience — evidenced by their tweets and Facebook posts.

These kinds of collaborations are not uncommon for the Atlanta Symphony, as we have also performed with the likes of  Bernadette Peters,  Wynton Marsalis and  The Beach Boys.

What’s the importance of continuing education and cultivating the arts today?

One cornerstone is education.  There is a great deal of research that proves the benefits of playing an instrument as a child.

We are proud of the students we nurture through our Talent Development Program, which identifies and develops African-American and Latino classical music students, and our Atlanta Symphony  Youth Orchestra. 

These young musicians are future performers, music teachers and business leaders. We must continue to raise awareness about the impact of music-rich educational experiences for kids and keep music education in our schools.

Amy Jacques Amy Jacques is the managing editor of Tactics. She holds a master’s in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Email: amy.jacques at prsa.org



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