For Immediate Release

With less than two weeks to go until our first formal Google+ powwow–Topic: The Communications Plan–we need your input. We’ll talk strategy, schedule, written & electronic materials, social media, press room, list management (via Vocus, as we coincidentally both subscribe to the service at different levels, but we’re interested in other systems that work for you), harvesting clips and coverage, and measuring results.

We’d love to hear from you on all of the above, but let’s zoom in on a monolith at the heart of this topic. I’m curious: does the press release still work for you?

Communications professionals–Do you still craft them? Has your format changed? Have you turned to other methods for disseminating news? Does it depend on the topic?

Journalists–Do you read them? Are they equivalent to SPAM in your inboxes? Do you count on them as informational resources? Would you prefer to receive news in other ways? Does it depend on the topic?

Please take the poll and, if you have time, elaborate with detailed responses in the comments section.


Social Media Guidelines for Staff

Social media is an exciting and dynamic new channel for communications professionals. It is usually, but not always, a responsibility that falls to the communications and marketing  departments. That means managing the content, developing the relationships and basically, being on the front line of engagement with customers who use these tools. But what about the staff throughout the museum? How do we  manage the engagement of our staff in social media, both on the job and off?

As we all know, the lines between public and personal blur. If someone is on their personal Facebook or Twitter account, and if they make comments about their place of employment, the perception is that they speak as a member of the team. Many staff can and should be communicating about their work through social media, however. How should staff be guided to manage these new channels professionally?

Developing and articulating standards for responsible use of social media by employees is also in dynamic evolution. Today I read the new social media guidelines just issued by the Associated Press. In the spirit of learning best practices here is the link.

An Idea that Sparks

From: Hall, Suzanne (VMFA)
To: Cecilia Wichmann
Subject: Mentoring in Public Relations and Marketing

I have an idea – see what you think. What if our process is transparent (to a large degree) and conducted via Linked In dialogue and post meeting summaries? This is my version of a museum PRAM reality show. If we are bold and committed, it could become a bit of topic in the profession. We’d be inventing as we go, but frankly, we all do that ;-). Plus it could have the benefit of “crowd sourcing” for some best practices.

I took the AAM guidelines and began some customization of that doc. I like this idea but it will be occasionally consuming. It will also require learning more about Linked In than I know currently. It seems like a good potential place for this to occur but we could also consider a blog. I want to learn Word Press. We currently use blogger and I find it buggy and problematic. Where is your comfort zone on this? We are going to have to work hard to produce visuals, which as we know are key to communications these days.


Suzanne Hall
Chief Communications Officer

Popping the Question

A quick jaunt back in time to explain how this project began. I had interacted with Suzanne a handful of times over the past few years at industry events and most recently on an office field trip to VMFA for a collegial discussion about the communications and marketing strategy behind its recent Picasso exhibition. Soon after, I decided to seek a mentor outside of my organization and immediately thought of Suzanne. Among other qualities, I had been struck by her ability to convey her genuine, sincere personality within her professional role, which I personally find quite challenging. (Marketing is, after all, about positive spin, which can feel slick or disingenuous.) I had also found her discussions about inciting a flash mob pillow fight and organizing a burlesque program at the museum smart, fresh, and inspiring. In late December, I sent Suzanne an email. She responded immediately. Here’s our exchange:

From: Cecilia Wichmann
To: Hall, Suzanne (VMFA)
Subject: mentorship

Good Morning Suzanne,

First off, a big congratulations on VMFA’s spot on Kennicott’s 2011 Top Ten list! I treasure the uncommon opportunity you gave us to investigate Xu Bing’s work in progress on the parking deck and regret not finding time to see it complete.

One of my professional development resolutions for 2012 is to seek mentorship in our field. I so admire the expertise, creative experimentation, and personal style you bring to your work and would benefit immensely from an opportunity to learn from you. Would you be willing to work with me for six months in 2012, around your schedule, in this capacity?

For my part, I would be delighted to do the work it takes—get to Richmond regularly for in-person meetings, assist you on projects, attend recommended events, read recommended resources, or simply organize a list of topics and connect with you about them by phone or e-mail. I recognize your busy schedule and appreciate mentorship on any scale you can accommodate.

Of course, I also fully understand if it’s not a commitment you can take on at this time, in which case I’m happy simply to express my admiration and wish you a happy holiday season.


From: Hall, Suzanne (VMFA)
To: Cecilia Wichmann
Subject: RE: mentorship

I would be delighted to work with you! There may be an forthcoming more formal mentor process soon within PRAM. I propose that we establish a time period for this process, along with a schedule, goals and deliverables, and some kind of protocol which can be a record of our experience as well as possibly a model for future mentorships.

I will let you shape a schedule with whatever in-person visits you think are necessary (we could Skype…). Frankly, after seeing your big NYT Degas piece, I wonder how much you really need a mentor!

But it would be my great pleasure.  Merry Christmas!

Suzanne Hall
Chief Communications Officer


Dream Date in Richmond

Friday the 13th begins with the swipe of a Zipcard in D.C. and a brisk run in Richmond. Just after 10:30 am, we’re unpacking laptops, a rough agenda, and fresh ideas in the VMFA cafe. Hot tea fuels a conversation about why we’re there. For Suzanne, it’s desire to experiment, something new, and the possibility of forging a model that will be useful to others in the museum world (and, more broadly, communications professionals in any industry). I’m interested in experimenting too and keenly aware of my luck in landing this opportunity to work directly with someone who does her job passionately and really, really well. She sets a goal: we’re going to hammer out five compelling topics to shape our work together before we break for lunch. Go.

For lunch, it’s adventure time. En route to the Zipcar, we stop to take in Ryan McGinness’s Art History Is Not Linear (2009). This is inspiring for a couple of reasons. It’s a hieroglyphic language culled from art. It’s also a very smart way to frame the collection for visitors as they enter–diverse, iconic, and available to remix in whatever way works for you.

A drive through Carytown highlights Can Can, Byrd’sClementine, Bygones. On down Monument to the Fan where Garnett’s Cafe awaits. At Garnett’s we talk about travel, breweries, biking, pickling, and creative museum programming (e.g. Hammer Museum’s collaboration with Midnight Marauders, VMFA’s Faberge Burlesque, the Phillips’s Illustrated Self-Guide) over grilled cheese and black-eyed pea salad (secret ingredient: grapefruit!)

Satisfied and slightly sleepy, it’s time to get caffeinated and back to work. Suzanne directs me on a short drive to Lamplighter Roasting Company in a retooled gas station. Latte and americano arrive in giant mugs, and we set up shop at a picnic table on a closed-in porch fortuitously outfitted with a full wall of chalkboard.

It’s time to settle on a handle and register the blog. This takes some time. I had started the day with half-baked ideas about “PR Apprentice”, which isn’t really what this is about. Suzanne is thinking “muse.” We brainstorm:
*Talking About Art (Suzanne had pinpointed this early in the day as something she loves).

While we both love art, love talking about art, and have jobs talking about art, we realize what we’re really doing together is talking about talking. Telling stories about communicating. Using many different methods. Using strategies applicable to those who wish to communicate about anything, not just art.

Now the juices are really flowing (and caffeine surging). I register the blog. We poke around WordPress. We need more graphics! We’ve been documenting the day in snapshots here and there but what of our masthead? Suzanne pops to the ladies’ room and returns with a flash of brilliance–the chalkboard! People use it to communicate, to teach, to experiment with quick ideas and jot over them just as quickly. The photo shoot begins.

Our final tasks are to retroactively define the day’s topics and to think through what outcomes will deem the project a success when six months have passed. The first is easy enough. We’ve spent the day visioning and dreaming. As for outcomes, the entire point of conducting the mentorship this way is to be flexible, unpredictable, experimental. We agree right away, this is about the journey.

Of Mentors and Muses

Mentorship, like storytelling, is ancient. In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor is the trusted friend enlisted to advise Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, while his father embarks on adventure. In our story, the mentorship is the adventure. We’ll tell it as it happens, right here.

Over six months, this adventure will reimagine a formal mentorship in public relations and marketing. Rather than restrict the project to a one-on-one, mentor/mentee feedback loop, we will experiment with open, networked exchange in a storytelling format. This dynamic and creative process will allow us to:

1. crowd-source best practices and ideas
2. create a useful record of our work together
3. test and continually refine communications channels for personal and professional growth

We’ve charted a course through five essential topic areas and count on unscheduled detours as intriguing questions arise. For both of us, home turf is the art museum, but we’re here to explore broadly applicable communications issues. Our muses will be our real life experiences and yours.

This exchange is completely open, and we hope you’ll weigh in. We’ll post invitations to Google+ hangouts, recaps of our discussions, requests for recommended reading/viewing, and more here so please subscribe or bookmark the blog, and check back often. Post comments with any and all questions and ideas, and feel free to extend the conversation by connecting with us individually on LinkedIn.