Don’t Miss: TEDxRVA


Suzanne has been busy creating over the past several months–not only in her role at VMFA, but also as part of the core organizing team of Richmond’s inaugural TEDx event. On March 22, 2013 (less than one week from today), the open forum explores the concept CREATE with 30 talks on the symbiotic process of inspiration and creation. While tickets to the full day event are sold out, Live Stream will bring all 30 talks to you. Links will be available at


What’s in a name?

Erin Wilhelm, friend and project director at the Collaborating Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) at Georgetown University, recently reached out to a mentor. Today she guest posts about her bicoastal experience with Carol and wonders if “mentorship” is the best term for their ongoing, mutual support system.

Inspired by the creativity of this blog and its authors, I sought my own professional mentor early this year. I even borrowed some of the language Cecilia wrote in her invitation e-mail (seriously . . . inspired!)

In previous jobs, I’ve had assigned mentors and found these forced relationships dissatisfying for various reasons, and mostly because the interactions felt as compulsory as the relationship. There was no motivation to talk other than a company policy that said we should.

Recently, I began a new job at a new organization in a new field. I welcomed the challenge and opportunity to learn from all the newness. After the first months’ intense learning curve, I gained a working stride but realized there was still a lot I didn’t know. So I had motivation. Finding a mentor could help me structure the next phase of my learning. But I was skeptical . . . there were those prior bad experiences, and my new organization didn’t have a formal structure. It never occurred to me, until I read Cecilia and Suzanne’s blog, that I could just pick someone who I admired and ask!

So I did. I asked Carol, a woman I worked with only a little, but with whom I exchanged many an e-mail and “met” on occasion via Skype. (She lives and works in San Francisco, and I live and work in D.C.) Carol has great energy, humor, and brains. And we both love yoga and our dogs, so I knew there would always be something to talk about. Plus, she has worked in my new industry, for nearly 30 years, loves her career, and is successful. When I reached out to her, I was neither so in love with my work nor feeling successful, and I thought it could help to talk and work with her. Hoping her passion would rub off . . .

We structured our talks formally at first – with e-mailed agendas and “assigned” reading material. But over the weeks and months, we gradually found a rhythm of hour-long chats every week or so, discussing process and people skills, new or difficult concepts in our field, and how to maintain sanity – and a life – in the midst of a 21st century career. These talks gave me reassurance, direction, and new tricks to try.

In all, this relationship has been satisfying, and we’ve achieved many of the goals we set for ourselves. But I’m not sure that ours were typical of mentor-mentee conversations and so, when I refer to Carol, I usually say “colleague,” “coworker,” “coach,” or even “friend.”

I wasn’t the student diligently taking notes from the teacher. We’ve had the opportunity to exchange ideas in deep and meaningful dialogue. As a result, we both feel the time invested has been worth it.Of course, if I were to formally describe this relationship, I would still call Carol my mentor – because it describes our interaction with a term other people readily understand (and isn’t that what a word is for?). But to both of us, the relationship has been more. The word that best captures Carol’s role in my life is “collaborator,” but that word has been overused in popular professional literature to the point of meaninglessness and this mentor-coach-colleague-friend of mine definitely has meaning to me.

Erin Wilhelm, Georgetown University

Catalysts for Professional Growth

In our last official Talking About Talking exchange, Suzanne and I queried the word mentorship. Does it capture the reciprocal, open-ended network of relationships our project seeks to engage? An article in the Harvard Management newsletter–360 Degree Mentoring–explores this concept without proposing new terminology.

What does and does not work for you about mentorship, the word and the concept? What alternative terms, if any, might apply to relationships that have catalyzed your professional growth? We would like to hear your stories, of mentors, muses, peer teachers, protégés, social networks, et al. Please post comments or e-mail to cwichmann (at) phillipscollection (dot) org for consideration as a guest post.

Taking Stock

May was a busy month for both mentor and mentee. Suzanne opened Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Great Kings (on view through August 19), and I prepared to open Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme and Antony Gormley: Drawing Space (both through September 9), as well as a new museum cafe, Tryst at the Phillips. To manage the sheer volume, we gave our May mentorship exchange a miss and took a little break from blogging. But silence can be deceptive. Throughout the month, mentorship was especially on my mind as I noticed changes in my work, evidence of Suzanne’s guidance and ideas sparked by our conversations. Some highlights:

  • I packed my latest press release with hyperlinks, program highlights, and relevant citywide events
  • Accessibility and welcome is the core of a summer ad campaign I’ve been involved in, which positions the Phillips as the “place to be” and features extended hours every Thursday night (social networks are fully integrated)
  • We paid it forward with a guest post about mentorship on the Emerging Museum Professionals blog
  • I now augment press releases with timely blog posts (coordinated through a new layer on Google calendar)
  • Plus, spring yielded a flourishing first vegetable garden for the Wichmann family. I’d be remiss not to note Suzanne’s encouragement on the work-life-balance front.

Continuity of Operations

Within 24 hours, I completed something of a crisis boot-camp–AAM’s crisis communications webinar and a Google hangout on the subject with Suzanne and my colleague Amy Wike.

The webinar focused on PR crises, like news of an institution’s financial mismanagement, corrupt leadership, endangered visitors, or perceived betrayal of the public trust.

Our hangout explored crisis planning and management more broadly–the structures an institution puts in place to ensure operations continue in the event of disaster, from snowstorm to pandemic to act of terror.

Both approaches were valuable, and takeaways overlapped:

  • know your crisis team–enfranchise senior officials responsible for leadership, personnel, finances, facility, security, information systems, legal, and collections
  • inventory communications tools/anticipate disruptions–run scenarios in which all platforms function (e-blasts, media calls, press releases, tweets, status updates, homepage alerts), but plan for a world without internet or phone service
  • create an information release grid–chart your constituent groups (gov. officials, trustees, members, staff, media, general public, etc.), identify the communications channels that best connect with each, and sequence your message(s)
  • site-proof your plan–keep all components (key contacts, release grid, etc.) in a secure, digital space (e.g. Google docs) and maintain strategic hard-copies off-site
  • stay on guard–anticipate, plan, and monitor potential issues all the time, while crises can still be averted or managed
  • keep track–craft a situation analysis and refine it as new information emerges; log (and respond to) all media inquiries and document posts to your social networks

Case Study: Brand Integration at the Asian Art Museum

In this guest post, we head south from Emily’s wine country experience down the California coast to San Francisco. James McNamara, president of New York-based Arts Branding, shares his notes on our brand management exchange along with a fascinating case study he has recently put together on comprehensive brand strategy at the Asian Art Museum.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting in on Suzanne and Cecilia’s conversation about brand management in the museum field. In the course of that exchange, Cecilia asked if we knew of any best practices in the museum field for branding.

Brand Integration in Action with images from Asian Art Museum's rebranded materials

A snapshot from James's case study of the Asian's brand integration in action. Download the full report below.

I said, yes, in fact, I had just been doing some research on one just launched in October 2011: the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As a brand strategist, I too am always looking for best practices, even if it takes me away from my own firm‘s clients.

The Asian’s brand strategy project, headed by Tim Hallman and his talented team at the museum, and with the help of Wolff Olins, a brand strategy consulting firm, provides a comprehensive example of not only a successful launch of a new visual identity, but a positioning and message platform that informs the identity.

I put together a case study from public documents in an effort to see if I could recreate the brand strategy from the components I found. That I was able to do so successfully is a testament to the Asian’s thorough launch.

The case study is a work in progress as questions remain: How much will the new brand strategy affect exhibitions and programming? How will the brand strategy affect the experience of visiting the museum? What will be the measures of success?

Click through to download a PDF of the Asian Art Museum case study (2.4 MB).

James McNamara, Arts Branding

This Thursday: Crisis Communications

The April conversation has arrived! This Thursday, April 26, we’ll address crisis communications on several levels, from standard, institutional crisis planning to a more social media-focused crisis management case study. We’ll test a new hangout time–5 pm EST–on Google hangout. To join the conversation, visit where you’ll find a hangout underway. Participate between now and then by posting questions and links here and/or on our Google + page. To get started, some resources (many from AAM’s excellent information center):