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.

Your Brand in a Friendly Face

Lucky break – a few weeks back, James McNamara, president of Arts Branding, joined our Google+ breakfast hangout on brand management. A couple of years ago in his former capacity at LaPlaca Cohen, James worked with Suzanne on rebranding the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in anticipation of its transformative expansion. Through interviews with leadership and staff and extensive audience research, both qualitative and quantitative, they embraced three pillars for VMFA’s brand: friendly, accessible, and excellence-driven.

In the Hangout, James was eager for a progress report – Do Suzanne and her team still turn to the resources he helped to craft? Are her colleagues on board with brand strategy? Has her director turned out to be a champion of VMFA’s image of accessibility? On all fronts, yes.

In our exchange, it came through how meaningful an accessible brand can be. It forges a lifeline straight to the visitor. James argues that the first message organizations should get out to their audiences is that they’re welcome. During the conversation, Suzanne realized that a synopsis of the brand should be a part of all new staff orientations.

Coming up on the blog–we’ll share stories about the value of friendly, welcoming, accessible brands. Do you have a story to share? Let us know via the comments, and we’ll invite you to be a guest contributor.

A photo of a worse-for-the-wear but nonetheless sincere welcome mat

Like the welcome mat at my house, a brand is worth more than a shiny image. First and foremost, it's the case you make to your visitors that you're there for them.