By Kevin Mooz
Museum Mentee & Senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School
Never did I think that I would wind up sitting behind a desk during my mentorship. However, I also never thought I would enjoy it so much. The desk certainly felt more static than walking floor-to-floor behind the tour group. I sat for hours, typing away and researching the life of the Davis family, among other topics. After I finished for the day, I got up, said goodbye to my co-workers, and left. The public relations and marketing department definitely was not as dynamic as the White House tours department, but it showed me a side of history and museum work I had never experienced before.
Public relations and marketing introduced me to the business side of running a museum. It was obvious to me that museums operated like a business; they collected money from grants, merchandise, donations, and ticket sales. The museum functions, in a way, much like an ordinary business. Before one even enters the museum, one comes across a sign and a few banners promoting the exhibits. The sign and logo, while they have a relatively simple design, undoubtedly underwent hours of debating and designing. I recall one meeting in particular where the design team and I spent over an hour discussing the font and background color of a single poster. We discussed the serifs of the font, the size of the letters, and the position of the words. Generally, a person can read a bolded font without serifs much quicker and easier than an italicized font with serifs. This explains why many posters and flyers have bold, sans serif fonts. However, fonts with serifs in a way appear more sophisticated and older-looking, so serifs would be used for a more formal or historical piece. After that, we discussed the color scheme of the poster, as well as the contrast of the poster with the white font. The process seemed nitpicky, but it all served a greater purpose: attract the visitor’s attention.
After PR and marketing, I began to view exhibitions not just as displays but products. Exhibitions serve to educate, but in a business sense, they are like attractions at an amusement park. Exhibitions are costly, and they should theoretically bring money into the museum. Therefore, the goal of an exhibit is to grab the interest of a consumer, which comprises of advertising, designing, researching, and piecing display items together.
Perhaps the largest overarching issue of the department was the consumer base. Based off the demography of the visitors and members of the museum, the population of those interested in the American Civil War appears to be aging; not as many young people participate at the same level of involvement as older individuals. Furthermore, most of the proclaimed “history buffs” tended to be on the older side. Since the department needs to attract as many visitors as possible, they must keep in mind this fact.
On the other hand, the department must also ensure the museum will remain popular as the largest demographic fades away in the next few decades. In order to reach out to the younger audience, the department set up a variety of social media accounts, and this yields some success. The museum also hosts more physical activities and tours that might appeal to young people, which the PR and marketing department must advertise. Advertising activities and programs that would appeal to both demographics is tricky, but constantly advancing communications technology will hopefully aid in solving this issue. Overall, the dichotomy in appealing to the most populous demographic, as well as the younger demographic, puts enormous stress on how the PR and marketing department advertises and displays information.
Never having looked at history from a completely business stand-point before, I have a new appreciation for all the work that goes into organizing and advertising museum displays and events.