Thursday February 14, 2013 | 10:38 AM
Posted by Rob Gould
Because I’d rather talk about art than Valentine’s Day ...

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from my friend Kristen Levesque asking me if I would attend an event hosted by the Maine Public Relations Council, “Across Departments, Across Platforms, and Toward Goals.” Because I really like Kristen, and I can always stand a good reminder about the importance of cooperation, I agreed to attend an event that was being held at 8:00 a.m.—an ungodly hour. She also promised me they were going to talk about social media, so my interest was piqued. 

The event was held yesterday at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA), where Kristen is the director of public relations. Kristen and her colleagues, Will Cary, director of leadership gifts and planned giving and Caitlin Brooke, coordinator of brand strategy, gave a fantastic presentation about how they used media relations, events, fundraising and social media to make 2012 one of the most successful years in the PMA’s history.

2012 was the year of Homer (and a few other things) at the PMA. Last year the museum opened the newly restored Winslow Homer Studio (see photo above), hosted a blockbuster hit exhibit of Homer’s work: Weatherbeaten, and just because they didn’t already have enough to do, they also launched a new brand identity. Lazy, lazy people.

Kristen discussed the incredible media relations program she created and implemented around the opening of the Homer Studio that coincided with the opening of Weatherbeaten in September 2012. Her work resulted in close to 400 stories in major media outlets including, The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Wall Street Journal, and CBS Sunday Morning. Kristen has also had tremendous success with travel writers, scheduling two tours of 12-20 writers. As you might imagine, bringing these types of journalists to Portland, and the subsequent media coverage generated, has been very beneficial to both the city and to the state of Maine.

Will discussed how he coordinated with Kristen and Caitlin to support reaching, and exceeding, the PMA’s fundraising goal of $10.5 million around the restoration and opening of the Homer Studio and the Weatherbeaten exhibit. He also covered the PMA’s shift in focus from fundraising to driving membership once the $10.5 million goal was exceeded. The museum has had great success with their membership efforts putting the PMA on par with museums in much larger cities. Will stressed that the PMA’s success in this area was heavily influenced by the many events that museum hosts. These events create PMA advocates who then go out into their communities and spread the good buzz about everything going on at the PMA.

Caitlin discussed the launch of the PMA’s new identity that also coincided with the opening of the Homer Studio and the Weatherbeaten exhibit. Most important, at least in my esteemed opinion, she covered the PMA’s relatively new focus on social media in their marketing efforts. One year ago social media was a marketing afterthought at the PMA. With Homer, the museum realized that it was a significant communications tool. 

The PMA has grown a large following on both their Facebook and Twitter accounts that has allowed them to break down the barrier, that all museums struggle with, of seeming elitist. Social media created the ability to have an open and inclusive conversation. The PMA’s Facebook and Twitter efforts provided an important extension of the Weatherbeaten exhibition. Specifically, they provided a platform for the museum to provide more information on the exhibit, which visitors requested, than could be provided in the gallery.

The restoration of the Homer Studio provided incredible material for blog posts and other social media content. The PMA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts also provided powerful platforms for the museum to promote the great coverage that Kristen had generated. Caitlin knew that in order to keep the PMA’s fans and followers engaged, she needed to keep the content fresh and interesting. So the team got creative. For example, they created a Homer birthday contest and Winslow even got his own Twitter hashtag, #HomerHoopla, so that followers could track all of the exciting Homer events going on at the PMA. And, there was much, much more. If you’re interested in seeing what the museum is up to, please check out their social media accounts (links below).

Some of the key learnings that the PMA took away from their Homer social media efforts were:

- Have a plan and post with intention. This allowed their social media efforts to support the museum's overall marketing, fundraising and membership goals. It also enabled Caitlin to tell PMA staff what her content needs were in advance.

- Collect data, set goals and provide results. This allowed the team to justify and expand the PMA’s social media efforts.

Social media is now a key part of promoting every exhibit at the PMA. They have developed a large and engaged following and connect regularly via social media with other museums and major media outlets. Most important, they have a positive ongoing dialogue with their members and visitors.

The results of all of this work? Well, in addition to that $10.5+ million, November 2012 was a record-breaking month for attendance and December 2012 was the most attended month in the history of the PMA. So, there you go.

I want to thank the Maine Public Relations Council for hosting a great event and the Portland Museum of Art for all that they have done to benefit Portland and the state of Maine. The PMA is an enormous asset to our community.

You can find the PMA at

Facebook: PMA Facebook

Twitter: @ptldmuseumofart

Tours of the Homer Studio begin again on April 2. There are plenty of tickets still available. If you are interested in purchasing tickets, please call 207.775.6148.






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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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