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Communications and Connecting to Culture

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Yesterday I played hooky from work...


...and attended the annual meeting of the Connecticut League of History Organizations, held at the New England Air Museum. There, the president of the museum welcomed us with a warm yet provocative speech.
In sum, he said that museum attendance is declining (which solicited many sympathetic nods from the audience), but cultural institutions are responding the wrong way (which solicited many stiffened backs). The answer isn't to ask donors for more money, he said, nor to blame the populace for "not getting it."
The answer involves connection -- connecting what the museums have with what people want.
In other words -- I couldn't help thinking to myself -- it's a classic marketing communications challenge: taking the substance of who or what you are and connecting it to the needs/desires/passions of your audience.
As you can see on their website, the NE Air Museum houses a stunning collection of classic aircraft. How would you connect this museum and others like it to a new generation addicted to video games, iPods and multi-tasking?


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Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and The eBook eBook: How to Turn Your Expertise Into Magnetic Marketing Material. He is the principal of Kranz Communications (www.kranzcom.com) and may be reached at jonkranz@kranzcom.com.

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  • by Mack Collier Fri Jun 9, 2006 via blog

    "As you can see on their website, the NE Air Museum houses a stunning collection of classic aircraft. How would you connect this museum and others like it to a new generation addicted to video games, iPods and multi-tasking?" Great question Jonathan. You mention culture, so why not have the museum create a special area of the museum to showcase ways in which aircrafts have shaped our culture, clothing, automobile design, even video games. That would at least help put the aircrafts in a context that today's generation could more easily understand.(cars, video games, and clothes, maybe even add a section about movies and TV shows that have been influenced by aircraft).

  • by Ann Handley Fri Jun 9, 2006 via blog

    Great ideas, Mack. Part of that display could showcase the opposite -- ways in which technology has advanced aircraftl. "Not your father's Twin Engine" sort of stuff.

  • by Mack Collier Fri Jun 9, 2006 via blog

    Good idea as well, Ms. Community. It's all about finding a way to make the exhibits relevant to whatever group you are targetting. BTW Jon I'd lay off the hooky talk, don't want you to get dooced ;)

  • by Jonathan Kranz Sat Jun 10, 2006 via blog

    Good advice, all. Frankly, I don't know what the answer is. But I suspect I know what the answer isn't: making it appeal to "the young" (which is the first impulse everyone has in addressing declining numbers for cultural institutions.) For starters, there's always something condescending about the effort, as if we "know" what kids want or should like. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it may be targeting the wrong audience. Among our cliches about youth vs. aging is that the young are full of curiosity and energy while the old are stubborn and set in their ways. But in my experience, just the opposite is true. Has anyone here ever taught college students? I have. Both freshman undergraduates and adult learners -- working people returning to school in the evenings and/or weekends to complete or extend their education. Hands down, the adult classes are exponentially more fun: the adult students draw on more experience; they're less self-conscious and more willing to take risk; they're much more interested in the subject matter and unashamed of their curiosity. And the young kids? Misery. They hold on to their opinions as if they were hording gold and take any challenge, any new idea, as a threat that must be repulsed. Curiosity? Nah. That would be uncool -- it would undermine their posture as complete beings in and of themselves. So, going back to the Air Museum and others like it, I would take an unconventional approach. Don't fret about the kids. Target their parents. Not in a "this-is-good-for-your-children" kind of way, but in a way that speaks to their own experiences and the things that have shaped their lives. For example, why not have an exhibit of how flight attendant uniforms have changed over the decades? Or the history of in-flight food? Or a display of classic airline advertising? Or a show about famous air disasters? Or modern-day crop-dusters? Or ordinary people who've built planes in their garages? Etc... In the 50's and 60's, youth led culture. But today and for the next couple of decades (at least), I suspect that grown-ups are going to lead the way.

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