Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Small Site, Big Reward? “Successfully” Managing Functions with a Staff of One

Guest Post By Craig Tuminaro, Regional Site Manager for Maine and New Hampshire, Historic New England

Gov. John Langdon House Gardens with a tent
that is used during events, Historic New England
A little over a year ago, I started in my current position as a Regional Site Manager with Historic New England. Having spent most of my career working with historic sites, I was excited about working with an amazing and varied collection of sites in programming, marketing, and operations. One aspect, however, that had me less than enthused was that one of the sites I was to manage hosted a number of rental functions, and I was expected to work with and develop this earned income endeavor. Up until this time, I had successfully avoided working with weddings or corporate events, and had seen them as potentially at odds with the traditional visitor experience, or at best, a “mission-enabling” enterprise whose earned income potential allowed for “mission-driven” programming.

After talking and meeting with several potential clients, I began to realize that the success of weddings and other functions at a historic site abided by that often quoted maxim of “attitude, not just aptitude.”  If one went into offering functions seeing them only as “a necessary evil,” then undoubtedly that would influence the result. However, if functions could be seen as another avenue for visitor engagement, albeit not the one most tried-and-true museum folk saw as ideal, then there could be a different result.

So, in my one long year of working with functions, these are some Rules of the Road I’ve discovered that have guided me in my effort to make functions successful, with a staff of one:
  •  If You are Going to Do It, Then Do It! Don’t go into the process kicking and screaming. I’m a big believer of doing something all the way, not half way, so if you decide to offer functions as part of your overall program, then make the commitment to do it right.
  • Remember the Importance of Customer Service. Potential and actual clients are visitors to your site, and your dealings with them—on the phone, via email, and in person—are a reflection of both you as a professional and your institution.
  • Streamline the Process As Much As Feasible. Have easily customizable responses ready to go when inquires or common questions come through. It’s also important to figure out what information is best to share when.
  •  Set Limits, Both Realistic and Reasonable. I am fortunate that the number of functions offered each year is limited by the city in which my site is located. But if you are doing functions and feel overwhelmed by the number, or are just getting started, consider a limit—by month, season or year. Be careful though, not to “no” yourself into getting no business—by making it so difficult or costly to have a function at your site, potential clients look elsewhere.
  • Know When to Be Flexible, and When Not to Be. Sometimes rules can be broken, especially if doing so poses no harm to visitors, the site, or the collection. For example, we have a “no limousines down our driveway” rule but when I looked up to see a limo, with the bride and bridal party inside, halfway down the driveway, I decided to just let it roll. Sometimes towing the line just to tow the line isn’t worth it.
  • Learn As You Go, Adjust, and Evolve. I see the guidelines and policies for functions at my site as a constant work in progress. In my first year alone, I changed things around five or six times, many as a result of things I observed or experienced during a function that I thought should have been clearer. It doesn’t help in the moment, but does help from making the same mistake twice.
  •  If You are Going to Do It, then JUST DO IT!  Again, I would stress the importance of not just making the commitment, but following through on it as well. Not all brides are the scary “bridezilla” and not every wedding is going to be as over-the-top as Kim Kardashian’s. The best result we can realistically work toward is a wonderful event that puts a spotlight on some of the best features of your site and creates an experience that lives long in the minds and hearts of those that attended. And isn’t that the best we can hope for in all of our visitors?