Guest post by Morgan Devlin, Marketing Manager for Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island
This summer, my son and I have a new way to explore Rhode Island. We are following in the footsteps of a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler. It just so happens that I also spend my days at work with Rhody. He is the mascot for a new summer adventure for families at historic sites in Rhode Island.
Historic sites, like all museums, need to engage younger visitors with programs that will attract them and their parents. The good news is that many sites are already doing programs and events for families. The challenge is that most sites have limited staff time and budgets to market these events to their prospective audience. Enter Rhody the Rambler.
Rhody was born out of a desire to increase the reach of members of the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island. The coalition, a program of Preserve Rhode Island, is open to all historic sites in the state which are accessible to the public. The sites range from large oceanfront mansions to historic farms to smaller historic homes. Formed in 2007, the Coalition has worked together on collaborative marketing projects in the past such as joint open house days, but this is the largest marketing initiative it has undertaken to date.
The Rhody Ramble did not require participating sites to create new events. Instead, we asked them to submit all existing summer events for children 5-12 and their families. We anticipated 8-12 places would participate in this new program. So, we were delighted when we ended up with 21 sites! Despite our familiarity with the organizations, it was eye-opening to see how many were offering programming for kids. During the process, some did get inspired and added new events. The resulting activities range from Breakfast in the Barnyard to a Favorite Doll Tea to a Concert under the Elms to a Civil War Re-enactment Weekend. For a complete list, visit www.RhodyRamble.org
From small to large, the participating organizations were all enthusiastic about being part of this new program. As so many in the museum field know, the collaboration model is a wonderful way to expand your traditional audience and cross-market with other sites. Since the programming was already in place, the sites’ role was primarily to help market the program by sharing it with visitors and members, as well as assisting with program evaluation. The centralized marketing relieved the burden from individual sites of taking a piece of the project in addition to their list of other responsibilities.
Rhody is based on the iconic Rhode Island Red rooster. He is truly a representative of his home state and its unique historic treasures. However, both the graphics and the name Rhody Ramble were designed to conjure up a playful, family program. While we do not hide the historic nature of the participating sites, we chose to create a look that is very different from most historic house marketing. By creating a brand that did not present history first, but focused on the family theme, we could leap beyond the perceived boundaries of those who do or do not ‘like’ history.
We need to be clear that not all historic sites or museums are a good fit for young children. Simply repackaging those experiences in a ‘family-friendly’ brochure will not change the visitor experience. Instead, we need to focus on what works for families and offer them good ways to visit our sites and engage with them. Visitors who come to a family concert in the garden and get to peek inside the house may decide to come back for a tour. They may become members. They will most likely tell their friends about their experience.
So, how do you connect with families? From Facebook and ‘mommy bloggers’ to libraries and neighborhood coffee shops, the network for reaching families is there. With a very modest marketing budget, the Rhody Ramble had to focus on the most cost-effective ways to spread the word. Working with talented graphic designers and a web developer, we created a passport-style brochure and an event web site. We reached out to local media, tourism partners, and family web sites. We put up posters and dropped off brochures. We talked to friends. We posted on Facebook and we even Tweeted about it!
As I write, we are one month into our three month summer program. There is still much work ahead of us to spread the word, raise awareness and build future partnerships. However, the response has been great. At a recent weekend concert, I walked around handing out brochures to families. Some had heard of the program and many had not. But the response was almost uniformly enthusiastic. Parents are always looking for fun activities to do with their kids. Most of us would like share meaningful experiences with our children, where we can both learn about our culture and our community. We often just need someone to point us in the right direction. Who better than a cartoon rooster named Rhody?
Join the ramble this summer at www.RhodyRamble.org.
A few logistical details…
- Preserve Rhode Island (PRI) secured a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to cover most of the administrative costs of the project.
- PRI hired a marketing consultant and an evaluation consultant to manage the new program.
- Each site joined PRI as an institutional member to support the joint marketing effort.
- A steering committee reviewed site event submissions and provided guidance on the program.
- A unique identity based on the program concept, and not the group name, was selected to help broaden the potential audience.
- A graphics set was developed that could be used for all materials. The marketing campaign includes a ‘passport’ brochure, a web site with event calendar, a poster, email communications, a Facebook page and Twitter account.
- Each site was surveyed about their experience with evaluation and the data they collect about visitors. They are responsible for recording data about the events participating in the Rhody Ramble.
- The evaluation consultant and a summer intern are traveling to a sampling of the summer events where they are conducting brief surveys about visitors’ familiarity with the Rhody Ramble and the site.
- At the conclusion of the campaign, each site
will be surveyed about their experience with the marketing collaborative.