You have organised the best exhibition of the year, or set up a ground-breaking educational program. You have worked hard with curators, conservators, educators, everything is ready to rock, but now you wonder… how can I bring people in? How can I reach my audience, and what should I be telling them? Informing and engaging the public is a crucial process for the success and sustainability of heritage institutions. However, heritage-related university programs do not usually include any training in Communications, and heritage managers who cannot afford to recur to external experts might find themselves in serious troubles when it comes to communicate and promote what they are doing.
This is why last April HMO organised the first Workshop in Communication Strategy for a group of 15 students from the joint MA in Heritage Management of the University of Kent and Athens University Business School. The workshop took place in Elefsina, a few meters away from the archaeological site of ancient Eleusis. The course instructor, Derwin Johnson, has a 20-year experience as a journalist for CNN and ABC, and is a professional media consultant and trainer.
The aim of the workshop was to give heritage managers the basic tools to communicate the identity, activities and events of their cultural organisation effectively in order to engage the right audience with the right messages.
Participants learnt how to produce a communication strategy, starting with identifying the appropriate audiences through a “conversation map”, where you can visualise all the groups interested in your message and select the most convenient for you. Once they knew who they were talking to, the students could then draft their key messages, the core ideas that they needed to express, and then learnt how to tweak those messages depending on the different media they wanted to use: more informal and experience-focussed for a blog, more simple and informative for a press release, more condensed and witty for social media. They had the chance to experiment with a wide variety of styles, always keeping an eye on the core message and reminding the importance of consistency.
A considerable amount of time was dedicated to interview simulations, where the students had to talk about their organisation in front of a camera and answer questions from Derwin playing the role of a journalist. They learnt how to catch attention and stay focussed on their messages, but also how to improvise in case of unexpected remarks.
The most successful feature of the course was that applied work immediately followed the theoretical lectures. Participants could put into practice what they just learned by working in groups under the supervision of the instructor, and receiving immediate feedback and further advice. A good example for that is the press conference simulation that took place on the last course day: each team had to present in a structured manner their piece of news to a (fake) audience of journalists ready to leave if they were bored or ask tricky and uncomfortable questions. It was a matter of coordination and team work, and students learnt the importance of being inspirational and audience-oriented when communicating their mission and messages.