Marketing our Knowlege (Keynote Address)

Thank you for inviting me here today.

Two Sundays ago, the minister at my church told us he once stood in line at an airline check-in counter directly behind an angry customer who was, after a very long wait, finally about to board his delayed flight. After handing his ticket to the attendant, the exasperated man asked, “I hope we’ll be fed on this flight?” To which the attendant replied, “There is food, sir, but you’ll have to feed yourself.”

And that, essentially, is my message this morning about branding heritage organizations: There is food on this flight, but like the hapless flier in Whitehorse, you’ll have to feed yourselves.

I suspect some of you – many of you, perhaps – are less-than enamoured with the topic of branding. It may send chills down your spine; the mere mention of the word “brand” may give others migraines.

Believe it or not, I empathize: being urged to “find the passion,” “live the brand,” and be “well-differentiated,” becomes nauseating after a while.

It is a common affliction that some try to relieve by turning to consultants. It’s easy to have fun with the cliché image of consultants whose jargon – or “twaddle,” according to one pundit – can seem like a kind of managerial gibberish – a kind of business virus whose only purpose, it seems, is to disrupt everything.

I laughed when I read David Thompson’s critique of branding people: they aim, he said, to produce clear and coherent insights, and assertive messages, but often our breezy concepts end up “uncomfortably close to the high-tech non sequiturs of shampoo commercials.” These are, after all, the same people who help unsuspecting consumers forge emotional connections to dog food, kitchen appliances, and a cup of coffee. Thompson, apparently, is waiting “with baited breath for the fetishistic rapture to be found in choosing detergent.”

No wonder people in nonprofits, including the history sector, want to hunker down and ignore branding, hoping it will go away and their world will soon return to normal. But, we can’t – and shouldn’t – hide. The benefits of branding are too important to ignore: more visitors, more fundraising dollars, more visibility, more political support.

If Thompson’s colleagues can forge important emotional connections with mundane consumer goods, shouldn’t we be able to make the past relevant and get people excited?

You don’t need me to tell you there is growing pressure on each of you to do just that. Nonprofits, generally, are beginning to understand that their brand attributes – what makes you special – weighs heavily: it’s what motivates people to associate with your organization. You know you need to embrace branding because, in an age of increased competition for attention, the failure to project a clearly defined image of who you are, and what you represent, means you will be doomed to anonymity – fewer visitors and less money.

We’re drawn to branding because, like it or not, it offers a solution. Good brands pump customers through our system, keeping our corporate body alive, like a properly functioning heart.

So the question is not “should” you brand, but “how” you do it so the effort becomes a sustaining exercise. Organizations that can identify, tangibilize, and promote unique attributes will be able to advance their aims and achieve their goals.

Sounds simple enough, but…are you ready for branding? Most organizations aren’t prepared, don’t know where to start, or won’t do the full monty. Or they become locked in a cycle of dependency upon their consultants. All of which create problems – and those migranes.

Because we’re often unprepared, we can be too quick to embrace the latest truths, buzz words, and new approaches that regularly burst on the scene. Adopting ideas that don’t meet your organization’s needs is tempting, but it is a trap. Success “does not come from mimicking the values of other companies – even highly visionary companies,” wrote Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last. “It does not come from following the dictates of outsiders…and it does not come from a sterile intellectual exercise of ‘calculating” what values would be most pragmatic, most popular, or most profitable.”

Why should the public care about you? I’ve heard too often that museums are “special.” It’s a much-abused notion: attention isn’t a birthright. Unless you are prepared to make a very public, Herculean effort to commit to a position and explain your value, you don’t deserve attention.

Count yourselves lucky, however. While this may be an age of tremendous competition for attention, museums occupy a large and meaningful space in the public’s mind. And, as you live in a place as historically well-endowed as Nova Scotia, your respective organizations are uniquely positioned to enter into a relationship with people, to challenge their thinking, and to be a catalyst for their community’s development.

We are not in a post-literate world: actually we live in a world populated with highly educated people with intellectual needs. They have knowledge but are looking for more. They want direction. They want to learn. To them you know things other organizations don’t. You “own” something that has cachet. They want to hear what makes you special. Are you going to tell them?

Sounds like quite the opportunity, if you’re willing to accept the challenge to draw them into a meaningful community of interest.

Too often, unfortunately, museums drop the ball. They decide to express their “specialness” with an expensive logo, tagline, or mission statement, direct mail, or a fancy building. They forget effective branding includes actively raising and maintaining awareness about ideas.

Storytelling is the anchor for effective branding. What you own – your stories – is your most important marketing tool. Their uniqueness is nothing less than your brand’s prime measure of worth. Marketing “what you know” defines your leadership and your uniqueness.

Baseball great Willie Mays, when asked for the secret to getting on base so often, said “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” It sounds so simple and, in a way, it is. I can’t think of a more eloquent way to explain what “differentiation” means. Storytelling helps you “hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

Use those stories to explain your value to stakeholders and create compelling, inspiring objects that sustain long-term relationships. Use your stories to help others find their identity – their voice, their interests – in what you do. In other words, be a catalyst for joining people together and binding them to your community – friends who will further articulate your stories and mission on your behalf.

So on Monday you’re going to be back in the office and think: “Fine, Ferguson told us to decide what our museums want to be bold about and tell those stories to lure people in and engage their imagination.” Great, but how?

I don’t blame you for thinking branding consultants are like the Wizard of Oz – all smoke and mirrors. But remember, when his disguise was revealed, Dorothy and her followers were told something they should have known themselves all along: the tin man had a heart; the scarecrow had his brain, the lion had the nerve.

You don’t need a Great Oz-like consultant to spoon-feed you your identity or divine your marketing opportunities. Your respective museums and archives have all the elements of strong, authentic brands but, to reveal them, you have to change – your thinking, and your management styles. You have to be open to new approaches.

This morning what I want to challenge your thinking about “how” to build a meaningful brand…and to give you a starting point for doing it yourselves.

In a nutshell…You have to feed yourselves.

  • Develop a unified sense of purpose.
  • Develop your capacity for thinking.
  • Be open-minded about how you communicate

Okay, enough introduction. Why do we want brands in first place?

There is a creeping sense of sameness in North America. From our cityscapes to our sense of style to what we eat to what we talk about, everything is being homogenized. We have, for example, been unable or unwilling to resist the hallmarks of suburban sprawl: cookie-cutter appearance of malls and box stores.

Organizations have to rise above this cluttered sameness. They have to find creative ways to express their unique attributes – to promote an image of themselves that is vital, relevant, and meaningful, to generate a sense among its community members that they are part of something unique.

It isn’t easy to express the unique view you have of your position in the marketplace.

Look at Canada – our country struggles to decide what statement it wants to make. We do have an invisibility problem. Some think fixing it requires updating clichéd icons like the RCMP and hockey players, or natural images like beavers and moose, mountains and oceans. Those images, however, are not the problem.

We struggle with our brand because we, its citizens, have lost the thread of who we are; we don’t know our history and, consequently, can’t tell our stories to anyone else. From those stories comes the authenticity our national brand needs to advance, whether at the level of tourism, big business, or international politics.

Toronto also struggles with its brand, for the same reason. Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume blames its sense of “civic mediocrity” on the fact the rest of the world, like Torontonians themselves, are no longer interested in the city. That’s because Torontonians don’t know what they have to be bold about. This is a city that prefers to ask architects, designers, and developers to look ahead, to position Toronto as the next “city of the future,” instead of first looking back to reveal Toronto’s underlying authenticity – what any effective brand relies on to work its magic.

My own native city, Ottawa, is the same. I’ll bet Halifax is, too; same with the Nova Scotia’s smaller communities. We have to learn to feed ourselves.

A backward glance would give any organization – from state to corporation to museum – useable operational intelligence. Those who don’t know their history don’t have the knowledge or the tools on which to build their brand. Knowing where we have been provides a way of thinking about a place, a way of comprehending why the present is what it is, and what might be possible for the future.

Unless you know how you’ve met and mastered challenges – or failed at the task – how can you find new ways to meet the challenges ahead?

In his instructions to the committee searching for a new NFL commissioner to replace Pete Rozelle in 1989, after his 29-year tenure, Giants owner Wellington Mara remarked: “We will look for a man who has read the pages of history and learned those lessons, and a man who has the foresight to apply those visions to the future.” This was important to the NFL, and it is important to you.

What gives managers confidence in their decisions is their accumulated knowledge of the organization’s unique experience, their understanding of where the organization has been…not sophisticated planning systems or policy guidelines. Your history is a “you are here” arrow – as necessary to help you find your way around the organization as it is for customers at the mall.

Locked in its past are stories any organization can use to enhance its ability to diagnose problems, reassess policy, measure performance, direct change, and communicate with stakeholders. You need to purposely reveal the events and decisions that have abiding significance for the present and the future. Why and how were watershed decisions made? What folklore, ritual, and symbols represent the organization’s sense of its purpose and identity over time?

And because we all see things differently, we need a sense of the organization’s past that is greater than our own memories of it. We need a common vocabulary.

Let’s turn our attention to considering what you must you do to prepare the ground for your brand to develop.

First, unity of purpose – teamwork:

Is it strange to talk about museum branding but use the NFL as an example? Superficially, yes, but I’d like to think “creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” Too often nonprofits do themselves harm by thinking their problems are completely different than anyone else’s. Escaping the insular world of nonprofit management requires looking to outside examples for inspiration.

When it comes to identity development, and motivating people to develop a relationship with your organization, museums can learn a great deal from the NFL. It provides a great example for learning to overcome competing interests and work together.

Successful brands are ensemble pieces. Like a well-executed play, team members play distinct positions, yet simultaneously support the actions of their teammates. The effort of lateral thinking pays off: tying yourselves together – effectively combining exhibits and retail, for example – transforms individual activity into a strategic dynamo. Think One League.

Remember what I said: Your “specialness” is not a birthright. Major League Baseball would learn the hard way that popularity shouldn’t be taken for granted. By the 1950s it was being run by people who assumed baseball’s dominant position in American culture was unassailable. They were slow to adapt to television, believing fans would always prefer to attend games in person. Because they didn’t think about baseball as a commercial product, its fans drifted away – right into the hands of the upstart NFL.

Professional football in the late 1940s was a fourth-tier sport. Less than 20 years later, the NFL was the most popular and commercially lucrative sport in America. It succeeded so quickly and so spectacularly because of the owners’ “imagination and ability to think and act on a grand scale.” Individually competitive, but utterly committed to the success of the league, this small group governed themselves according to the belief: Think One-League. They knew intuitively that unless there was unity of purpose and a quality product, they would not prosper.
I’ll come back to this in a few minutes. The second concept to help you prepare the branding ground is “Be self-sufficient.”

In An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde wrote, “When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.” The Art Gallery of Ontario is praying for a big name brand: it wants to reach out to the mass marketplace and command attention. So it has decided its brand will be celebrity architect Frank Gehry. The AGO is not Frank Gehry, and it isn’t his job to take a broad view of what the AGO brand requires. Similarly, the Royal Ontario Museum has embraced its celebrity architect, Daniel Libeskind.

Unfortunately the AGO and the ROM will learn a building, like a logo, only goes so far in communicating the essence of a brand. Nor does traditional advertising sufficiently inform people and give them confidence in your product. None of these build relationships and keep people connected.

When a management team doesn’t have a handle on its organization’s identity, it transfers its authority – knowingly or not – for determining, building, and managing its brand to its tactical agents, its consultants. Relying on outside consultants to determine your positioning and core messages leads only to a cycle of dependency.

Branding must be securely on the management agenda. It is a structural issue, a core issue because you have to build the team that has the capacity to think about who it is, and what it does. The managerial challenge is to develop an organization that can think for itself. Build the team that can maintain your brand.

Why is this so necessary?

We claim to be concerned about the lack of differentiation between brands. So why does “everyone” seem to be doing the same thing? Our targets are tired of the same old sell. How many mass mailings can people get – and throw away – before fundraisers get the message? How many walks, runs, or bikes can they go on, how many dinners can they attend, on the same day? How many ribbons or braclets can they wear at the same time?

The sameness of tactics produces apathy and boredom, not awareness and friend-raising. Fundraising is not just about separating people from their cash. It’s about marketing, its about identity, but this gets forgotten when snatch and run looks so appealing.

Organizations that rely on fundraising need to inform, differentiate, and effectively build constituency. What’s causing their sameness problem is a lack of vision.

Thinking differently is hard work. It requires the kind of lateral thinking and collaborative thinking that is – more often than not – absent from many of the organizations that need it most.

Without self-awareness, without a capacity to think, organizations become susceptible to ideas that don’t suit them. They rely too heavily on the advice of consultants who are absorbed by their tactical biases – advertising, direct mail, an updated logo, a marketing tagline, a flashy building – because that’s their product.

Instead of blaming the fox for sneaking into the henhouse, fix the fence. You have to feed yourselves or risk getting trapped by “sameness.” You need to explore how your team can come up with differentiating answers on its own. Building a brand is akin to being the architect and contractor of your own house: you create the blueprint – then you advise and direct the work of trades-people hired to do specific tasks.

Developing an internal capacity for thinking about your brand. requires, above all, a willingness to share knowledge. Organizations are in such a hurry to persuade customers about their brand attributes, but forget employees must first know what makes their organization tick. Everyone has to see the same big picture. Constantly remind all your people what “it” is all about: tie them to your organization’s beliefs. If they know the stories they can work to help advance its fortunes, they can share your vision and sense of common purpose. And don’t make people beg for seats at the corporate table: encourage a range of partners – curators, librarians, marketers, fundraisers, communicators, interpreters, archivists, retailers – to become engage in conversations about what the organization can become.

Of course you also have to get the right people on your team. Late last year an advertisement promoting the Toronto Public Library’s search for a Director of Marketing and Communication suggested to me that employers aren’t framing their job searches the right way: the opportunity, responsibilities, and required experiences described in the job ad simply didn’t mesh.

This was a leadership opportunity, the ad claimed, to foster a culture of innovation, and provide creative advice to advance programs and services; a description expecting off-the-wall thinking about who the library is and where it should go.

It sounded like a great job, but the ad undermined its great expectations by limiting the pool of eligible applicants to those who had, first, managed in a bureaucratic and unionized environment, and second, had trod marketing’s predicable cow path. Only in the “Personal characteristics” section of the ad is there the briefest mention of what should be the baseline requirement: a “creative and innovative thinker.”

If they want innovation, nonprofits shouldn’t be hiring from the usual suspects, the one-size-fits-all candidates. The cliché “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it” comes to mind. Weighting a job in favour of the bureaucrat, not the innovator, will only get them the status quo.

Robert Sutton’s 2001 book Weird Ideas that Work acknowledges it is hard to generate new ideas when practices are used that screen out (and drive out) people with varied ideas and who see things in disparate ways. That is, regrettably, what too many organizations do. Although many perceive the safest path to be doing something that works in your industry right now, nonprofits need to build teams that can think ahead. And if that is the goal, to be able to “hit ‘em where they ain’t,” they need to select candidates who can help them in as-yet-unknown ways.

The problem is, few organizations recognize that their heroes should be those who bring in new ideas: the idea people who believe better management of knowledge assets yields a competitive advantage. Encouraging idea people will help the non-profit sector finally develop the marketing culture it so desperately needs, because idea people can ‘tangibilize’ and promote their organization’s insights. They know that “what you know,” and how efficiently you use that knowledge, is where ongoing differentiation – and success – resides.

You probably have a few on your roster: They are the ones who, says Harvard Business Review editor Thomas Stewart, “pore over management literature, love discussions about how things could be done better, test new ideas, and pester you about articles that could change the business.”

If you’re lucky to find them in your fold, give them freedom to pursue ideas. What makes them vital to your success is that they integrate other people into their work. Idea generators have an innate ability to advance their compelling vision by creating opportunities for other people to join conversations so they, too, feel part of building something worthy and attainable.

While they’re doing their thing, make sure you do your job: clear obstacles for them, run interference. Welcoming exploration is critical, but if they aren’t rewarded for championing new ideas, others will be inhibited. If you want to establish a culture of innovation, everyone must know the door to thinking, talking about, and reflecting on new ideas, is open.

Now, if you’re ready to feed yourselves, you can turn your attention to branding…

In three words: Tell-Your-Stories. Unless you want to be seen as being like everyone else, don’t neglect the potential of language to creatively demonstrate your unique personality.

Words engage imagination, and help us understand what the brand stands for. So, here’s your differentiating idea:

To become a durable brand name, you need to be as innovative in thinking about how to communicate with your audience as you are at designing and constructing facilities, signs, and logos.

Look at Michelin. Andre Michelin started producing tires in 1906 and then asked, “where can you go on them?” His maps and travel recommendations gave rise to the popular notion of “the nice little Michelin trip,” and in turn to an enormous publishing empire we know as the Michelin Green and Red Guides. These ventures, incidentally, helped sell a lot of tires. It was an extraordinarily brilliant idea that remains under-used. Michelin didn’t underestimate consumers’ needs; he didn’t follow consumers’ direction. He created a story that provided leadership and interaction.

You can do the same: be bold, set the bar high, and don’t underestimate people’s interests.

The NFL didn’t: in the 1960s Saturdays were reserved for college football; no one dared broadcasting sports in prime time; Sunday afternoon – television’s dead zone – was the only time-slot pro football was allowed. The NFL single-handedly turned these unwritten rules on their head.

How? It recognized success required exposing the game to a broader population than those who could personally attend games, so new techniques were honed to turn every day sports broadcasts into storytelling sessions. The catalysts to differentiating pro football from the more popular baseball or college football were – believe it or not – documentary films and book publishing.

It was NFL Films’ “This Week in Pro Football,” more than the actual game, which shaped America’s fascination with professional football. Giving every game a narrative structure and a “sense of sport as a performance rather than merely a game” created myths and highlighted the league’s quality and sophistication. When the public realized NFL Films’ carefully assembled highlight reels were as entertaining as the game itself – if not more so – viewers were hooked; suddenly there was more than one way to enjoy games and participate in this spectacle.

Not every nonprofit can become a cultural icon, but some have learned to mine the benefits of effective storytelling. The Mayo Clinic may be the best-known hospital in the world but, like the NFL, it wasn’t born this way. Nor does it have the benefit of location: Rochester, Minnesota isn’t a media-centric metropolis like New York, LA, or Chicago. Its name clearly and widely evokes associations of confidence and well-being because of a very deliberate decision to make educating the community beyond its walls a core component of its mission. And they don’t just say it: to actively advance this mission – and not so incidentally support its fundraising and recruitment goals – the Mayo Clinic produces a wide range of high-quality, pedagogically effective Knowledge Products, including websites, popular and scholarly books, newsletters, and magazine articles.

What stops many organizations from taking advantage of their intellectual assets is cost – a non-trivial matter. Communicating can be a leap of faith, but the risk in innovating too little is at least as great as the risk of too much spending.

NFL Films was not about creating direct profits, its role was to build a brand for a burgeoning NFL. Ed Sabol’s view of his product, was “You remember the quality long after you forget the price,” and that was the point – quality perceptions.

Perhaps Rozelle gasped at the price (we’ll never know) but he understood “publishing” was a value-centre. He understood there is a premium that flows to businesses when identity is being managed well. So he protected the autonomy of these communication tools, and nurtured them. Like a good blocker, Rozelle ran interference for his stars.

Good branding means never stop telling your story.

In 1997 a Dominion Institute survey conducted by the Angus Reid Group concluded that we are not adequately passing on to young Canadians the historical knowledge necessary to sustain a sense of membership in the Canadian enterprise. The consequence has been a diminished sense of national identity. Better grasp of our stories would help citizens understand “who we are.” They would be the glue bonding our communities. That’s what people want.

By sponsoring the telling of your own “grand narrative” – neatly transformed into marketable products – museums and archives can build their own brand just as effectively as the NFL, or Michelin Tire, or the Mayo Clinic.

A museum expends a great deal of energy trying to attract an audience and present itself as appealing, relevant, and vital. If people visit once, the museum wants them to keep coming back for more. If it can maintain a connection with its audience between visits, it will be able to build a real community. Successful community building requires an ability to connect the public to proprietary content that promotes the museum’s identity.

Publishing is a great way to develop ongoing relationships with people – including children. Properly executed, children’s publishing can help museums develop a constituency of visitors who will become connected to the institution’s programs at an early age and maintain that link throughout their adult years.

And because it is an oft-ignored area of communications, I’d like to say a few things about it.

Children’s books from museums are not just attractive products, they are actually something parents want. Parents want reassurance that the products they buy for their kids are suitable, and have redeeming features, like educational merit. Museum-branded products give them that reassurance.

School and public libraries covet museum-published books for the same reason. In an era of budget cutbacks and uneasiness about acquisition decisions, libraries know the purchase of a museum product will usually go unquestioned.

However, like beauty, museum imprints are skin-deep—or, in this case, paper-thin. They still have to be good by kids’ standards. If the book isn’t well conceived, even the name ‘Smithsonian’ won’t help.

The Association of Canadian Publishers, in 2001, recommended that nonfiction for kids be light-hearted, even frivolous. Kids look for a good story; if they pick up some knowledge along the way, that’s a value-added feature. But kids are turned off by the heavy-handed tone of many books. In other words, if museums can’t transform their content into compelling stories with interesting characters and images, they’ll lose a large and valuable audience.

Being able to give young readers what they want requires a blend of fact, fun, and fiction. Above all, it requires talented writers. Children’s publishing is a highly specialized process: Museums should not assume staff can write for children.

“Edu-tainment” may be a huge leap of faith for scholarly institutions, but you need to expose your museum’s intellectual blueprint, and publishing helps you do that. It should be a key element of your strategy.

If its not, it may be because of the clash between traditionalists, striving to protect the purity of the museum mission, and those insisting it be more responsive to the needs of the marketplace.

Curators – the gatekeepers of museum content – may understand the dramatic marketing power of children’s publishing but are often quick to reject it: either they’re concerned it will undermine museum objectives or they feel intimidated.

Typically it is their insistence on “owning” the publishing process and resisting changes that will make content marketable, that makes museum-publisher relationships awkward and ultimately unsuccessful. They have difficulty exchanging raw ideas for the publisher’s editorial direction, packaging, and marketing expertise. Even acting as a project advisor may be problematic if curators feel they’re working outside their mandates.

If museums are to ensure children can relate easily to their products, managers must develop a system that straddles curators’ fears of exploitation with the need to get publishers involved finding the best stories and creating saleable products.

Museums like the Smithsonian are showing how to blend this practice into broader institutional strategy. In the early 1990s, it created Smithsonian Business Ventures to mine its intellectual capital for commercial gain. By uncovering new opportunities, finding the right partnerships to execute new business, and controlling access to museum collections, SBV staff work to make the publishing process as painless as possible so curators can concentrate on their core mandate.

Of course, selling the concept becomes easier if there are successes.

Smithsonian Oceanic Collection is a good example of a publishing collaboration that carries the museum message effectively to children. Soundprints, the publisher of this series, created the idea and does all the creative work. The Smithsonian makes sure the messages in the books are accurate. Discovery and interpretation—not storytelling, or book production, or marketing—is the Smithsonian’s core capability, so it willingly exchanges its expertise for the publisher’s.

For years, the Field Museum in Chicago struggled with the concept of publishing for the popular market. But the public response to the series of children’s books it published about its fossil “Sue”—the largest Tyrannosaurus rex ever found – has been overwhelming. The Sue books were the first produced by the museum at a commercial level. Early on, the exhibit team sensed Sue’s story would resonate with the public and made four important decisions: they acknowledged that the Field had no experience publishing for children; they chose not to self-publish; they wanted a series of books; and they wanted the books to appeal to a big market. Realizing that a children’s publisher would know what would sell, the museum engaged an agent, who led them to Scholastic. Today, there are seven titles in the Sue series—each one very successful…to the tune of 250,000 copies each. The public’s overwhelming response to the series “gradually eroded curatorial resistance” and staff are now thinking about how to mine other permanent exhibits for book ideas.

The current champion of storytelling in a historical context isn’t a museum-based project, but that’s not the point. An inspiring visit to Colonial Williamsburg left Pleasant Rowland reflecting about how poorly schools teach history. What, she wondered, could she do to help bring history alive for children? A question museums ask themselves all the time. She came up with a vision of a series of books set in different periods of history, with a doll for each period. Her American Girl dolls became the foundation for a US$370-million brand. Seven million dolls sold since 1986, 82 million books sold, 650,000 subscribers to its magazine. American Girl Place in Chicago is the highest performing retail store on Chicago’s main shopping street, Michigan Avenue. With over a million visitors per year, the store generates more than $40 million in revenue.

Yes, American Girl is a for-profit company, but it proved children and their parents are willing to be engaged by history. Whose to say museums can’t do this, too? Pleasant Rowland fed herself, so does the Field Museum, and the Smithsonian. So should you.

With the many competitive pressures on museums today – from Internet games to outdoor recreational pursuits to spectator sports – they need a new vision.

Can museums think and act like One League? Should they collaborate more often to tell stories, build a sense of place, and fulfill their social responsibility?

Successful brands are ensemble pieces. One only has to look to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to see the benefits of scale and cooperation in museum work. What the Smithsonian does so well is offer leadership and accessible, popular communications tools that build community, promote awareness of history, and advance the American brand.

On a regional level, perhaps, Nova Scotia’s heritage sector can do the same. Working together to build a common brand, using history to promote your community, would help advance your common interests. Working cooperatively to advance a single provincial brand, at least at the level of communications and public relations – thinking collectively about knowledge marketing – might usher-in the sector’s next “era.” With everyone pulling-together you’d have a better opportunity to develop the relationships that will sustain your individual enterprises over time.

Are Nova Scotia museums and archives working with business, politicians, nonprofit leaders, and with citizens to Think One League and create a cohesive message? That’s the challenge I want to leave you with.

Rebranding shouldn’t be the experience you dread. It should be – hopefully – an exciting and optimistic process everyone enjoys. At least I hope it’s that way for you because it never ends. Perhaps that’s why naysayers see it as purgatory.

Get your team in place, cultivate a broad view of the stories you have. If you know who you are, you know what matters, and you know how to brand. And if you can do this together, Nova Scotia has an even better chance of developing its own extraordinary identity and establishing communities that want to stay connected with your work.

Keynote Address of the 2005 Spring Heritage Conference, hosted by the Federation of Nova Scotian Heritage. Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, 29 April 2005


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