Chapter Meeting: Museum Public Relations

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By Brooke Beatty

Monday, May 2, 2016, DePaul University PRSSA welcomed Christina O’Connell, Manager of Public Relations and Digital Content at the Adler Planetarium, and Robby Sexton, Social Media Manager at the Art Institute of Chicago. Both gave insights into daily operations and aspects of museum public relations.

With Chicago as our classroom, our chapter wanted to take advantage of the numerous museums in the city and understand how they utilize public relations in their events and promotions.

Public relations under the stars

 Christina O’Connell explained how the team works with astronomers to prepare for big releases and discoveries in space. Oftentimes, astronomers at the Adler are on the teams that make big discoveries. Thus, O’Connell prepares media strategies and interviews to attain media coverage for the astronomers and the event.

“Space is something a lot of people are interested in, so our goal is to make space accessible to people,” O’Connell went on to explain how Adler hosts events like screenings of the Oscar-winning film “The Martian” to “Yoga Under the Stars “ in order to bring different types of audiences to the Adler.

O’Connell also explained her transition between agency life to working for a non-profit. Working at the Adler gives O’Connell the ability to play an integral role in every aspect of public relations. She pitches media, preps astronomers for interviews and makes big discoveries in sciences comprehendible to mass audiences.

Social media and art

Robby Sexton is the first social media manager at the Art Institute of Chicago. Sexton’s job has changed over time as new media outlets gain popularity. When Sexton began at the Art Institute years ago, there was little use of social media. Now the museum has accounts on all major networks and even social platforms in China.

The Art Institute believes that social media posts should happen full cycle and engage with users. The Art Institute prides itself on being one of the most responsive art museums in the world. Sexton remains active on social media all day and answers users’ questions about the art and things pertaining to the museum.

“Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” is one of the most popular exhibits in Art Institute history. Sexton explained how he utilized social media to build hype, give wait times for guests and more. The team successfully implemented a stay-a-night in Van Gogh’s bedroom. Sexton was the first individual to spend the night and used social media to explain his experience. The tactic went viral with thousands of requests to spend the night in the famous bedroom and articles in media outlets around the world.

How Chicago museums work together

O’Connell and Sexton gave insight into how museums in the Chicago area work together. For examples, Adler likes to host events that coincide with both the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum because the three museums share the same campus. Additionally, O’Connell and Sexton explained that both museums function as non-profits, thus, more help and publicity from other museums is always welcome.

In conclusion, this was a great experience for our Chapter to learn the in’s and out’s of a lesser-known facet of the field of public relations

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