Brand Identity in Historic and Cultural Destinations, with Courtney Kasper

Episode 188

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There’s a southern accent, where Courtney Kasper comes from. She is a Sweet Home Alabama native, Florida State and Syracuse University graduate, and a Poodle person. She is also the current Visitor Experience Manager at the Equal Rights Heritage Center located in Auburn, NY. Courtney is a former associate publisher of Today’s Central New York Woman, and a journalist with work featured in Time Out New York and Dance Magazine. She is a direct descendant of Revolutionary heroine Nancy Morgan Hart, otherwise known as War Woman. Destination on the Left is joined by Courtney Kasper, the Visitor Experience Manager at the Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, New York. On our podcast, Courtney shares her approach to “being patient where you are with your place in life.” She talks about the vast amount of ways that idea ties into her current work and the state of crisis we are currently experiencing. Courtney walks us through the process she used to create a powerful brand identity for the building she was hired to manage and discusses the many collaborations and creative breakthroughs that enabled her organization to successfully navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The purpose behind the welcome center and how it ties into Courtney’s backstory
  • The collaborative nature of the City of Auburn Historic and Cultural Sites Commission
  • How Courtney has used creativity to help Auburn stand out from other destinations in the area
  • How Courtney overcame the challenge of developing the welcome center’s brand identity while preserving its history
  • Different ways that Courtney has used creativity to navigate the pandemic
  • What it means to “be patient where you are with your place in life” and how it relates to the work Courtney is doing now

The Equal Rights Heritage Center

Courtney Kasper is the Visitor Experience Manager at the Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, New York. On our podcast, Courtney shares her approach to “being patient where you are with your place in life.” She talks about the vast amount of ways that idea ties into her current work and the state of crisis we are currently experiencing. Courtney walks us through the process she used to create a powerful brand identity for the building she was hired to manage and discusses the many collaborations and creative breakthroughs that enabled her organization to successfully navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

More Than a Welcome Center

The Equal Rights Heritage Center is unique because it is technically the official welcome center for the city of Auburn, New York. It is the headquarters for the City of Auburn Historic and Cultural Sites Commission, which was started to create a round table for all of the different site directors so they could create strategies to boost tourism in Auburn together. With exhibits like “Seeing Equal Rights in NYS,” however, it is so much more than a welcome center. They are trying to promote tourism, but more importantly, they are trying to tell Auburn’s story and the stories of the amazing people who made Auburn what it is today.

Creating a New Brand Identity

The collaboration between all of the historic and cultural sites has yielded great results for the City of Auburn. But creativity is what really helped the destination stand out from the pack. The Equal Rights Heritage Center has so many things under one roof, that Courtney was challenged with developing a brand identity that captured the right amount of everything. Through the Market New York program, Courtney was able to work with an agency to create a powerful campaign highlighting the unique welcome center building and its equal rights exhibit. They built out content to highlight the unique backstory of the building, and they designed events to celebrate other aspects of Auburn as well. It was a difficult challenge, but Courtney was able to reinvent the welcome center’s brand while preserving its history.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left and welcome to this week’s episode with another interesting guest Courtney Casper visitor experience manager at the equal rights heritage center in Auburn, New York, Courtney, and I had an amazing conversation and her words of wisdom were inspirational. When Courtney tells her story in this interview, she shared her approach to being patient where you are and your place in life. And we talk about how that outlook has so many meanings in the work that she’s doing now. And especially during a time of crisis, we are experiencing, Courtney goes into detail about the process. She went through to define a brand identity for the building that she was hired to manage. She shares insights on many collaborations that have led to her organization successfully navigating the challenges of the pandemic and talks about the creative programming that she and her colleagues across the city of Auburn have come up with to address social distancing wealth, balancing a phased reopening a little more about Courtney.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:30 She says there’s a Southern accent where she comes from. She has a sweet home, Alabama native Florida state and Syracuse university graduate, a poodle person, current equal rights heritage center, visitor experience manager, former associate publisher of today’s central New York woman journalist with work featured in timeout, New York and dance magazine editor of beyond the underground aunt Harriet, Moses of her people direct descendant of revolutionary heroin, Nancy Morgan Hart, otherwise known as more woman with that background. I know you will gain a lot from this conversation, but before we dive into the interview, I want to share this important information with you, Courtney, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really excited to hear your perspective as we talk about creativity and collaboration, but before we dive into the questions, can you share a little bit about your story with our listeners in your own words, define the kids a lot more context to our conversation.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:43 Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me to call. I do really appreciate it. I’m happy to be here today, talking to you. Uh, yeah, so a little bit about me. I am Southern born and raised from the Southeastern part Alabama and found my way up to New York state by going to Syracuse university for what I thought was a one year program and turns out like many people in my position who are from the South and find themselves saying in New York state, I met my husband. And I guess you could say it’s, it was history since then, you know, we ended up staying here. Um, I knew when I went to Syracuse, I went for journalism because I thought that that’s something that I really wanted to do for the rest of my life and was very passionate about writing, always been a writer. Um, and I still do that in my spare time, but what I found entering the working world, uh, you know, we moved to New York city, right when 2008 was about to hit.

Nicole Mahoney: 03:50 So I was kind of in the beginning of my career in journalism, which many people probably know doesn’t pay very much, especially not to, to live in New York city. So it was one of those living paycheck to paycheck jobs. But when the passion was there, you know, it was, there was something that I loved and I worked for McFadden performing arts company, which owns all of the dance magazines and American cheerleader magazines. So it was a really fascinating time to be in that world. It was when dance was really getting the spotlight from all the TV shows that were coming on. Like, so you think you can dance in all of those. So it was a lot of fun for me and I grew up dancing. Um, and actually a funny little connecting story was my sister in law. My sister was actually on the cover of American cheerleader magazine when she was in high school.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:39 So it was really neat to go back into those archives and see those things. But, you know, as I said, we knew what was, we knew what happened in 2008 and that really took a hit with a field like mine. So it was something that I had to kind of rewind and take a step back and figure out is this something that I want to do for the rest of my life, or is this something I want to do on the side? And we ended up moving from Manhattan to upstate where my husband is from the Syracuse skinny Atlas area. And I decided to do freelancing, you know, from home working for myself, which was great, but I really missed that personal one-on-one being in an office setting. So I went to go work for what was then known as, as CNY woman magazine. We’ll just put out by the Scotsman Syracuse.

Nicole Mahoney: 05:29 And that was a really, um, I guess kind of changing perspective for me because my day to day was giving women in the area of voice, a platform to share their stories. And, uh, one issue that I’ll never forget was an issue that we covered Glen Weber, McLeod’s you can’t fail conference that she did. And it was the first time I remember how powerful it was. It was the first time that African American women were in the entire issue, the cover, every feature story. And I just remember how powerful and moving that was for the women that we feature. And it really started opening my eyes a little bit about how powerful the gift of storytelling is, and, you know, us communicating as people and sharing each other’s stories and just things I guess you can say fell into place. And it was kismet when the job opening that I currently have, which is the visitor experience manager at the New York heritage center in Alberon came about.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:34 My husband was actually really sick and in the hospital for about a month at that time. And that job application I saw came out and it was one of those things that I felt really compelled to apply for because it had a message that I really believed then, and also, um, you know, really promoting the tourism in Auburn because a lot of people don’t realize that Auburn is a, you know, a city of around 30,000 and there are about 12 museums and cultural institutions right within the city, which to me is just kind of mind blowing. And one of those is obviously the William Seward house and Harriet Tubman home. So when I applied for this job, it was just kind of one of those things that I really hoped for, but wasn’t sure about because it wasn’t my background. I had been out of the working world for several years, working at home for myself, and I got the call back, got the interview and everything just fell into place.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:28 My boss, now that I have, we really just hit it off in the interview. And I have to say that, you know, I now understand that everything happens for a reason. And sometimes you do have to be patient where you are in your place of life, because things do happen and things do come together and, you know, I’ve completely switched careers. I get to use my, my writing skills a lot with grant writing and the marketing promotion, all of that, but really just being able to share the story of all veteran, you know, with our visitors and really helped promote tourism. I’ve really found that that’s kind of a career change and something that I love. I love to travel myself and experience different cultures and different people. And I’m glad that I get to do that on a daily basis.

Courtney Kasper: 08:13 Yeah, I think, uh, I think that’s just an amazing story and I love to talk to my guests and hear about their winding path in life and how the words you used was kismet. You know, like things just kind of come together and you end up squarely in a place that all of your life experiences are building blocks to prepare you for where you are now. Um, I hear that so often when I ask this question of my guests and what I think is really amazing is the, you know, the different work that you have done. But also when you really talked about that pivotal, um, with

Nicole Mahoney: 08:56 The you can’t fail conference and that African-American issue of CMY woman magazine, where you really started to learn about the gift of storytelling, and I’d like you to talk a little bit about the mission and the purpose of the welcome center, where you are, because what a perfect dovetail in terms of, you know, your own journey as to, you know, what you are and the story that you are in the middle of telling right now in Auburn. Absolutely. You know, our facility is an interesting one because we are the official welcome center for the city of Auburn. And that being said, we’re the headquarters for what’s called the city of Auburn’s historic and cultural sites commission, which was started by the city about 20 years ago to really help supports and bring together all the site directors that are in this city together around the table and have a conversation about how do we support one another, how do we boost tourism at all and come up with these strategies together?

Nicole Mahoney: 09:59 And so that’s one aspect of the center. So we’re really promoting Allborne tourism. So we get to tell the Auburn story. We get to tell Harriet Tubman story, Ted Case’s story, William Seward story. But we also inside have an amazing exhibit that’s dedicated to equal rights pioneers in New York state. And it spans from about, you know, the 17 hundreds to present day. And what’s a really beautiful thing about that is that we get to share not only Auburn’s story, but when you come inside and you get to see the faces and hear the speeches and see video and news stories about people who were once the voiceless, their voices were heard and they made change, they made progress in the state of New York. So what we really try to do is promote local tourism, but we’re also sharing the history, the education about how we got to where we are currently.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:06 You know, when you’re talking about the abolition of slavery, human rights, the LGBTQ movement, women’s rights, you know, all of this is in under one roof all together, all joined, and it’s a really moving experience to walk through the space. And what I really appreciate about it is that it’s storytelling in the sense that it’s not over inundating. It’s a little snippet here and a little snippet there so that you walk away with some new information and some inspiration, because we really want to encourage you to actually do more research on your own and actually go visit all of these other sites for these change makers in New York state. Um, you know, either lived, were protested, things like that. So it’s really a unique combination of promoting local, regional and statewide tourism and sharing the stories of New York state’s history when it comes to

Courtney Kasper: 12:07 Equality. Yeah, I think that’s great. And I’m sure you’ll have some really good perspective for us in terms of, um, both creativity and collaboration and, um, especially on the collaboration side, when you, when you talk about all of the cultural museums and cultural institutions in Auburn and how you collaborate with them, and then thinking, I love how you talk about promoting local regional statewide, you know, and, and how you can reach across all of those different spheres, if you will. So that this is going to be a great conversation. And I know you’re going to bring some really good insights to us as well. Um, when we talk about challenges because, um, you’ve already faced a few and you mentioned it, you know, when you were telling your story, when you talked about starting out your career in 2008, and then you talked about, you know, um, making some transitions from work at home and where you were in life then, and I just pulled this one quote out that you said, and I want to make sure listeners heard it by that I loved when you said be patient where you are in your place of life.

Courtney Kasper: 13:14 Um, I think that it’s such wonderful advice to be patient where you are, because things do happen for a reason. And I think your story really just proves that out. So my wanted to pull that one out for our listeners, and we’ll dive into some of these questions starting with creativity. And the very first question has to do with how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry can be. There are so many choices of things to do places to visit. Um, as you mentioned, you know, all of these change makers, all these places that we can go, even in New York state, um, to learn about them. So I’m curious what you have done, um, within your role to really help your organizations and out from the crowd.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:02 That’s a good one. So the biggest example that I can share is, again, you know, one of the challenges that we did have, um, was really coming up with an identity for the center, because we are so many things under one roof. You know, we also have a taste New York market within the building. We also have office spaces where the Auburn downtown business improvement district and the cubit County office of tourism are housed in. So it’s a very unique experience. Um, but we, we did have a little bit of a challenge in how do we make ourselves stand out from the crowd while collaborating and promoting, you know, things that we are here to promote, whether it’s local, regional statewide. So we were actually fortunate enough to receive, um, the market New York grant through the empire state development. I love New York program, and we were able to hire a firm actually out of Rochester TGW studio.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:07 And they really worked with us on this very exact question is, is how do we stand out from the crowd, but also still maintain our role of being a tourism promoter. And so they came up with a really beautiful marketing campaign for us, but what it really was about was creating an identity and a logo and a website and Facebook, you know, all the social media channels. So we’ve really been able to use the content that we have in the center, because we’re the only welcome center in the state of New York that has a very specific building name and building component, which is equal rights here in the center and also this equal rights exhibit. So we were really able to take those images, those stories, and create a campaign digitally that brought attention to that. While also coming up with event ideas that celebrated local would attract regional and state because we’re talking about things that resonate with everyone and example would be, you know, instead of like I mentioned before, we have so many cultural and historic institutions, right.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:25 Within all, very, but also regionally, we have three, um, national historical parks, which is really amazing to me. So what we were able to do is say, okay, instead of us all fighting for the same crowds, how do we come together and create collaborative programming where we each participate in, so that we’re really encouraging visitors to visit each of our sites. So a couple of examples of those have been in 2019, we did Harriet Tubman day, which fell on the Sunday, March 10th, that marks, I believe the a hundred and seventh anniversary of her passing. So what we ended up doing was we created this daylong celebration at the heritage center, but we also had programming at next door, Seward house and at the Harriets of a national historical park, so that we’re encouraging visitors to take part in all these places, um, that went over so well that this year.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:24 And we’re so fortunate that we’re able, we were able to actually carry this out right before COVID literally the weekend, before everything shut down, we held Harriet Tubman weekend. And again, it was through the commission that we brought everyone to the table and said, what can we all do to participate? And we had an entire weekend full of events at every site and all varying and the Seward house, um, reported to us that it was the best March programming that they had had an attendance that they had had in the past 10 years. So we know that for us, it means that we all have to come together at the table and create these events where we’re sharing and we’re promoting each other and we’re helping each other. Um, pride is another example last year, the city of Auburn hosted the first ever pride celebration.

Nicole Mahoney: 18:23 And that was, again, a thing where all of our sites came around the table and community members. And we created programming throughout the city of all varied, um, to really get that visibility, but also to celebrate something that was really important and really special for the community. And some of the ways that that made us stand out was it was inspiring to not only see people come from out of town, local celebrating, but the best thing that we thought was locals who had moved away because they didn’t feel necessarily welcomed in that respect being part of the queer community. And they came back to Auburn for the weekend and some of them have even moved back and started businesses in downtown because they saw how welcoming the community was and how much we all came together. So I think it’s really special in this city, um, that we have this commission and a group of site directors that are willing to sit around the table together and come up with these tourism strategies.

Courtney Kasper: 19:28 Yeah, I think that’s, um, that’s just, those are some fantastic examples actually of how you can position yourself. And I really appreciate how you described your challenge being that you have this, uh, building you’re welcome center, but you’re this building that houses several different things, including a taste of New York, including offices, and then including this equal rights heritage exhibit and your building has a name. And so I can see how there’s kind of this challenge of how do we, you know, find our own identity, but then also balance it out with our mission, which is to promote tourism in Auburn, the region and the state. Right? Yeah. Um, yeah, so I think that’s really, really great. And I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about, um, you know, the identity and the website and that digital campaign and the creative side. How, how did that translate, you know, your answer to that question into your messaging?

Nicole Mahoney: 20:32 Yeah, so it was actually when we got the marketing campaign and logo and identity, when we were working on that with the marketing firm, it was actually something that was staring us right in the face. That was a little bit, I think we were making a little bit more difficult on ourselves and they were able to come in and be like, this is who you are. We think, you know, this is your identity. And they created this amazing logo for us. And if you haven’t been to our facility, to the listeners out there, we have in our courtyard, a statue, a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman, and she’s holding a lantern. So they kind of took our identity and mission of being this tourism promoter, but also this kind of beacon for giving voice to those who were once the voiceless in the past. And so our logo is this amazing lantern.

Nicole Mahoney: 21:34 And our tagline is shining a light on Auburn, New York, because really that’s what we’re here doing is shining a light on all of them. There is C and D and Albourne, but also you’ve got a few little things within that logo. The equal rights part is in bars that are an equal sign, the fonts and everything that they use the style hearkens back to protest posters from the seventies that you can see in our center. So it was one of those things that they were able to connect everything under one logo, and it’s extremely powerful. Um, and so we know that under our umbrella of our identity, we’re not only here to promote local, but we’re here to shine a light on the past, present and future, and really kind of hope that when people come into our building and they see this beautiful exhibit, there’ll be inspired and then they’ll want to go actually learn more, visit our sites, visit other sites, to learn more about history.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:39 And we’ve done that within the digital campaign to the branding firm came up with a lot of templates that we could have that really kind of keep our brand identity together, which has the lantern logo, our core colors, which are orange and yellow. And then there’s a different, there’s a whole other little spread of a color palette that you’ll see within our building. Because as you walk through this space, you’ll notice that every movement has its own color coding. For example, green, anything in green is abolition of slavery. Anything in blue is human rights, anything in purple is women’s rights. So they took those colors and implemented those into all of our branding identity, but also threw in some local things. So locally we’re in the high school is the Auburn Maroons. So we have a really beautiful Auburn, maroon color too. So they just were able to weave in all these little things and bring together what we thought was a really big challenge of how do we message all of this that we are, and it’s gone over extremely, extremely well.

Nicole Mahoney: 23:49 You know, we started out with our Facebook page. We started out from the bottom, no followers, and now we’re up to over 2000 followers, which has been great. And also our website. It used to be known as history’s, but now we have our own rebranded website. That’s equal rights,, but also visit Auburn New York dot comes to all of this point to the same direction, but on our website, we’ve also, you know, one of the things that I love that, right, when you go to the first page, it says more than just a welcome center because we are. And I really love that when you click on things throughout the website, it’s very user friendly, but you get to see what’s in our building, but you also get to see what we have here in Auburn. So there’s, you know, an event page of everything going on in the city. There’s a list of things to do places to see a map. So they were really able to make something that we felt was very user friendly and taking all of these kinds of complex elements and roll them into one thing, which is a really simple statement and a really simple logo. That’s extremely powerful.

Courtney Kasper: 25:01 Yeah. That sounds just amazing. And I appreciate you going into all that detail because I think it’s helpful for listeners, you know, to hear kind of the process that you went through, especially if they’re, you know, thinking about, um, maybe their own projects that they’re working on or, um, you know, how they’re standing out or if they’re re you know, really overthinking something. Right. So I think that that’s very helpful to hear your experience. And I just love how, uh, simple, um, you know, your branding sounds in term in terms of, um, how it’s displayed, but how complex it is in terms of all the colors that you brought in and the different symbolism, um, that really represents who you are and from listening to you when I’m hearing, as well as, um, and I’m guessing through that process, you were really able to clarify for yourself and your, you know, and your partners, exactly your position and how you sit and how you explain it. Did you find that from going through this process, it just really kind of made everything gel.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:12 Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that we always do is because we work with all of our, our site partners, we brought this to the table where they are all sitting around and we wanted their input. We wanted their approval before we move forward, because we’re representing them where we’re a tourism hub for the city. So we really wanted their input, their buy in and unanimously everyone loved it because they just thought that it was so simple yet. So powerful and really, you know, has a fresh, modern design. They thought was very attractive, but they thought that, you know, everything that was kind of under this umbrella of what we were trying to say, that we are really did mesh well together. And we’ve seen that happen. You know, we’ve done a couple of campaigns for Harriet Tubman and the market and, and another event we do called holiday traditions and with a new branding, everything just, it made us stand out and it, it, it made us known and shown and people are paying attention and they are visiting us.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:21 You know, we’ve had visitors from all 50 States. We’ve had visitors, international visitors from Germany, China, Japan. Um, so it’s been a really, really amazing first year. You know, we set a goal of 20,000 visitors for our first year. And we were over that, um, at about 22,000 for our first year, which was really exciting for all of our partners to see, because, you know, when people come visit us, we’re there to really say, Hey, you know, go next door to the Seward house and catch that 10:00 AM tour type thing. So we’re able to be there where, and we find that, you know, while there are things out there you can easily look up online, you can Google something. There are people who still want that one on one tourism that kind of concierge experience, and we’re able to do that for them. So our, our sites really do appreciate that.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:17 And, and so far everything has worked out so well too, because, you know, we have the Seward house next door. And also part of our facility, what was built in was, um, side parking for buses, because that was a really big issue within the city. Was there was nowhere for tour buses to really park that was close to the sites. So what we do right now is we work hand in hand with the Seward house for school group tours, everything, and the buses park at our facility, they’re introduced by Seward house staff in our facility given, you know, the kind of rules and guidelines for touring the historic homes. And then they go next door to tour the home. So it’s really been a wonderful partnership. That’s really, really awesome.

Courtney Kasper: 29:04 Or listeners what year? Cause you said your first year, so what year did the center open? Was it 2019?

Nicole Mahoney: 29:10 So we opened November, 2018. So by the end of 2019, we had around 22,000 visitors, which we made our goal, which was really, really wonderful for us. Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That’s great to hear

Courtney Kasper: 29:27 Courtney. I wanted to switch gears just a little bit and we’ve already touched on, uh, on this next question, a little bit in the conversation so far, this is one of my favorite questions to my guests. And given that we are recording this interview in June of 2020, this question brings a whole new meaning to our conversations, but I do find that creativity really does come out strong when we’re faced with an adversity or a challenge. And, uh, you already mentioned, you know, the Harriet Tubman weekends that you were able to pull off the first weekend in March, which is fantastic, and what a great, great opportunity that you have that you’re able to have before, you know, New York on pause started. But I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about what this challenge of the pandemic has meant for your organization and maybe some of the creative ways that you are, you know, navigating through it.

Nicole Mahoney: 30:41 Yeah. It’s, it’s really been an interesting one, especially as you know, for the tourism industry. And it’s really made all of us kind of rethink how we’re going to do things moving forward, especially to boost tourism and bring, bring it back, you know, it’s, it was unfortunate for us because with Harriet Tubman weekend, it was such an amazing outcome. I mean, we, we even partnered with the local hotel and had overnight guests coming up from corny and other areas to stay the night to participate in the weekend. So we were really on a high from that and then COVID head and it’s kind of, we were all a little, okay, how do we move on from here? And a lot of our sites have been amazing at creating digital content and seeing that and talking to them. It’s really interesting because it’s made us all think about, okay, not only do we need to make sure people are when they’re able to come visit us locally, but this is really an advantage that we have moving forward.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:47 Especially when you talk about accessibility is being able to continue offering some sort of virtual digital programming so that people who may never get to visit Allborne can still experience Harriet Tubman’s home Williams, Seward’s home, you know, there’s fine arts center, all of these places. And so what we’re doing now, we are actually going back to work on June 8th and then we are opening up to the public on June 15th. So behind the scenes, we’ve been coming up with our plans, um, you know, we are a city facility, so we’ll be following that. But you know, one of the constant themes throughout all of our, our partners and entities here is that it’s so difficult when you talk about tourism,

Courtney Kasper: 32:36 Want that one on one welcoming connection, how are we going

Nicole Mahoney: 32:40 To still do that behind plexiglass wearing masks, wearing gloves? You know, there’s this kind of very new, strange territory that we’re all in, especially, you know, when you’re in a historic home, how do you protect the collections and the important pieces and you know, how do we social distance and, and make sure our visitors are comfortable and safe. And so are we, so it’s been a really big challenge, especially when you talk about programming because we summer, honestly, for everyone, huge events, the city of Auburn puts on huge summer events. All of our sites do. So, you know, obviously those have all been postponed, but we’ve tried to figure out ways to do them virtually digitally. Um, so it’s kind of one of those things where creativity and collaboration have gone hand in hand where we all kind of sat down and said, well, we can’t do pride the first year and not bring that back because it meant so much to the community.

Nicole Mahoney: 33:40 And last year, you know, we, we had, um, state funding through the market, New York grant for programming. And now, you know, that was the first year. So, and the second year I was on the cusp of doing, getting events, sponsorships, and, you know, working on getting funding to do this programming, but we all felt that it’s so important to us. We’re still putting it on anyway. And we’re working on doing things virtually. But what we’re seeing is that now instead of just one site, you know, like last year Keegan museum did a drag brunch, well, this year it’s going to be a partnership between a local restaurant, um, pure market that’s that started this thing called Dinae inside out where they do a virtual dining experience. You pick up the food or either it’s delivered. And the chef goes through the plating, the process, but this year it’s a collaboration.

Nicole Mahoney: 34:36 The drag brunch is a collaboration between a local restaurant, a local theater and a local museum all coming together to create this one program that has been really special. We’ve all learned how to lean on each other a little bit more for resources. And one of the things that the commission partners have decided to do is we created kind of an ad hoc committee where one person is the chair of a reopening committee, so that all the sites have a shared plan that they can talk about how are they doing this and share that information. But also what we’ve realized that that’s a huge expense is the PPE equipment. You know, a lot of our sites are nonprofits or they’re funded through giving grants. And so they just don’t really have the resources to put all this money that you need to have PBE. So what they decided to do is create this committee where it’s going to be almost like a bulk buy in where, you know, one site is kind of the resource bank and everyone is able to access that so that they can actually share mass share, you know, hand sanitizer, all the cleaning equipment that you need and things like that.

Nicole Mahoney: 35:54 So it’s really been amazing to see how, in times like this, where it’s something that none of us have ever experienced and are navigating somewhat blindly through because it is the first time he experienced that instead of all fighting for the resources that are out there, the grants that are out there, we’re all sharing that information and we’re sharing resources and we’re sharing PPE equipment. So to me, that’s been a really special thing. And to really see, you know, instead of just sitting back and kind of waiting this through really being out there and in fighting to still bring the community programming. And I know that a lot of the sites have seen a huge uptake and their website traffic and also their social media traffic. So that is kind of a little silver lining that’s come out of this. And one of the things that we’ve talked a lot about is this is going to be great because accessibility has been a huge topic of conversation, especially when it comes to websites. And how do you still share and bring content to people who aren’t able to actually maybe physically visit your sites. So there’s been a lot of good to come out of this grave challenge that we’re all facing.

Courtney Kasper: 37:08 So appreciate you pointing that out because it is sometimes hard to, you know, focus on the good or that silver lining. Um, but actually I would go back to what you said early on, which is, uh, be patient with where you are and your place of life right now. So it sounds like the commission, you know, yourself and the commission have followed that right. And being patient with where you are, and really looking for that silver lining, looking for ways that you can work together, um, to get through this and keeping kind of in mind, I loved when you started down, you know, your answer to this question, when you talked about what can we do now, people can’t visit us now, but what can we do now to still serve them, you know, so that when they are ready to visit and it is safe to visit they’ll will be top of mind essentially is what you were saying.

Courtney Kasper: 38:02 And, um, I think all of these examples that you shared are really great ones. I, I love that idea of the virtual dining experience and that partnership between the local restaurant, the theater and the museum. And I’m just curious if you could, maybe you don’t have all the details yet, or if there are more details you can share around that, because it sounds very interesting to me as to how, you know, they’re putting something together. And if I heard you, right, this is as part of your pride celebration, right. And kind of building off of the momentum you started last year,

Nicole Mahoney: 38:32 Right? So last year Cuban museum, it was a first time any of our sites and all Vern had done anything, um, pride related on this type of scale. And they held a drag, brunch, not knowing what the turnout was going to be, not knowing what the response was going to be. And it sold out, um, you know, they, they had more of a response and they expected to, and they had people that came up from New York city to go to the brunch, which it was just amazing to see, you know, we had people come here from New York city from Rhode Island. And like I said, locals that came back that live all over the country. But this year, since we can’t do anything in person, um, pure market, which is a new eatery that just opened up in Auburn, uh, last year. And they were kind of, you know, a local business that said, well, you know, we can’t offer inside dining.

Nicole Mahoney: 39:32 We still have this restaurant, what are we going to do? And they partnered up with different chefs around CNY and they have different dinners. Um, I think almost every weekend and they all have different themes and it’s Thursday and you pick, it’s kind of, you do it through event bright, and you choose what you’d like, if you want the whole meal, you can choose that if you just want like a cheese plate or if you want mimosas, there’s all different kinds of things that they change up for every event. And you just purchase the ticket for what you’d like, and then you can either get it all delivered or local pickup. So what we decided to do with the brunch was to use that kind of platform to host a brunch, which the dining inside out team is going to take care of facilitating the food aspect.

Nicole Mahoney: 40:25 And also the technical aspect of things, because they’ve been doing this and they found, you know, very, they work with, um, some cybersecurity partners to make sure that things are very locked in and only people who are supposed to be there are there. And then what we’re also going to do is have a program of drag Queens that will be there, live kind of bare from the Cuban museum, um, cartels theater to interact with the crowd, but there will also be performances. And right now what we’re working out is are we going to prerecord those performances and play them, or are they going to be live performances? So the technical aspect of actually filming it is something that I know is still being worked on, but the people that are involved in planning, this are all comfortable with it. And they’ve been doing these things. So, you know, it’s the first time for all of us for this, but we’re willing to give it a shot because the community wants it needs it and we still want to provide it. Absolutely. I think that’s so creative and I love that. And keeping that in mind

Courtney Kasper: 41:34 Too, this is new for everyone there. You know, there’s a lot of experimentation happening right now with virtual events and people are being very creative and, um, I just love the, the dining inside out with the chef on zoom. Sounds really awesome. And adding in that entertainment is super creative. So yeah, I appreciate you, you know, really diving into that for us.

Nicole Mahoney: 41:59 Yeah. And one of the things that I think is so interesting that’s happening as all Republic theater started doing programming because you’re able to socially distance and remain in your cars and drive ins. So they’ve been showing films, they had their first one this past Wednesday and they had a live music performance. And then they did a film showing and it went off amazing. They had over a hundred cars there and the space fits 400, but it’s so interesting to me because I’ve never even been to a drive in that the popularity of that was before my time. But I am excited to do that because we were able, that’s the one event that we’re kind of able to do in person for pride, which we’ll be doing. Um, I believe it’s Wednesday, June 24th, we’ll be doing an interfaith pride service like we did last year out at the drive in prior to a film showing of Victor Victoria. And so we’re, so we’re all gonna kind of do a little car parade throughout town, driving pass all of our sites that will be decorated with pride flags. And, uh, we have these knitted rainbow wraps that were done by a knitting group from the Schweinfurth art center that we put around town. And then we’re all gonna drive out to the drive in. So that’s a whole other, you know, new experience that I’m excited for because it’s just, it’s taking something that’s already there and repurposing it with these new, innovative ideas that I’m really enjoying.

Courtney Kasper: 43:25 Yeah, that’s amazing. I love it. So Courtney, this has been an awesome conversation and I knew it would be, um, I have one more question I want to ask before, before I let you go. And I always like to make sure that we touch on collaboration. That was not a concern with this conversation. Cause I started collaboration all the way through everything that you do seems to be, you know, some portion of what you do and the success that you have has to do with collaboration, which I think is just fantastic. But I’m curious if you have any words of wisdom or best practices that you can share with our listeners that have helped you in your collaborations and, and make them more successful.

Nicole Mahoney: 44:15 I think for us, because, you know, I represent one entity, that’s the tourism hub, but I do also admin the commission. And so for me, the biggest piece of advice and thing that I think that has worked the best for our group is that you have to bring all the key players around the table and you have to have a conversation and you have to be inclusive open-minded and you have to listen and you have to create plans together. That works for the good of everyone, not just, you know, a self serving competitive sense to me, the future of tourism is not necessarily all the, you know, all sites and places competing against each other, but how do we cross promote? I think that’s the biggest, biggest thing that has really, really worked well for the city of Alberry so much so that our local paper did a story on how all of our sites collaborate. And we’ve gotten a lot of praise even through the museum association of New York, for the collaboration that we, that we do. We were accepted to do a presentation at their conference to talk about exactly that the power of partnership that’s the biggest thing that I would say is, you know, they can’t just be one person or one entity attracting the crowd, you know, being the, the site that you want, everyone to come to, you all have to work together. We have to cross promote. We have to share.

Courtney Kasper: 45:56 Yeah, absolutely. Um, I couldn’t agree more and I think coming out of this pandemic, uh, it’s going to become even more important that we do all of that cross promotion and really lean into what you called the power of partnership. And you’re already seeing it with the work that you’re doing as you’re reopening. When you talked about your ad hoc committees and you talked about, you know, the work that you’re doing on keeping the programming alive, uh, through this and the creative, the creativity and the innovation that’s happening. And I, I, I do believe you’re going to see more and more of that as we come out of the pandemic and into, you know, people call a new normal. I I’m hoping that part of that new normal is going to be more and more partnerships.

Nicole Mahoney: 46:44 Yeah. And I’ll say, you know, that also extends to, we do a Saturday market, which farmer’s markets are essential. So we are able to carry that on. Although it’s going to look very different than last year when we had, you know, a live band every Saturday, we had kids entertainment, you know, we were not able to do those things. We have to keep it very strict. And that has been a challenge itself is how do you still put on a farmer’s market with all these guidelines? But I will say, you know, that partnership and collaboration extends all the way to outside of our site partners, but also our community partners, all the vendors that we work with have been extremely accepting of all the new rules and guidelines. And, you know, they’re happy just to be there participate because it was such a good experience for them.

Nicole Mahoney: 47:31 So our first one is June 20th. So, you know, we know that we’ll probably start with one set of guidelines and as things change, we’ll adjust, but we’re excited just to get the doors back open and, you know, really figuring out what that looks like in some of the things that we’re going to be doing. You know, we do lead tours throughout the space. We know we can’t necessarily do that at first. So we’re creating a, like a self guide tour sheet that we’ll hand out to guests as they come in so that they can take the tour around themselves that have a guide to follow along as if we were giving them a tour. And, you know, we’re, we’re making different adjustments to, to all of our programs, like the Saturday market that we know we have to create a new experience, but it has to be safe for everyone.

Nicole Mahoney: 48:19 And, and we’re just hoping that, you know, we see a good turnout. Absolutely. I am sure you will, because I know people are excited to get out and do something other than work from home and stay home. And finally, you know, it’s not snowing, so enjoy it. Yes, that’s right. Everybody wants to get outdoors. Brittany, thank you so much for sharing so much and being so transparent with us. I really appreciate your insight and we’ll definitely look forward to catching up with you again. Great. I appreciate it so much, Nicole, thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to tell you about our influencer ebook that gives you the inside. Look at how my agency break the ice media implements influencer marketing for our tourism clients. The book goes into detail on all of the tools that we use to find that niche manage and measure influencers. You’ll find information on key follower benchmarks. How did that influence your channels? Getting your destination partners on board, creating itineraries, managing influencer expectations and measuring for ROI. Visit break the ice forward slash influencers to download the full ebook that’s break the ice forward slash influencers.

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