John Rodman, director of museum experience at the Preservation Society of Newport County, recently earned the Marketer of the Year Award at this year’s Nonprofit Marketing Conference. Rodman, who has worked at the society since 1999, led the museum’s marketing team to achieve its highest visitation growth in a decade last year. Under his tenure, the Newport Mansions have become one of the four most visited museums in New England.
Rodman spent many years in the journalism field, working as a correspondent for NBC and CBS Radio, and more recently as assistant secretary of environmental affairs for the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
He discusses his current role and what inspires him as a marketer.
PBN: What do you attribute the society’s recent visitation growth to?
RODMAN: Three things: the first is four years of consecutive new programming – audio tours, and a new servant life guided tour – [which] gave [people] a lot more freedom to tour the houses and introduced huge amounts of new information and new themes. The second factor was a dramatic shift to digital and social media – that was the work of our media buyer Jennifer Little. The third thing was we had the ability to bring the visitors services team into the planning for the new visitor experience, so they had an ownership of the new concept.
PBN: From investigative journalism to government policy, you have a pretty varied professional experience – what made you decide to work in the nonprofit museum sector?
RODMAN: It seemed like the one thing I hadn’t done. It was simply just a remarkably exciting opportunity when it was presented to me. I’m fascinated by how people learn about new things and try them. The new project we’re working on at the Breakers – this welcome center – is an important next step in how we get people to learn about Newport and then experience it. It’s projects like the welcome center that were clearly in the future for the preservation society that made me want to come here and be part of what was going to happen.
PBN: What inspires you from a marketing perspective?
RODMAN: I guess the most exciting element is seeing people respond to our messages, visit the houses and merge with an excitement and joy that we have as the people who work here. All you have to do is go to TripAdvisor and you will see people write such great things about their Newport Mansions experience; claims that I would be embarrassed to make up as a marketing guy. [Also] … I covered the Reagan White House and nobody did it better than Ronald Reagan. Truth. I covered the Clinton White House too. He was pretty good as well. •