Interview With Jeff GoodmanFebruary 21, 2018
Why does everyone still say Taliesin West is still such a great secret in AZ when so many people come from out of state?
Taliesin West attracts 110,000 visitors each year, and nearly 80% of them come from out of state. A National Historic Landmark, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home is widely considered to be one of the most important architectural sites in the world. I think there are a couple of different reasons why we don’t see more enthusiasm from local audiences. First, for a long time, Taliesin West was considered very insular, a place where you could come to take a tour and leave. Also, we are all more inclined to be explorers when we are on vacation in another location than when we have all of the structure and responsibilities of being at home. We tend to consider visiting local attractions only when we have out of town guests.
To those ends, we have changed how we do business at Taliesin West over the past couple of years. We consider Taliesin West to be a resource to the community; we have hosted other nonprofits and organizations here, and want to show we intend to be good partners in fostering a community that values arts & culture. We also have begun offering more opportunities to experience the site, including live theatre and music performances, a speakers series called Taliesin Next, and a more diverse tour program. Stay tuned for even more events at Taliesin West. We want people to not only come visit once, but to check in regularly to see what is happening here.
You have had a tremendous impact on the FLW (Taliesin West) communications externally…when you came aboard what were your first moves?
I think there were two things that made an impact quickly. First, I changed the way we approached our digital (online) communication. We became very active on social media in a way that engaged and grew our community. I specifically use the word “community” versus other marketing terms like “audience” or “targets.” My approach to social media, in particular, is that it is a tool that helps us build relationships. That means we can’t make the messages only about us, but, rather, join in a conversation with others who share our passion for Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, organic architecture, and great design. That means we don’t constantly communicate about what YOU can do for us, but rather build authentic relationships. Just as you don’t want to be friends with someone who is always asking you to do things for them, people in our networks don’t want to be “advertised” to. This means that, in addition to sharing our thoughts, we listen and respond too. We also understand that we are incredibly privileged to work in these incredible buildings. I, personally, feel a responsibility to share that privilege with our community, posting pictures and video that they might not otherwise get to see, for example.
In return, we have developed a much larger, more deeply engaged community of people, and they have raised awareness of our work and advocated on our behalf. The other change we made is being more proactive in reaching out to the media and inviting them up here. If a news crew wants to come up to shoot Taliesin West on a Sunday, we make it happen. If a director is interested in seeing the location for a potential shoot, we invite her up. As a nonprofit, we don’t have a large advertising budget. What we do have, however, is incredibly beautiful architecture and nature to photograph. So, we need to take advantage of that to generate as much earned media as possible. If that means staying late at night to allow night footage, coming in early or on the weekends, we do it. We accommodate getting the media on site with cameras, because that helps us get the word out in a way we could never afford to buy. For example, last year Taliesin West was featured during the 4th Quarter of a Sunday Night Football game, reaching 24 million people, and the popular ABC program, What Would You Do, starring John Quiñones filmed an entire episode here. Those are two national television shows on which we could never afford to buy advertising. Making ourselves approachable and available has allowed us to reach a lot of new audiences.
What highlights since joining? Any lowlight?
It sounds sappy to say, but the highlight for me every day is arriving at Taliesin West. It re-inspires me daily to walk the campus and experience what Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices created here. One of the greatest accomplishments since joining the Foundation has been the success of our media outreach campaign celebrating the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth on June 8, 2017. We decided to use the milestone to share Wright’s work and ideas with new communities, and we partnered with Wright sites across the country to get the word out. Initially, my boss set a goal for me that the campaign should reach around 20 million people (a daunting figure for someone who has spent most of his career in nonprofits). Well, we didn’t reach 20 million people. We reached around 1.5 BILLION people in a span of 6 weeks. This achievement proved what we already know: Frank Lloyd Wright is as relevant today (if not more so) than he was in his own lifetime, and people are deeply interested in his work, his life, and his ideas.
What are the basic things you do to reach donors?
Our approach to fundraising is the same as our approach to marketing. It is also about relationships. There are people out there who share our passion for the mission. We have the privilege and responsibility of caring for these buildings and Wright’s legacy, and there are many people out there who want to their difference in the world by helping to advance and share this work. So, we don’t look at fundraising as asking for handouts. We want to build relationships with people who are looking to make a difference and provide them with the opportunity to be a part of this work. For some, that may mean volunteering, sharing our posts on social media, becoming a member of the Foundation, or bringing a friend to visit a Wright site. Those are all incredibly important things that support our work. For others, it may mean writing a check once, setting up a recurring donation, or remembering the Foundation in an estate plan. We sincerely hope that, however people find a way to participate in our mission, they get satisfaction in making a difference in our community and the world.
Key marketing and communications tactics to execute on in 2018?
As I mentioned, 2017 was a milestone year for the Frank Lloyd Wright ecosystem, with sites across the country joining forces to reach people around the world. In 2018, we hope to sustain those partnerships and reach, to begin looking forward to the next 150 years and beyond. From that standpoint, as an organization, we will continue to build programming to offer new ways to experience Wright’s work, create new education opportunities for kids and adults, and develop new content to continue building relationships with new and diverse communities around the world. That’s what we do as an organization; then, in marketing, we work our tails off (what Wright called “adding tired to tired”), to make sure people know about and feel a part of it.