Marketing Intern Blog – A packed summer

30 September 2015

Hi I'm Madeline. When I decided to apply for this internship at Stowe, the primary task on the job listing was “to promote and assist in the Grand Opening of a new Welcome and Discovery Centre”. I went ahead and applied, with the full knowledge that, although I’d promoted art exhibitions before, I have no ‘official’ background in marketing. Or advertising. I would be a little out of my depth. When I interviewed, I was completely upfront about this. I talked about my experience in the heritage sector, my work on tailoring tours and exhibitions to different audiences, but I admitted that I’ve never taken a marketing class. I applied for this job purely because I recognised that weakness  and, if I want to work with newly transforming and opening heritage sites, those are skills I’m going to need. Also because I believed, and still do, that at its heart, marketing and advertising is about customer service. I’ve worked as a waitress and a barista, and also I’m a loyal Chick-fil-A customer, so I like to think I’ve got an understanding of service. And somehow, that explanation worked, and so I plunged into a world of press releases and radio interviews.

Let me explain my views on customer service. Customer service is about trying to anticipate and fill that need  even if it isn’t strictly what’s for sale.

I took this approach to Stowe. Stowe is a country house, a heritage site. The Thames Valley is covered with them. From an operational standpoint, then, the goal is to fulfil a need that no other local heritage site is taking care of. The tricky part of my task is that I wasn’t organising any event. I wasn’t putting on any activities or exhibitions. My job was to take what was already scheduled, and explain to potential visitors how our events best suited their needs. In short, I had to understand what the audience was looking for  even if they didn’t realise that they were looking for it  and then find something that Stowe is already doing, that answers their search. It was like a puzzle; all the pieces were there, and they just had to be paired up.

I was fortunate that Stowe does, in fact, offer something entirely different from most country houses. Beyond simply the history and story of the House and the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, Stowe has its own character. It’s a school, not a museum. It isn’t filled with antique furniture and precious artefacts. There are no velvet ropes; you can sit on the chairs. And what do visitors need? They need a holiday, not a tense affair. They want to explore, unencumbered, without a guide hurrying them along. They want the kids to learn, but not have to be on their best behaviour  it is summer, after all. They want a heritage visit without all the rules, and Stowe offers that.

So, in advertising the Grand Opening, those are the pieces that I tried to connect. All of the grand goals that visitors want: to learn, to be enriched, to see something beautiful  with the comforts that they need: being able to sit, move at their own pace, let the kids touch the walls. Everything else in marketing was simply learning new skills. I learned how to make media contacts, how to write press releases and work with photographers and journalists. I learned how to create newsletters and manage databases, how to book banner space and use Adobe Illustrator. But all of that was secondary. The primary skill, as always, was serving the customer.

And I guess it worked, because on Sunday, at our Grand Opening, we had nearly quadruple the number of visitors that we expected. We even ran out of hot water for tea.