An Infinitely Renewable Resource
It was at the end of a hot, steamy day in Orlando. We spent this day touring a group of about a dozen clients through our work at SeaWorld, and then Discovery Cove. While everyone was being gracious, I could tell that they were all nearing the end of their energy. And as the organizer of this tour, I was getting concerned.
“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” – Denis Diderot
And then we encountered a dolphin trainer at the edge of Discovery Cove’s interaction pool. She wasn’t just outgoing – her enthusiasm for her job literally flowed from her into us. There was no doubt that she was PASSIONATE. We were all captivated and re-energized by her.
And then I realized that PASSION is contagious.
I’ve seen it before, literally thousands of times. Passion in the general manager of a theme park… in a guide at the Grand Canyon… in an interpreter at a living history museum… in literally hundreds of participants at TIA’s Annual Marketing Outlook Forum. Every time you come in contact with this type of passion, you can’t help but take some of it home with you.
Passion is the lifeblood that courses through the veins of this industry. When you have a great experience at a destination, it’s because there are people who are sharing their passion with you, either directly or behind-the-scenes.
Because passion is contagious, it can be an infinitely renewable resource. We especially benefit from this within our practice. Our client’s passion rubs off on us, we bring our passion to them, and together this creates a platform from which great ideas can flow.
“Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth it’s spark.” – Henri-Frederic Amiel
What role does passion play in your organization? How does it energize and inspire your staff? How do you share it with your visitors? This issue will explore many dimensions of the passion we find: in Peter Raven, a destination leader who shares his vision with the world; in Dan Maloney and the staff at the Audubon Zoo, whose commitment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is inspiring; in Dick Chegar and his persistence with us in the highs and lows of the creative process; and in Ken Bubp, who along with CEO Ellen Rosenthal and the staff at Conner Prairie are innovators in techniques for visitor engagement.
Missouri Botanical Garden
What brought you to the Garden?
Three of my professors trained here, and I knew it as a center for botanical scholarship on a world scale. It would be more interesting than an academic post, and I relished the idea of the complexity.
How has the Garden kept you for 35 years?
The position has been close to perfect. On balance, I’ve been able to do as much as I could anywhere, and the community has been tremendously supportive all of these years.
How did your passion for plants develop?
As a small boy, around seven years old, I began reading about insects. I collected butterflies and beetles and was nurtured by the Student Section at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Gradually, my interest shifted to diverse native plants of California, which I collected with a passion. I went from a Berkeley AB to UCLA graduate school and nine years in Stanford University Department of Biological Sciences. Eventually, I learned that plants and animals were being destroyed by human activity, and that rapid population growth, consumption and inappropriate technology were harming the world. I’ve consistently tried to promote knowledge about the living world to assist in sustainable development.
How does the Garden manifest this passion on a daily basis?
Plants equal life: without them we would be dead. No food, fewer medicines, no energy–a very different, dead world. Plants, along with algae and bacteria, have the capacity to capture a proportion President of the Missouri Botanical Garden of energy from the sun, that bombards the surface of the Earth, and transfer that energy into chemical bonds to support us.
How do you balance worldwide research and a local destination?
Our mission reads, “To discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.” In St. Louis, we teach people about plants and the communities of which they are such a critical part. Around the world, we empower people with knowledge to improve their lives; we train and support them, and their career institutions. We’re all in this together, and we act on that relationship.
As a Time Magazine Hero of the Planet, Chair of the National Geographic Committee For Research and Exploration, and Honorary Doctorate from Yale, how does it feel to be celebrated?
I try to use prestige and connections to strengthen service to causes in which I believe. Honors depend on whole families, literally and figuratively, of supportive people, and I’m blessed by wonderful friends and professional colleagues. I try to encourage people to do the best they can and make contributions.
What would be your three wishes for the future?
World peace. Social justice for all. A sustainable world (peace and justice are necessary to attain sustainability).
Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences
Chief Operating Officer
“Engagement” is a word of universal significance for those of us seeking to attract guests, whether a zoo, a museum, or a theme park. At Conner Prairie, an outdoor immersion history museum near Indianapolis, we have long been searching out ways to make this often elusive “engagement” idea – where guests connect with our experiences in a deep, meaningful, and enjoyable way—a living and daily reality.
The road has not always been pleasant, but it certainly has been rewarding.
In 2000, we came to the painful realization that we were not reaching our potential. We had begun to thoroughly examine the extensive visitor research we had been collecting in prior years, some of the richest audience research in the museum field. We saw a significant gap between the experiences we were delivering and the possibilities for engaging our guests. We found that our efforts to tell authentic stories often became an obstacle to putting guests in the center of the experience. We rely heavily on people to connect with our guests, as we field 40 or more staff members each day. This meant that we faced a sizable challenge: redesigning how we delivered experiences and retraining staff to see their work in fundamentally different ways.
We borrowed any good ideas we could find, whether they were from theme parks or science museums or retail clothing operations. We developed new training programs. We restructured how we deployed staff on a daily basis. We engaged in a far ranging institutional conversation about what it meant to put guests in the center. In the end, we created an approach to delivering great guest experiences we call “Opening Doors.”
And then we examined our work to see if it met the ultimate test: our guests.
And respond they did. Subsequent learning research has shown an impressive increase in both guest learning and satisfaction. One teacher put it this way: “Before, our visits were always good. But now they are great, really incredible! This has been the best experience we’ve had by far.”
Along the way, we developed a training resource to help other free-choice learning organizations like zoos, history museums, and science centers better engage their guests through staff interaction. We call it Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences. It includes a 90-minute DVD and an interactive CD-ROM with nearly three dozen training exercises. After only three months on the market, we’ve already shipped hundreds of copies to 47 states and 6 countries.
In the process of really listening to what our guests were saying, we created a new path for the museum. But we know we can’t rest on our laurels. In the dynamic universe of changing guest expectations, resting is certainly not a success strategy. So we keep looking for ways to listen to our guests, to improve our products, and to deliver great guest experiences.
Glass in the Garden: A Shot in the Dark
“Glass in the Garden: Chihuly at the Missouri Botanical Garden” was a wildly successful exhibition that exceeded all attendance and revenue projections. Key to its success was exhaustive planning, a major shift in operating dynamics and extraordinary enthusiasm for the project. Readiness involved a Garden planning team making careful “collective best guesses” to estimate capacity, ticket pricing, infrastructure changes and staffing needs.
Missouri Botanical Garden is considered one of the top three botanical institutions in the world. While highly respected for its scientific research in more than 30 countries, the Garden beautifully maintains 79 acres and serves 750,000 visitors annually. Funded in part by a special taxing district, the Garden is unable to increase admission prices for an exhibition. The solution for Chihuly was to house two-thirds of the exhibit in the Climatron Conservatory, where a separate admission could be charged.
Staff created a mock exhibit, complete with strollers, wheelchairs and surprise elements to determine how many guests could comfortably navigate the Climatron. Based upon PGAV recommendations, ticket pricing was split to address supply (capacity) and demand (higher expected attendance on weekends).
Substantial improvements were made for ingress, egress and parking. Mandatory weekly operations meetings identified needs and tracked decisions throughout the exhibition. These meetings were essential to determine timelines, deadlines and accountability, and proved to be critical for rapid and creative responses to unexpected challenges.
Along with additional temporary staff, more than 230 volunteers dedicated over 4,000 hours to assist with ticketing and entertaining guests waiting in line. Volunteers manned an educational cart about Dale Chihuly and the art of glass blowing. These extra efforts and initiatives were designed to enhance the Visitor Experience.
Glass in the Garden was virtually an overnight success. Each week, more people enjoyed the experience; many came repeatedly. Chihuly Nights tickets were capped at 2,500 per evening, which resulted in sold-out status for five of the eight months of the exhibition. Eventually, a second Chihuly Night and timed tickets were implemented. With twice the number of guests, the Climatron entry process was streamlined, exhibit hours were extended and doors were opened early.
Attendance exceeded the business plan by a whopping 140% and revenue was several times higher than expected. Chihuly merchandise sales outperformed all other venues, including New York and London, in every sales category and was second to Miami in glass sales.
“This exhibition clearly appealed to members and regular fans who are passionate about the Garden,” reflects Dr. Peter Raven, President of Missouri Botanical Garden. “But something magical happened when we combined a love of art with a passion for plants.”
The Axis of Passion
In his excellent book, Lovemarks – the Future Beyond Brands, Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi and Saatchi gives us a tool to understand the key emotions that dictate deep connections to brands. This tool, called the Love/Respect Axis, helps us to quantify the strength of a brand relationship.
Applying Roberts’ principles to destinations, we have re-purposed this concept to the and Trust diagram shown below. Here’s how it works:
Trust: Just as we might have great trust in our banks, certain destinations score highly on the trust axis. Museums, for instance, usually enjoy strong trust among their visitors – we know the information they present is likely to be well researched, and relatively accurate. But are we always passionate about our museums?
Passion: Certain destinations score well on the passion axis, just as a fad like beanie babies may draw strong attention – at least for a while. Some people are powerfully drawn to roller coasters, and will travel from coast to coast to ride the latest, fastest, highest, and most outrageous coasters. But is this about trust?
– Probably not.
According to Roberts, products that fall in the lower left quadrant for both of these axes are commodities, competing with many other similar products with low prices and small margins. We steer our clients away from this realm.
Rather, aspire to the upper right quadrant for both axes, where both trust and passion are strong. Imagine a historic site that builds on its existing trust equity by inspiring passion in their guest. Imagine a zoo that builds on the passion that visitors have for certain animals with trust, perhaps leveraged by their worldwide conservation programs.
Your brand is an expression of your relationship with your consumer. Build a lasting love affair with them by creating strong trust and deep passion through strong communications, powerful experiences, consistently high levels of service, and yes, the occasional, delightful surprise.
Hunting for Great Ideas
Major General Richard Chegar, US Army (Ret.)
The Patton Museum Foundation
In November, I had the great fortune to go pheasant hunting with some friends from the Patton Museum Foundation. None of the dogs, handlers or hunters (in priority) was injured; excellent considering 75% of us were rank amateurs at best. We were also afforded the opportunity to purchase pheasant sausage from a nearby “stuffer,” though our actual kill was likely to be passed on to other hunters in a week or two. It was terrific sausage and has made great gifts, but the thrill was definitely in the hunting!
Imagine my surprise when shortly upon my return I was asked to write an article on “sausage making” for this periodical. It was deflating to realize that my hunting prowess had nothing to do with the request, but rather my two-day participation with PGAV as we shot away the feathers of our earlier work and stuffed the final product into the Patton Museum’s Master Plan.
Shooting pheasant over a trained dog is a pleasure much akin to dreaming about a great museum attracting national attention and telling the right story. Actually stuffing dead pheasant parts into an intestine is very similar to spending a grinding day with my talented friends at PGAV! Frustration, irritation, rejection, exhaustion, depression and thoughts of vast amounts of wasted time, energy and money populated my first day of the exercise! Where was my shotgun when I
actually needed it!
Fred Guyton was stranded in Spain, so Mike Konzen and company slipped me off to a great restaurant to see if food and drink could clear our fogged brains. Too much food combined with too much frustration made for a miserable, sleepless, $250 night at the Hilton as I contemplated sharing my failure with the Patton Museum Foundation trustees.
The next morning as we stared in our coffee cups unwilling to engage in eye-to-eye contact, Mike Konzen described the experience he wanted whenever he walked into a great museum. Bang! We were no longer stuffing sausage, we were shooting gorgeous pheasants in the morning sun! The ideas flowed, the birds were carefully arranged and by noon, we had a product that was tantalizing and tied our new and old ideas together beautifully.
So if you happen to have contracted with this extraordinary firm and they mention “sausage stuffing,” remember that the “pheasant hunting” comes last in their scheduling!
Survival at the Audubon Zoo
“Miami Metro Zoo’s 1992 Hurricane Andrew experience taught us the value of preparation and the unpredictable nature of disaster,” explains Dan Maloney, Vice President and General Curator of the Audubon Zoo, part of the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. “Still, we could not know the extent of civil breakdown and social challenges we would face with Hurricane Katrina.”
The Audubon Zoo assembled a 15-person, dedicated team, willing to be exposed to risk and fortified by the motto that they would stay behind in a disaster because the animals in their care could not leave. Planning involved being prepared for two weeks of potential isolation.
When Katrina hit, the team functioned like extended family, passionate about their mission, hunkered down in the Reptile House. When the team surfaced from their bunker, they found generations-old trees downed and buildings damaged. Four of 1500 creatures had perished. Meanwhile, much of the city was collapsing. Satellite and cell phone communication was limited; contact with family members was nearly impossible.
A common question is about animal reactions. “Their world involves watching us, as much as we watch them,” says Maloney. “One reason we invited the National Guard to stage at the zoo was to create activity, because human body language, noises and smells are part of their normal landscape.”
Maloney explains that the zoo was mercifully spared looters and trespassers. While they were prepared to defend themselves and the animals, public rumors told of wild animals running loose in the zoo. Most of the downtown Aquarium animals died, the Audubon Golf House was occupied by firefighters and the Tea Room became a chapel for the Guard. The zoo was closed August 29 to November 25.
Re-opening on Thanksgiving weekend proved to be an inspired choice, proposed by CEO Ron Forman. The three-day event took on great significance as a reunion for friends and families, some traveling together for the first time since being dispersed. The opportunity to visit favorite animals allowed both children and adults to experience some precious normalcy. “It was very moving, with over 60,000 guests feeling relieved and grateful,” reports Maloney.
Audubon Zoo was only open on weekends for the first few months. A core staff worked everything, from the front gate to concessions, always looking out for the welfare of the animals. Today, there is less staff than before the hurricane, but Audubon is working toward recovery. Visitors come for enjoyment and comfort, knowing the Audubon Zoo will continue to be a favorite destination in the Gulf South, with the Louisiana Swamp exhibit’s unique white alligator, its open African and Asian habitats, and lush garden landscapes.