PRAM at #AAM2016

2016 American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting

Washington DC, Thursday, May 26–Sunday, May 29

PRAM Essentials and Highlights:

With more than 6,000 attendees and 400 session choices, AAM’s annual meeting can be overwhelming–but it can also be the best professional development week of your year. Without further ado, here’s your essential PRAM guide to AAM 2016.

Thursday, May 26:

Start by checking in, and grab your badge (you’ll need it) and download the fantastic AAM conference app to manage your schedule. Take a selfie (tag #AAM2016 and @AAMers!), and settle in for...

  • 8:45 AM: Selfies are everywhere, and these super-savvy presenters have discovered how to connect with visitors using #selfieculture. It’s Kim Kardashian’s world, we’re all just living in it.
    (Using Selfie Culture to Engage Audiences; room 147B)
  • Lunch: Check out Busboys and Poets a beloved community landmark with a vast menu and a thriving activist bookstore, Mandu for fast and healthy Korean, or Taylor Gourmet for mouth-watering sandwiches – all a 5 minute walk away.   
  • 1 PM: Who are your audiences? Who COULD BE your audiences? Colleagues from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater share how they turned a challenging historic home into a haven for new visitors with unique needs.
    (Social Responsibility and Accessibility at Fallingwater; room 150)
  • 2:45 PM: Social media is a powerful tool for change, if you know how to harness it. Break out your smartphones to livetweet brilliant ideas for social advocacy from AAM’s social media team and their 130,000+ strong audience.
    (Using Your Power: Social Media for Advocacy; head upstairs to room 203)
  • 3:30 PM: We all cringe at the “b-word”–BLOCKBUSTER–but D.C.’s National Building Museum creates spectacles that stay on-mission, like last year’s headline-making Beach (think ballpit-on-steroids). Get insider tips on their success for the next time the “b-word” comes up at your institution. 
    (The Power of Spectacle: Reflecting on the Summer Blockbuster; stay in the same room 203)
  • 6 PM: Hop on the Metro (3 stops) or walk (20 minutes) to the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for the PRAM/DAM welcome reception, always a conference highlight. Bask in the critically-acclaimed exhibition “Robert Irwin: All the Rules Will Change,” and be sure to enter the museum swag raffle! Tix are required.
Whew! Get a good night’s sleep. Your brain earned it.  

Friday, May 27:

Stop at Chinatown Coffee or La Colombe for some pre-conference java, which will get you amped for...

  • 8:45 AM: Great things come from Scotland–Braveheart, kilts, whiskey, and a passion for supporting public institutions. Scottish museums understand how to be truly community-driven–could this happen in the U.S.?
    (Public Participation in Scotland: Museums Are Part of It!; room 145B)
  • 10:30 AM: It’s George Clooney! Just kidding, it’s a keynote by an even more fascinating speaker, Robert Edsel. Edsel is the activist and author behind The Monuments Men, which was turned into a Hollywood film starring (you guessed it) George Clooney.
    (General Session; Ballroom)
  • Lunch: Meet up with friends you met at last night’s reception and venture out to Chinatown’s bustling food scene (a 10 minute walk south), featuring popular chains such as Nando’s Peri Peri and Vapiano’s or DC icons such as Matchbox Pizza and Dangerously Delicious Pies.
  • 2 PM: Swing dance! Craft beer! Trivia nights! Adults crave creative outlets, too, and museums are ideally positioned to provide them. Learn the secrets to working together to dial up the fun factor.(Totems, Yarn Bombs and Swing: Fostering Adult Creativity; room 152) 
  • 3:30 PM: Venture into the vast exhibition hall to find the Marketplace of Ideas, where PRAM experts will convene for guided conversations on PR, crisis communications, hashtags, and career development. Bring your burning questions and business cards, and prepare to make some quality connections.
  • 5 PM: Walk 2 blocks east to let loose at PRAM’s happy hour at Baby Wale, a hub of D.C.’s fantastic restaurant scene. Don’t forget to check out its décor of vintage 70’s Go-Go posters. (For the uninitiated, Go-Go is DC’s unique take on funk music. If you know Chuck Brown, you know Go-Go). 
  • 7:30 PM: Looking for an after (political) party? The Newseum’s campaign-themed “Night at the Newseum: Like, Share, Elect” gets our vote, with a multimedia celebration worthy of the politicos on House of Cards. Shuttle buses depart the convention center at 7:30, returning at 9:30 and 10 p.m.  

Saturday, May 28:

Sleep in! Jog around the National Mall! Recover from last night with cold-pressed juice from JRINK! And then dive right back in with...

  • 11 AM: For all intents and purposes, pop culture is our culture, period. Don’t fight it. Winter is coming. Instead, use the hottest trends in music, gaming, film, and TV to earn #love, grow visitors and stay relevant.
    (Zeroing in on the Zeitgeist: Leveraging Pop Culture; room 147B)
  • 12:30 PM: Don’t miss the intimate PRAM lunch, which includes a delicious treat: hearing from Sarah Pharaon of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on how to make your institution essential to the lives of its visitors. Registration was required. Visit the Online Ticket Exchange to check for tickets. (PRAM Luncheon; Marriott Marquis Salons 7 and 8)
  • 2 PM: Are you tapping into the marketing might of your local Convention & Visitors Bureaus? Money, expertise, and eager tourists await, if you only knew how to begin! Luckily, Virginia museums are here to present best practices.
    (Marketing Matters: Museums as Cultural Tourism Destinations; room 147B)
  • 3:45 PM: Sit back, relax, and get inspired at a quick-fire and engaging journey through the best, newest ideas from around the PRAM world. Get there early, this session always fills up!
    (75 Ideas in 75 Minutes: Fresh Ideas for Audience Engagement; room 103A)
  •  5 PM: #DrinkingAboutMuseums is a boisterous meet-up that combines two of our favorite things. . .drinking and talking about museums. Walk to Capital City Brewing Company to join Museum Map, a national group of museum pros driving innovation in the field, for a special edition #drinkingaboutmuseums that will probably go until late. (Capital City Brewing Company)
  • 7:30 PM: P-A-R-T-Y! And boy, do museum people know how to get down. The official party is at the National Museum of Natural History on the north side of the National Mall, a brisk 20-minute walk or Metro ride (Archives stop). ProTip, don’t bring a bag and you’ll breeze through security. Dress code: “exploration best.”

Sunday, May 29:

Yes, it’s early, but roll out of bed and throw on a cape for...

  • 8:45 AM: Comic-Con is legendary for rabid fans, eager lines and buzz-worthy costumes. Two intrepid museum staffers went undercover, returning with innovative ideas to transform casual museum-goers into zealous museum-geeks.
    (Comic-Con: How Museums Can Create Super Fans, Room 206)
  • 10:15 AM: AAM has planned a powerhouse final keynote. David Rubenstein is a mega-philanthropist who saved the Washington Monument (and the Lincoln Memorial, and pandas), Dr. David Skorton is the new leader of the largest museum complex in the world, and Mo Rocca reaches millions on CBS Sunday Morning. Mind, blown. (General Session; ballroom)

Don’t forget to share all your thoughts through tag #AAM2016 and @AAMers!

Hope you all enjoy this amazing event and see you in St. Louis for #AAM2017!

Download a PDF of this PRAM Essentials and Highlights 

Q&A with PRAM Luncheon Speaker Sarah Pharaon

Join the Public Relations and Marketing Professional Network (PRAM) on Saturday, May 28, for its annual luncheon at the American Alliance of Museums 2016 Annual Meeting & Museum Expo. We are honored to have Sarah Pharaon, Senior Director of Methodology and Practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, as this year’s speaker.

At the luncheon, hear more about the work she is doing to make museums essential, how we can collaborate to increase points of access for visitors, what communication lessons we can learn from social justice activists, and more.

Have a question you’d like to ask Sarah?
Post in PRAM’s LinkedIn group or in the PRAM community on Museum Junction, and we will compile the questions in advance.

The deadline to purchase event tickets is Friday, April 29. Advance registration is required. Purchase tickets online.


You have worked at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Arab American National Museum, and now you consult with museums through your work with Sites of Conscience. What originally attracted you to a career with museums?  

I grew up in a medical family; generations of nurses, nurse anesthetists and doctors. Other than one week at Disney while I was in the third grade, family vacations happened in conjunction with my father's medical conferences, which meant I spent an inordinate amount of time walking the Freedom Trail in Boston and visiting Gettysburg battlefields gathering blisters by the dozen. I thought my dad was the smartest man alive because he could answer any question I had about any artifact in any museum.   He didn't tell me until I was in college that he was simply reading the labels ahead of me. All those trips, combined with experiences I had competing in National History Day throughout middle and high school sparked in me a great love of history, of museums and most importantly, of people's stories.  

We are excited that you will be joining us for the upcoming PRAM luncheon. What topics will you be discussing? 

I'm excited as well!  I think our field sold itself short when we starting talking about "being relevant."  That's simply not enough and isn't reflective of the vital role that museums can play in fostering healing in their many "communities." I'll be sharing what we've learned at the Coalition over the past seventeen years and what advice our sites can offer on how to make institutions essential.

Sites of Conscience has worked with numerous museums and historic sites to re-envision their public engagement and dialogue. Can you talk about the importance of museums to your organization and its mission?  

We are a grass-roots organization driven by the needs of our members-museums, historic sites, places of memory, archives and NGOs. It’s not a question of their importance to our organization; we only exist at their behest.   

Your job involves narrative and storytelling, but with a different focus than most PR and marketing messages. What similarities do you see between the two fields?  

Every communications professional I've had the privilege to work with knows the power of a good story and incorporates them into their messaging; but personal and narrative truth is only one lens through which our audiences experience our museums. Sites of Conscience around the world are working to incorporate the Four Truths (forensic, narrative, social and healing) into their day to day work including programming, exhibits and interpretation. I can't help but think there's immense possibilities to do the same in our marketing, increasing points of access for all of our visitors. 

Sites of Conscience seeks to mobilize a global movement of people to take action. Can you talk about a communication or social media campaign that has been particularly successful?  

This is likely one area of the movement where we draw the most inspiration from social justice activists outside of the field, but we've loved watching the sustained growth and success of #museumsrespondtoFerguson and #ITweet Museums. Museums are doing great work in this arena, but truly, if I see another "On this day..." or "Take a look at this interesting item from our collections" post or tweet...