Transcript 108: At the Intersection of Culture and Tourism, with Tami Brown

Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome, you’ve arrived at destination on the left with Nicole Mahoney, learn from the experience of travel and tourism experts who use collaboration and creativity to attract more visitors, strengthen their marketing programs, and reimagine how their industry does business. Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination. On the left, I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the

Nicole Mahoney: 00:25 variances of professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest, Tammy Brown. Tammy thinks she is one of the luckiest people in Northeast Ohio because she has spent her career working with attractions and the museum and Tourism Industries as a nonprofit professional. She has proven expertise and strategic planning and implementation management of board and staff, project management, and the development and execution of effective integrated marketing and fundraising communications. She particularly enjoys building collaborations for effective mutual benefit and mentoring new leaders and the nonprofit museum environment. As general manager of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, the only independent aquarium in the state of Ohio. Tammy spends most of her time settling, setting the vision overall direction and operational standards for the aquarium. She is a dedicated proponent of servant leadership and we quote a philosophy that enriches the lives of team members, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world as described by the Center for servant leadership.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:34 Tammy has spent her career promoting an operating attractions in northeast Ohio, ranging from the western reserve historical society to the Center for Contemporary Art, Cleveland Museum of art in Cleveland International Film Festival. Prior to joining the aquarium, she was vice president of marketing at positively Cleveland, but nonprofit organization dedicated to driving economic vitality for the region through tourism. In addition, Tammy as president of the board of directors of the Ohio Travel Association, serves as a member of the Tourism Ohio Advisory Board is secretary of the Board for the Center for community solutions and Treasurer of the Board for flats forward. Sam, he is married to her rockstar husband can and their daughter just graduated from high school and is working in tourism so she can fund her travel bug. And I think that’s my favorite part of your whole bio. Thank you so much for joining me, Tammy. Thank you for having me. Um, I’m really looking forward to our conversation and, and, and I’m, I’m loving your bio because it’s so ingrained in tourism, but not only that you come from not only the destination marketing side but also the museum and the arts and culture side and I think you’re going to bring just this really wonderful perspective of how those two work together and uh, you know, the perspective from both sides.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:52 But before we get started with the questions, I’d really like it if you could take us a little bit behind the curtain, if you will, and tell us your story in your own words, just how you’ve gotten to where you are today.

Tami Brown: 03:05 Absolutely. So when I went to college, I knew I wanted to work in arts and culture and even going through college and studying speech communications, I was doing that because I knew I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t paint, but I really wanted to be in arts and culture. So I thought, well I’m going to squeak in through the business side and really study communications and help to promote arts and culture. So once I graduated I moved to Boston and I interviewed with absolutely every single arts and cultural organizations I could that would let me put a foot in the door and I couldn’t find a job anywhere. So I landed at a advertising agency and at some point during my career at the advertising agency, they asked for a volunteer to be on a pro bono account of the Institute of Contemporary Art. So my hand couldn’t go up fast enough. I had a wonderful time working with them for a few years. And the irony of all of this is that when I moved to Cleveland, I’ve found out that the Cleveland Museum of art was looking for a marketing person for their 75th anniversary. If I had just stuck with public relations with my first plan, you know, and gotten a job in the arts and culture, I wouldn’t have landed at the Museum of art in what ended up being just a dream job. So you never know how you’re going to get there, but you know, keep going. You’ll get there.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:26 That’s great advice. And I always love when my guests share their stories and how it’s kind of, if you will, it seems to build on the next uh, and, and brings you right to where you’re supposed to be. So I think that that’s really awesome. And now your daughter is finding her, her passion and travel

Tami Brown: 04:48 this summer she was a crew person on a cruise ship and he loved it, loved it, and it helps us and to her travel as well. So she’s planning her next trip right now.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:59 That’s awesome. Well, I’d like to dive right in and get your perspective in these two areas. We like to focus on on the show, which is creativity and collaboration. And let’s start with creativity and understanding kind of how the tourism and hospitality industry is very competitive. There are so many choices out there of things to do with your time, places to go, places to visit. And I’m wondering what you have done to really stand out from the crowd.

Tami Brown: 05:30 Know. I think it’s really all about tapping into what is authentic about the place that you are, the organization that you’re representing. If it’s not authentic, people will feel that and it kind of turns them off. So for example, the aquarium, we are located in a power house that was built in 1892, so it’s got these great brick walls and big smokestacks and steel girders and things and the design of the aquarium really plays into that authentic historic building and makes your experience quite different from the typical kind of black box purpose built a aquarium type building. So we, uh, you know, play with that. We live with that. We really make that part of our DNA and I think that is so important really in the long run. I’m just living your authentic nature.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:21 Yeah, that’s a really good point. And we certainly see that more and more where today’s travelers are looking for more of those kind of real experiences, those local experiences. And I think that’s a really great example. Can you talk a little bit more describe for listeners who may not have been to the aquarium, kind of how that really does play out in the, in the design of the building and how your exhibits are integrated within that old structure.

Tami Brown: 06:49 Sure. So for example, when we were first designing the aquarium because of this historic building, we were told that we could not use the walls or the ceilings or any support structure to support our exhibits. So we made the best of it. And actually it’s a fantastic deal that most of the exhibits are now cylindrical on the, in the middle of the floor. So you get to go all the way three 60 around an exhibit. Um, a lot of times when you’re in an aquarium and an exhibit is just part of a wall. If an animal is in the far side of the exhibit, you can’t see it. But here you can kind of take them around the circle.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:31 Yeah,

Tami Brown: 07:31 you can always see the animals. So you know, what might have been considered a challenge at the beginning of the design process ended up being a real benefit. And I’m a real believer in that too, that sometimes when you have a challenge, the solution that you come up with is actually better than what would have happened if you hadn’t had that challenge in the first place.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:52 Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And you started to answer it did answer my second favorite question that I love to ask in these interviews, which is this whole idea of the creativity that comes from being faced with a challenge or some sort of adversity. Do you have another example of where that that might, that creativity has really come out when you’re trying to problem solve around something

Tami Brown: 08:16 with a history of working in nonprofits challenge, and I’m sure it’s the same for for profits, but the challenge is always that you don’t have enough resources to do what you really want to do. Right? You can always have great ideas. That’s the beauty of working in a creative arts and culture setting. No shortage of ideas, but then the resources, and I’m talking about certainly funding, but also time and capacity of your staff members to actually enact those ideas. That’s always the challenge and so it’s setting priorities and deciding what really fits with your authentic nature to go back to that first discussion and setting priorities based on that.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:57 Yeah, I think that’s a really good point and I’m kind of understanding that it’s actually a favorite thing that we, that we, that we talk about in our, in our office here is um, you know, we can have the best plans ever for whatever it is that we’re, that we’re trying to figure out, but it does come down to those resources. And, and I liked that you specified. It’s not always just financial. It’s also, you know, staff, um, and you know, your, your physical time because we are very limited by how much time each one of us has. And so the whole idea of this setting priorities and in deciding which things are the most important to move forward, I think is really great advice.

Tami Brown: 09:39 I’m sure many organizations have tried to kind of spread themselves really thin and do something for everybody. And it really, in hindsight, never works out. Choosing what you can do to a standard that you’re going to be proud about. That is really what we’ve come to understand. We need to do.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:00 I’m curious, I’m going to veer off just for a minute because I am curious about your perspective having been in arts and culture, but then also working for the DMO in Cleveland for positively Cleveland. Um, can you talk a little bit about kind of the perspective that you bring to the job given that you have these different perspectives and roles that you’ve played?

Tami Brown: 10:24 I mean, I think it was interesting to go to the destination marketing organization because I think a lot of times attractions and particularly museums and arts and culture don’t really imagine that they are part of the tourism fabric. And so moving from a pure arts and cultural background into the destination marketing and then being able to reach out to all of the connections. The network that I had in the arts and culture industry really helped us to coalesce and understand that we are an integral part of what happens and why people come to visit the Cleveland area and by creating that understanding and then working together to make arts and culture more as central part of what was happening with the tourism promotion. Um, I think, um, I hope that the promotion and the, the product that we have developed for Cleveland overall is stronger be by including those arts and cultural organizations and that was really a conversation that had to happen in both directions. It couldn’t just be one or the other organizations reaching out to the, um, the other.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:35 Even here in upstate New York where, you know, where we’re located. Um, kind of this, um, you know, I do see where the arts are. Arts and cultural institutions are definitely part of the fabric of tourism. But then that kind of challenge that happens because as an arts and cultural organization, you’re also very ingrained in the community, right? And, and your membership base and in that community building that happens. So can you, can you talk a little bit about how you kind of, now that you’re back in on the arts and culture side, how you kind of bring in that tourism piece to the aquarium?

Tami Brown: 12:10 So the aquarium is seven years old, will be seven in January, and the, I know it’s been an amazing journey. Um, so I think the first, the first few years here at the aquarium, we’re really focused on making sure that the community around us knew where we were and what we were all about and we really didn’t focus that much on tourists, but then when we finally felt like it was time for us to expand that message and really partnering again with our Tourism Organization locally and at the state level that you then provide to guests who might be traveling from afar, not only helps those tourists but enhances what you’ve already been doing for the community as well. So it’s definitely not mutually exclusive and I think it does help everybody really in the long run, all of our guests to feel more welcome when we’re welcoming to travelers as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 13:17 That’s a really great point. So seven years old, I actually, I had the feeling that you were new in preparing for this interview. Um, reviewed your website to check out the aquarium because I’ve not been there. I’ve been to Cleveland but not to the aquarium. So that’s pretty exciting. Did you, did you start right at the beginning of, of this whole project

Tami Brown: 13:40 to start here just four months before the opening and had the chance to put it together, all of the operations from literally the organizational charts to opening day. It was a rollercoaster ride of a four months, I’ll tell you that. Um, but I would never, never want to Redo that. Replaced that. It was so much fun. It was intense, like nothing I’ve ever done, but it really helped the team who was putting that all together to coalesce into a very strong core. And many of the people who were with us when we opened are still with us.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:18 Wow. That’s really great. So I’m going to actually ask you now kind of looking to the future now that you’re at seven years and looking beyond, are there some projects that you’re really excited about coming up that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Tami Brown: 14:33 Actually, it really is a community event that I’m really excited about, but the aquarium, we’re playing an integral role in that. So at first blush, this is going to sound a little weird, but in 19, 19, 69, as many people have heard our Cuyahoga river burned. It was the last time that it burned. Many people don’t know it actually caught on fire 13 times. So in June of 20 June, 22nd of Twenty Nineteen will be the 50th anniversary of that last time that our river burned and we are coming together as a community to really, I won’t say celebrate, commemorate and certainly celebrate all of the changes and improvements that have happened since that date. Fifty years ago now we have as an aquarium geek now I can say I’m very exciting news in that FIS that are very sensitive to pollution. We’re finding populations of those fish back in the river, people are out kayaking and paddle boarding and jet skiing on the river and on the lake.

Tami Brown: 15:40 Um, are we still have or boat huge industrial or boats that are like a football field long, it feels like coming down the river, but they’re sharing it with recreational uses and so there’s so much to celebrate and to really look back and feel good about the changes that have been made over those 50 years. So as a community, we’re all coming together or having some fairs and festivals and all kinds of really fun events that we’ll celebrate that progress again on June 22nd. So we’re, we’re excited. We’re also just, um, to put that in context, sorry for all the listeners. We’re situated right on the river and, and very close to where the river meets the lake. So as an aquarium, you know, you can’t beat a location that features your water, a friends right outside your front door, but it really is incumbent on us, I think for us to celebrate that progress.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:39 That goes back to your authentic self, right? Where we started this whole conversation.

Tami Brown: 16:43 Absolutely. And it’s so funny because, you know, 50 years later, frankly, a lot of people in Cleveland just consider, um, the, the phrase burning river as a really great beer that our great lakes brewery.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:00 I want to switch gears a little bit and we’ve already started to hit on this, um, this whole idea of collaboration, you know, in, in what you just described in terms of this 50th anniversary in the community coming together to celebrate and commemorate, um, everything that’s been happening. But, uh, I’m a huge believer in what I like to call coopertition, which you know, is this whole idea of where perceived competitors might come together and create programs or a or something a together collaboratively that they just really can’t do on their own and really create big wins for both parties. I’m wondering if there’s a time when a collaboration between competitors has worked for you.

Tami Brown: 17:48 Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’re so right to, to use the word coopertition and to think about how that can really achieve some success for organizations, particularly in the attractions world, you know, and in arts and culture, it’s well documented that if somebody visits a museum, any museum for the first time in their lives, that they’re much more likely to then try other museums. So, you know, hey, if a, if a person visits the Great Lakes Science Center that has never been to a museum before, I’m, I’m standing there cheering about that. So, um, but speaking of the Great Lakes Science Center, we did a, we have done now a collaboration with them a few years running. September is always a really quiet time of the year for a lot of arts and cultural organizations. So we decided to offer a package ticket. It’s a two for $20 to visit the Great Lakes Science Center and the aquarium do it during a two week period in September. And um, it has taken off. This is just our second year of doing it, but we more than doubled the number of tickets sold and will continue to do it for sure in the future.

Nicole Mahoney: 18:56 I think that’s a really great example and I love how you said that, you know, when someone visits a museum for the first time, it’s good for all museums because it means that they’ll take another likely visit, another museum as well. So I think that that’s really a great way to kind of frame that. And um, I also liked that particular promotion that you looked at a time of year that was a little bit slower, softer period of time and came up with a way that can be a win win for both of you to try to improve that soft, that soft time. Right? And to get more people to the door. I think that’s fabulous.

Tami Brown: 19:32 Yeah, it’s worked out really well.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:34 So I’m wondering, um, how you, um, are where you look for partnerships. How do you find other organizations to partner with, whether it’s the museum that you just mentioned in your example or, or other collaborations that you’ve been involved with? For listeners who might be thinking about partnering, um, what kind of advice can you provide to them where they might find good partners?

Tami Brown: 19:57 I truly believe it’s so much about just getting out in the community and getting to know people, getting to know what their businesses are about, getting to know what their challenges are and thinking about how you might work together to help them meet their talent, do something better for their challenges and vice versa. So it’s really just getting out in the community and as a young organization that has been a primary role really for our leadership team is to get out and make those networks so that we can. When an opportunity comes up, we have contacts already established and we’re not making a cold call. And I will throw out too that it’s not, you’re not always the usual suspects. You know, the huge corporations like in Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic is just a huge, huge employer in town and everybody is constantly knocking at their door and that’s great.

Tami Brown: 20:55 They’re very community minded but they can’t possibly do everything. So thinking about other organizations that aren’t the usual suspects, and just a quick example, we have a program here where we’re working with a population of a spotted turtle. It’s a threatened species in the region and we are trying to help to increase their population in the wild and we made a connection with a brewery of all things. So again, not the usual suspects, but this group called terrestrial brewing and they are very environmentally minded and very community minded. And so they suggested that they wanted to brew a beer called. I love it when I save the turtles

Nicole Mahoney: 21:43 and

Tami Brown: 21:44 wonderful turtle flavored and turtle. I mean like the candy nutty, Chocolatey and faulty porter. And every single time they sell a pint of that porter, $1 goes to our spotted turtle program. So, you know, if you told me as an aquarium we’d be partnering with a brewery. I wouldn’t have really thought of that at the first point. But it’s been a great partnership.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:10 That’s a wonderful partnership with a very diverse organizations, right? One is of course, uh, in the craft beverage industry and you’re in the cultural industry or in this case an aquarium and be more specific, but to find a way that the two of you can come together for a cause, um, I think is just fantastic and I, and I’m sure that by getting that brewery involved, you’re actually reaching probably a whole different market that perhaps, you know, through the aquarium you wouldn’t have otherwise reached, um, with this particular cause.

Tami Brown: 22:45 That’s exactly right. And back to the getting out in the community, that connection was made through our maintenance tech who handles all of our life support systems and all that sort of things. He made the connection with the brewery. So you just never know where the connections are going to come from.

Nicole Mahoney: 23:00 Yeah, I love that. And I mentioned just kind of being open to those conversations plays an important role in that as well.

Tami Brown: 23:06 Absolutely. We have a very, I’m very much open door policy here where anybody here at the aquarium, that’s actually one of our core values is that I want to have a culture of ideas and so on. Want to hear your suggestions and your ideas and that’s how that idea came to me.

Nicole Mahoney: 23:22 Yeah, I love it. That’s really great. So I want to just ask another question about partnerships and that is this whole idea of managing expectations and how critical that is in a partnership. And so I’m wondering how you have set the groundwork for a successful partnerships.

Tami Brown: 23:39 Yeah, it’s really all about communicating upfront and not only what do you want from the partnership, but trying to understand how their business operates because they have, you know, we might have assumptions about how our business operates and just expect that’s how theirs does too, but it’s totally not. Not necessarily true. And so I think talking upfront about what both of you want to get out of the partnership, what would be considered a win, what will your challenges be in making the partnership work? Having a great understanding of all of those issues really in the long run is going to help the partnership to work out so well. Definitely checking in as the program works through and then reporting at the end and learning from what maybe went well and what didn’t go well so that you can talk about what makes sense if we’re going to continue the partnership in the future.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:33 Yeah, really, really awesome advice and I liked it. Didn’t just focus on what you both, you know, you started with what do you do both partners want to get out of the partnership, but also let’s discuss what are the challenges that either one of us might have in, in trying to live up to this arrangement and kind of getting those out on the table and advanced I think is really, really great advice that I hope listeners picked up on as well as this whole idea of kind of a little bit of empathy is what you’re describing, you know, understanding how the other person operates, how their business operates, what, what things that they’re facing and that just making those assumptions that they’re just like you. So I think. I think that’s great. I have one more question, but before I get to the last question, actually, I’m, again, I’m going to go off of our question flow because in your bio I was intrigued when I read that you were the president of the Board for the Ohio Travel Association and of course we have in New York state are the New York State Tourism Industry Association here as well. And what I, uh, what really piqued my interest is that you are a cultural institution but you’re leading this tourism organization and I’m wondering if you can share a little bit about, you know, kind of how that came about and really what you get out of being involved in an organization like that.

Tami Brown: 26:01 Travel Association. So I’m happy to. I’ve been a member for pretty much the whole time that I’ve been in Cleveland. Um, and the, the mission of the Travel Association is really advocacy for the industry statewide. Um, so if issues come up that would impact, have an impact on a tourism organization, how do we address that? And then professional development and mentoring and really building the hospitality of capacity and professional take throughout the whole state. And so those are obviously causes that I’m passionate about, not only in my own organizations but then how that would impact the state as a whole. So through working with the Organization for these many years, I thought, you know, I’m in a position where I could dedicate maybe a little bit more time to that association and became one of the officers and through time now was just named president in September.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:05 That’s fantastic. That’s wonderful that you talked about how passionate you are about the industry, but also the mission of the advocacy as well as that professional development and mentoring piece, which made me think of, you know, in your bio where you talked about one of your favorite things to do is to mentor mentoring new new leaders and what a wonderful way for you to be able to kind of leverage that passion and also work in an industry that you’re so passionate about. So I think that’s fabulous.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:42 Yeah. So I’m going to wrap up with this question and I mentioned this to you on our preinterview chat. It’s a, it’s a new question that I’ve just introduced into these, into these podcast episodes and it’s this whole idea of destination marketers or you know, folks who are in tourism really being an acting more like community managers. And so instead of maybe I’m just focusing on attracting visitors and, and getting those heads in beds. Um, there’s, I think a more holistic approach here in terms of, um, you know, magic managing or engaging with locals. And so I’m curious if you are seeing examples of this type of evolution kind of in your work or in your community

Tami Brown: 28:34 at the Convention and visitors bureau, as you mentioned, it was called positively Cleveland, cleveland. Now it’s called destination Cleveland. And they have really taken on the mission of developing the community and making sure the community knows what a great place this is to visit and understands the assets that we really have. We as an organization at the aquarium, I mentioned earlier that becoming a part of the community was one of the biggest challenges. And one of the biggest roles that I’ve taken on for the organization I’m part of that is really kind of living up to our community expectation of addressing environmental issues as an aquarium. It’s an integral part of our mission and our education. And so, uh, we uh, host often a group called the plastic reduction working group and that is to reduce the amount of plastic that is in an environment both through debris but also upfront I’m minimizing how much we use. And so being a part of that working community group has been one example of how we have kind of managed our reputation within the community.

Nicole Mahoney: 29:46 Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s a really wonderful example and I’m sure one of many examples that, that you could provide. Um, but, but what I especially appreciate about, you know, kind of how you shared first from what destination Cleveland is doing and then kind of brought it down to the level of what your aquarium is doing, is that there is a lot more to this destination marketing or tourism marketing, um, you know, than just getting those out of town visitors in and delivering on an experience. Um, it’s, it’s, there’s more to it than that. And I love how earlier I think you talked about arts and culture being part of the fabric of a tourism and sort of the, um, you know, how, how perhaps used to be where they didn’t imagine that they were part of that tourism industry or part of that fabric and kind of bringing all of that together. Uh, I think it’s just really, really fantastic. So tammy, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and I appreciate you sharing with us today. Um, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners before we say goodbye?

Tami Brown: 30:55 Well, I have to just tap into destination Cleveland’s most recent campaign, which is visit me and cle. And don’t forget to visit the aquarium.

Nicole Mahoney: 31:07 Absolutely. I love that. Thank you so much for being with us and we’ll. We’ll look forward to catching up with you again.

Tami Brown: 31:13 Thanks very much.

Speaker 1: 31:15 It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the left dot Tom. During your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.