Episode 9: Adrienne Clark of Museum of Pop Culture

Adrienne stands in front of a brick wallIf you’re like Adrienne Clark, you might find that you have more in common with your museum’s audience than not.

Before she was the Museum of Pop Culture’s Content Manager, Adrienne was a member of the museum and a fan of their collections. And because she can empathize with her audience on that level, the MoPOP blog and Instagram feed always feel vibrant and relevant.

I came across the MoPOP blog a few months ago as I was scanning through hundreds of museum websites, and her work immediately stood out to me. Not just because of the subject matter — as you’ll hear, I’m also a fan of the museum’s topics — but because of the content’s voice.

I wanted to know how she developed the voice of the MoPOP blog, so I asked Adrienne to join me for a Skype call.


NICK: Hi, and welcome to What’s On. The Cuberis Podcast. I’m Nick Faber. My guest today is Adrienne Clark, Content Manager at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.

As someone who produces content for your museum, how often do you think about your audience? It might sound like a trick question, but in my opinion, it should always be the first thing you do as you sit down to write an article, take a photo, or produce a new web page.

If you start out by asking some simple questions — Like, who is this content for? What value do we expect to give them? And how could this shape their experience with our institution? — you can ensure that your website, your blog, or any other digital content you create is making an impact and reinforcing your relationship with your audience.

And if you’re like Adrienne Clark, you might find that you have more in common with your audience than not.

Before she was the Museum of Pop Culture’s Content Manager, Adrienne was a member of the museum and a fan of their collections. And because she can empathize with her audience on that level, the MoPOP blog and Instagram feed always feel vibrant and relevant.

I came across the MoPOP blog a few months ago as I was scanning through hundreds of museum websites, and her work immediately stood out to me. Not just because of the subject matter — as you’ll hear, I’m also a fan of the museum’s topics — but because of the content’s voice.

I wanted to know how she developed the voice of the MoPOP blog, so I asked Adrienne to join me for a Skype call. But first, I’ve never been to her museum, so I wanted to know what I could expect to see if I ever got the chance. And that’s where we’ll pick up the conversation.

ADRIENNE: Well, the first thing you’ll see is a big, colorful kind of crazy-looking building designed by Frank Gehry. It’s right underneath the Space Needle. You can’t really miss it. The monorail, which you probably would have seen swooping through the neighborhood goes straight through the building as well. So that’s the first thing you’re going to see, and you’re gonna go, what is this place?

Inside, you’re going to see exhibits on music — Nirvana, Pearl Jam — exhibits on science fiction and horror film, as well as indie games. And right now we have a huge, massive — our biggest exhibit to date — of Marvel Universe of Super Heros, so a pretty cool addition.

NICK: Awesome. Yeah, I noticed lately that you’ve had a lot more Halloween related content, so I was wondering how much horror is actually on display in the museum. Is that a pretty big part? Is it like film in general, or are you pretty genre-specific?

ADRIENNE: It’s actually one exhibit that focuses on horror. You’re seeing a little bit of my joy of horror as well, I’m a big horror film fan. And every year we do a kind of initiative called “31 Days of Horror”, but we only have four or so events, so the rest of that is filled out with content. It’s our bread and butter this time of year.

NICK: Yeah, it looks that way, I’m a big horror fan, too. I love when October comes around and all the streaming networks start adding more horror films, and so when I was just checking in on your blog, I was like, “Oh, wow, this must be like Christmas for MoPOP to have Halloween!” Cool.

So the reason I reached out to you in the first place was when I work with museums, something that comes up a lot during content strategy planning is this idea of voice. And a lot of times that can be a struggle for a museum to figure out, what is the voice of our institution or our content? And then to keep that consistently from author to author. And so, I noticed that you’re not the sole author of the blog, but that you seem to have most of the posts there… I really like the voice of your writing, and I imagine a lot of that comes from you, but you also work at a really fun place. So I was wondering how much of that is just your own personal flair, or was there some sort of conscious decision of, this is the voice of MoPOP and you should write like this?

ADRIENNE: Well, thank you. It’s a little bit of both. I feel like it would be incredibly big-headed to say, “Oh, it’s all me!” But it is a lot of how I’ve approached writing. But there’s definitely conscious choices made to it. What I like to say when I talk about our content and the way we speak, and my personal rule of thumb working here is that we don’t yuck anyone’s yum. We’re constantly positive — almost a little breathless. We are a fan of fans. So that guiding principle really helps a lot of our writers. In addition, I do copy edit everything that goes on, so there will be times when Sarah — our recent contributor wrote something, and I just — twisting some things around a little bit, putting some adjectives in front of nouns that can keep things seeming consistent.

NICK: I’ve noticed a lot that the most successful communication to fans is to really treat their fandom with respect. I remember, it wasn’t too long ago, kind of pre-internet, where the “Trekky” was a negative stereotype or something, and so it’s cool that you are really celebrating people’s interests. Because you’re the holder of everything they think is cool.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, and you know, we think it’s cool, too. We’re an organization of fans. Like we already said, for me, every day is Halloween. And nobody — well, maybe they think I’m a little crazy. But this is a place where you’re welcome to be a fan —

NICK: That’s awesome.

ADRIENNE: It is awesome.

NICK: What else do you do at MoPOP besides writing in the blog?

ADRIENNE: Sure, I also — well, my title is Content Manager, but I actually also do our social media. So that voice stays consistent across the board, and they really are hand in hand. You can’t do a deep dive into the first Iron Man film in a tweet, but you can pull people into your blog and say, hey, here’s where we’re really talking about this stuff.

So that’s my two balances. So that’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sometimes also doing some writing for YouTube, etc, but those are my focuses.

NICK: Cool. And as the manager of your social media channels and the content producer for those as well as your blog, what sort of interactions do you get from your readers and your followers on social media? And is there any single piece of content that you’ve put out there that has either done better than you expected or maybe fell flatter that you wished it would have?

ADRIENNE: Oh! Yes, yes, and yes. The great thing about working — we kind of touched on it — in pop culture is your job is to make people happy. It’s the things that you want to see on Facebook, it’s not the darker side that we’re always being reminded of. So it’s a joyful job, and you’re hopefully bringing joy to people. And so it’s often overwhelmingly positive.

The one thing that constantly blows my mind but I don’t know why is Gizmo. Anything Gizmo performs so well — that’s Gizmo from Gremlins —

NICK: Yeah, the Mogwai.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, we have a puppet of him and I just actually did a piece on why he looks the way he does. So, if you’re listening to this, you can go to our Instagram and see a shot of him — or the blog. He looks very surprised. Almost — I don’t want to use the word deceased, so I’ll use the word frozen, and people really don’t understand why and so we get a lot of pictures on Twitter saying, what’s wrong with Gizmo? Why is he so upset? So I thought I would dispell that concern in a post. So I got to tell everyone that that Gizmo puppet is from the very end of the film when he ramps the toy car over the shovel and he surprises himself. So that puppet’s from that one sequence.

NICK: Oh, wow! That’s really cool!

ADRIENNE: Yeah, and I’d been telling people over Twitter because I didn’t want them to be sad for him.

NICK: Oh, yeah!

ADRIENNE: I’ve been telling people over Twitter this story and I finally realized it was time to immortalize it on the blog so I could just pass that to people when they’re concerned for little Gizzy. But that always… People love him, it’s amazing.

NICK: So would you say that part of your strategy is to try to address things that you’re hearing from your followers and readers just to either have a link that you could send next time somebody asks for it, or by getting that feedback you learn that this what people are maybe interested in learning about? How much of your editorial plan draws from your audience and those sort of interactions?

ADRIENNE: I would say quite a bit. I think that, institutionally, is a truth for us. It’s pop culture, right? So we’re not any more of an expert than the fan is. Quite often, the fans know more than we do. And we love that. We’re not trying to tell you, this is how you do it. We’re just showing you the things. So I definitely like to pull from that.

Also, strategically, just looking at the calendar of what’s happening that year, it would be very sill for us to not talk about our Michael Meyers mask, for example, with the new Halloween film coming out next week. People are interested.

So I try to take from what people are talking about and also trying illuminate areas where people wouldn’t know something. Like that puppet, for example.

NICK: So knowing that it’s Halloween and knowing that your audience knows that it’s Halloween, you have a lot of blog posts about the holiday during October. So… how much of that content is also represented in the museum? Are you using examples of movie posters or things that you might have for the post, or are you also just drawing from, more broadly, horror films and Halloween-related stuff?

ADRIENNE: Sure. Yeah, it’s a little bit of both. So, you know, if it’s in the museum, all the better because then I have the curators that I can go and bother with my questions and get quotes from, and use their expertise. But also, more globally we talk about things that aren’t there, as well. But I would say I tend to look into the exhibits for examples because it’s something that we’ve studied and vetted and, you know, I just want to make sure we’re not just saying stuff. You know, there’s enough of that going on in the world.

NICK: Yeah, yeah. For sure. So you mentioned talking to curators or getting input from other staff to vet your ideas or opinions. How much collaboration would you say that you get with the content that you produce?

ADRIENNE: I would say a lot. And I always want more. It is a busy world that we live in, so a lot of times if we want to produce regularly, which I feel very passionate about, I just kind of move forward. But I’m always trying to pull people in, even if it’s just to get their feedback, as opposed to them writing a post. We’re slowly building that out, though. Are curators have contributed, now some of our public engagement producers are contributing this month with their picks for horror movies to watch for the season. We’re actually going to put a guest post on a local con, Geek Girl Con’s, blog, and hopefully, we can get them to bring some of their thought leadership into our blog as well.

We’ve been at this for about a year, actually. It’s a relatively young blog, so we’re still getting our feet underneath us. More community voices is always the way I’d like to go.

NICK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s great. That’s good to acknowledge ’cause when I was talking about the tone of how you write, but that’s the other thing we really try to encourage museums to do, is think about who works at your museum, or who does your museum represent, and are those perspectives also being represented in the content? So that’s really encouraging to hear.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, precisely, I can be a fan all day, but my experience is unique to being a white woman, and that’s not the only experience out there, so we definitely don’t want just that to come through.

NICK: How you say that your blog, being that it’s only been around for a year, how would you say that it’s connected to the mission and overall goals of the museum? And do you know the origin story of why the museum decided it should have a blog?

ADRIENNE: Sure! Well, our mission — I’m going to read it so I don’t get any words wrong. Because we actually had just revamped it, as you do. Over time, things change. But our mission is to make creative expression a life-changing force by offering experiences that inspire and connect our communities.

And what I really think is important in that mission for the blog, is that last part about connecting our communities. Access is hugely important to us. In fact, we have core values that go along with the mission, and one of those is Open Arms. And that means within the museum, and also outside of the museum. Including people, like yourself, who can’t get to the museum. We want you to come and explore what we have, and get your hands dirty, and play our indie games, and look closely at Steve Ditko’s inking of his original Spiderman comic. We want you to be there, but if you can’t, we also want to be with you. We want you to be able to experience our content wherever you are.

An example of that recently was, we hosted MineCon, which is the Minecraft convention, if you will. But they’re such an incredible company. Instead of placing a steak in the ground and saying, come to us, spend a lot of money for a con. They actually stream their con online and then invite people to have parties at their various buildings.

NICK: Wow.

ADRIENNE: So we hosted one for Seattle. And so I thought, let’s do some Minecraft blog posts. Also, full disclosure, we have a Minecraft realm here. We have people that are that into it. I’m in the realm.

NICK: Nice.

ADRIENNE: We love Minecraft. So there was a lot to pull from. So I thought I would highlight our creations on the blog to show we are hosting this event, and we’re fans of it, bringing that in.

Long story longer, I start putting this out on our various channels, and I get a message from — I think he’s a teenager, I believe — a teenager from Russia. He said, “I love Minecraft. I play it all the time. It’s so cool to see there are grownups playing this in America. And I learned about your museum, and I can’t ever get there…”

Which, I was like, no someday you can get there. Dream it, do.

“…I can’t ever get there but I feel like I’ve been because of this.”

And that was crazy impactful, because that just doesn’t happen. You know, you don’t hear things like that. And that really highlights to me what that aspect of what we’re doing is. And “life-changing” in our mission is… it seems like a very… it’s a stake in the ground, it’s an impact statement. But I like to think of it from everything from maybe he’ll become the next developer, or simply maybe he feels a little more connected. And just by having a new experience, the world has changed.

And that’s how I think that fits into what we’re doing.

NICK: That’s really powerful, and that’s gotta be really affirming to you, too.


NICK: For anyone who’s listening to this and are feeling inspired, like, “Oh wow, we should have a blog as well, and we could be reaching somebody in another country who’s interested in what we’ve got going on here,” what have you learned in managing the blog and producing the content? Do you have any sort of advice as far as planning? What would you tell someone who isn’t quite sure that they’re capable of maintaining a blog for their museum?

ADRIENNE: Sure, sure. I think the most important thing before you begin, is take the time note — this is going to sound sort of slimy, I think, but I don’t know another word for it — but take the time to know your angle.

Like I said before, the digital space is incredibly noisy and there’s not enough time for duplication. Buzzfeed took all the simple stuff away. And that’s fine because we don’t need it. That’s cotton candy. We can do more, and we can do better, and we need to be authentic.

So taking the time to figure out what types of work are true to your museum or your organization is the most important thing. And that can evolve, but having some sort of — even if it’s just internal to the content producer or if it’s external to a team — saying, these are the things we do. And that gives you a framework within to play. I think that that’s tremendously important to begin.

And then it’s just rigor and trusting the process because it’s so easy to not produce. It is not an easy thing to — even a short piece takes an incredible amount of time to concept, to outline, to produce, images, sourcing images, all this stuff that most people can push it to the end of the day. Which, don’t do that. Get it done first. You just have to really be strict with yourself.

And that actually is true, too. If you are slipping behind, get in. For me, don’t answer your email. Don’t look at the Facebook questions. Write it first. It won’t take as long as you think it will. And if it is, OK, then fine. OK. Answer those emails so everybody doesn’t hate you. But strike out in that direction that you’re going to finish that first and I think you really will.

NICK: That’s great. And I could probably end the whole episode right there. That’s… I mean, I totally resonate with you about… I don’t think it’s slimy at all. I think that it’s important. It’s your positioning, it’s your niche. What do you have or know that is unique to you, and how can you synthesize that for people who are interested in it, I think is…another way to… I’m just repeating back to you what I heard.

ADRIENNE: I completely agree! It’s all about knowing what you want to say. And of course, having your facts straight, right? Or that’s something that I’m at least very passionate about. I started as a copy editor, so right and wrong or true and false is very important to grammar people like me. And I think that when you’re speaking on behalf of a museum, you’ve got to know what you’re saying. You may not have all the facts, and you still need to produce, well then you don’t talk about that part of it. Or you say, we still need to look at this part of it. But you know, you just don’t want to lead people astray.

NICK: Yeah. Well, is there anything else that you had in mind that you thought maybe you’d like to talk about today that you haven’t had a chance to talk about?

ADRIENNE: Well, I don’t know… I mean, do you ever speak on other… What have you talked to other people about? Do you talk about blogs often, or…?

NICK: My– My sort of interest right now is… The word blog has so many connotations, often negative, because of its origins, because there were kids like me who were just writing about whatever I felt like writing about. But today, the tool of the blog is so powerful and flexible. So it can be a chronological list of articles related to, you know, events at your museum. Or it can be these, like, rich stories that link to other stories or have videos embedded, or have photo galleries, or whatever. So, think that they’re incredibly important.

I’ll share this with you too. So, I did research. I looked at 1300 museum websites, and just — oh, I’m going to get this backwards — but I think just over half of them had blogs. And of those, about a third that had blogs, they were inactive. So that means that somebody thought, “Hey, we should have a blog!”

And actually, this is how I ran into your name, is because I was doing this research and I was trying to take note of the people that I thought were doing it well. And so, all of those inactive blogs to me, it was like a sad story. I could picture the kickoff meeting of like, “All right. We’re gonna have a blog! Here’s what the first ten posts are gonna be!”

And then after those ten posts are done, they don’t know what to write for number 11. Like you said, it’s easier not to write.

And so, in this last article that I just wrote, I was pondering, could that be because of the connotations and like the weight and baggage of the term “blog” or what people think that blogs are? And can we — can museums — I was being a little facetious, but can museums start a revolution where we’re gonna rename this thing we call “blog” and make that word go away but keep the platform.

So I try to make it broad, but I came to you because I was in the middle of thinking about blogs, and…

ADRIENNE: Sure. It’s funny that you say that. It does make me think of something worth championing in this podcast world. You mentioned that a lot of blogs are inactive, and you see like ten posts and then nothing and it’s been years and years.

One of the things, I think, working in content marketing and writing for my time that I have, is that people value the product, but they don’t value the process necessarily. And so, what probably happened there, in a negative, reverse-negative version of what happened here, which I realize I didn’t answer your question about how the blog got started, so I’ll tell that tale in this moment. What probably happened there, is that someone whose job did not include blogging said, we should have a blog. And they did feel passionate about it at some point, or maybe still do, and everyone got really excited, and here’s what we’re going to do, and then go. And there was never space given in that person’s job and time to continue.

And that is something that I see over and over again, and I don’t want to paint it as some sort of negative, evil, “you shouldn’t” like they think it’s bad or whatever. But don’t understand the time it takes or the value it brings.

Now, nonprofits aren’t completely focused on ticket sales and conversion, but there is a focus on, well we have to get these signs written or we’ve got to get the door repainted. There are things that are generally thought of as more immediate. And I just really think it’s important to champion space for creativity and for people to produce these things.

You can’t go — well, you certainly could go wrong — but you can’t go wrong in sharing and spreading your knowledge in that way. But you really have to give people the space and the time for that.

What happened here is that I started at the museum as a copywriter, so that’s why I referenced writing signs. Because I spent a lot of time writing directional signage and other things. And I had always thought — you know, I had been a fan of MoPOP since I moved to this city 10 years ago. I just thought it was the coolest thing and I loved everything about it. So I was even a member of the museum before I was an employee, so I’m a real ride or die fan of the museum. And I’d always wanted more, more, more content from them.

So when I finally got this dream opportunity to work for them, I immediately started putting that out there. And it took a while for the idea to land, as new ideas do. But I really have to give credit to my boss, Ivan. I brought it up to him, and he immediately was like, “Yes, we need this!” And that speaks to his background working with content marketing and understanding its value. And in classic Ivan fashion, he was like, “And we’re gonna do it by the end of next month.” But I really appreciated him pushing me off the cliff like that, after the pain of falling off the cliff. I put a couple casts on my legs and neck brace on and then I was like, “Oh, thank you”. But it was really smart of him to just say, “And we’re going.”

And then he actually moved me into a new position to allow the space needed for doing that work. And that speaks volumes to the focus and the attention. So I think, for all of the people who may listen to this, and are not sure how it might work, give that person the space. Champion them, whoever you want to be in charge of this, and let them fly with it.

NICK: That was Adrienne Clark of the Museum of Pop Culture. I want to thank Adrienne for joining me, and for giving me my new favorite philosophy for content creation: Don’t yuck anyone’s yum.

And I want to thank you for listening. If you want to hear more interviews like this one, head over to cuberis.com/podcast, and you’ll find a full archive of past episodes. You can also find us on iTunes or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

If you’d like to be a guest on What’s On, or know someone else doing innovative things online for their museum, send me an email. It’s nick@cuberis.com. I’m always looking for great guests.

Until next time, I’m Nick Faber. What’s your story? And how will you tell it?