Longtime Field Museum public relations and advertising director Pat Kremer says her surprise resignation last week was prompted by the museum’s decision to “go in another direction” with its advertising. Translation: Kremer was informed that the museum’s account–worth roughly $1 million annually and handled by Chicago-based RPM during her dozen-year tenure–would be put out for bid. The decision had been made without consulting her. “It was a shock to me, because we had done such good work together and all of the feedback that we’d received from management had been very positive,” Kremer says.
Her second in command, advertising and PR manager Carolyn Jacobs, also resigned. The shift in policy was “made without asking us anything about how it would affect our department,” Jacobs says. “We had just come off a huge year with King Tut. We were the number-one museum in the Chicago market. We beat our attendance goals. It was very surprising that they would want to change gears.”
Kremer, who came to the Field in 1995 after nine years at the Chicago Historical Society, where she also headed advertising and PR, says she considered RPM part of her team. She first met people from the agency when she was called in for a presentation they made a few days before she started her job at the Field. “They started on the same day I did, and we worked with them for the entire 12 years,” she says. “We had a wonderful relationship, creating what I feel was the strongest museum brand in the midwest.” Projects they handled together included the unveiling of Sue, the Field’s T. rex skeleton–which turned into a worldwide media event–and last year’s Tut exhibit, a big hit (attendance jumped nearly 60 percent over the previous year to 2.1 million), though a few complained it didn’t deliver the major bling its billboards seemed to promise. Kremer credits RPM for regularly making it look like “we had a lot more money [to work with] than we did.”
For the last two years Kremer has reported to Laura Sadler, senior vice president of museum enterprises, whose success with the museum’s gift shops and event rentals (detailed in the Business, September 30, 2005) has made her a rising star. When Sadler summoned Kremer to her office last month and announced the decision to put the account up for grabs, a “stunned” Kremer says she felt “blindsided.” “If there had been a problem,” she says, “that would be one thing. But there hadn’t been any. I said, ‘Do you know what RPM brings to the table? Probably a dozen people working on our account–certainly a labor of love.'” According to Jacobs, attempts to appeal the decision fell on deaf ears.
Kremer says she took two weeks of vacation to clear her head, then concluded that “when you’re not comfortable moving in the same direction as your manager, you have a problem.” She returned to work June 11 with her resignation in hand.
“Over the years, working with Pat, we took a sleepy museum–dark, dank, and dusty–and helped reposition and remold it into a global brand,” says RPM president Mark Malin, noting that Sue “became a worldwide icon.” Malin waxes nostalgic about the firm’s first Field assignment–“Bats, Masters of the Night,” executed in just 30 days by the entire staff. More recently, he says, as the 13-year-old company he runs with partner Steve Platcow has grown, the museum has come to represent a small part of their business. Still, they continued to “pour a lot of resources into it,” he says, “because it was something we took a great deal of pride in.” Malin says that when he was informed of the advertising review he was told RPM could participate. They considered it, he says, and declined: “We’ve done great work for the museum; we think it speaks for itself.”
Jacobs, who was Kremer’s first hire, says she was “amazed that they wouldn’t have talked to us about how we work with this agency, how it would impact us to switch, how the transition would play out.” After 12 “great years,” she says, “it was just disappointing that it had to come to an end in the way that it did.”
But Kremer says she and Jacobs aren’t done yet. They’re forming a consulting firm that will allow them to lend their “expertise and passion”–and the relationships Kremer’s developed in 21 years of Chicago museum PR–to other projects. She notes, for example, that Field’s sleepover program, “Dozin’ with the Dinos” (recently the subject of national media attention), is sold out nearly through the end of the year. That “doesn’t just happen,” Kremer says. “People know me as a straight shooter; maybe when they have a project they’ll say, hey, let’s bring Pat and Carolyn in.”
Sadler, citing museum policy on “personnel matters,” declined comment other than to say that “it was time for a review–it was a standard business decision” and that the museum is now “developing a process” for choosing an agency.
Good-bye . . .
Arts editor Edward Lifson is out at WBEZ. Lifson, who says he’d been subject to increasing interference with his programming, says he tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting with general manager Torey Malatia before he took off last month for a three-week fellowship at the Getty Foundation. He says he wanted to be the one to let Malatia know that he’d also been selected for another opportunity–a Loeb fellowship at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design–that would take him away for the next school year. The meeting didn’t happen until Lifson returned from LA last week; when it did, he says, Malatia made it clear that his job would not be waiting for him.
The station’s managing editor for public affairs, Sally Eisele, says that’s not exactly how things went down but declined to elaborate, since it’s a “personnel matter and can’t be discussed.” Eisele says a permanent replacement host for Hello Beautiful!, the weekly on-air culture magazine Lifson created and hosted, will be chosen by fall, and the station will be posting its opening for an arts editor next week, “moving rapidly” to fill that position. Eisele says that “the station’s commitment to covering arts and culture remains as strong as ever.”
Lifson, meanwhile, is making plans to be back on the radio in a year or so with a new weekly show (and Web site) about cities and their architecture. He says he has funding lined up and will be looking for a major public radio station to distribute it. He thinks “Chicago would be a natural place for the show to come out of” and considers Chicago Public Radio “one possibility.” At the very least, he says, “I certainly hope they’ll carry it.”
And Hello Again
Former Hubbard Street 2 heads Julie Nakagawa and Andreas Bottcher announced plans last week for a new nonprofit organization, DanceWorks Chicago–a training and performance “laboratory” for everyone fromdancers to administrators and board members. They’re off to Europe for the summer, but Nakagawa says they’ll devote the rest of this year to raising money; they hope to be up and running in early 2008. They’ve opened an office at 307 N. Michigan, and their first-year budget goal is $400,000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Pat Kremer photo by A. Jackson.