Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on marketing in the heritage sector. We interviewed Tasha McNaught, who works as a Senior Marketing Executive at the National Railway Museum.
Tasha has worked in marketing for five years, having started while studying at the University of York. For the past two years she has lead the development of digital and relationship marketing at the National Railway Museum, working on national and regional campaigns including the tour of Tim Peake’s Spacecraft.
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Hello & welcome to this episode of What Do You Actually Do!? My name is Kate Morris and I will be your host today. In today’s episode we will be talking about digital marketing within the heritage sector. Today we are joined by Tasha McNaught who works as a Marketing & Digital Executive at the National Railway Museum. So Tasha, what do you actually do?
Good question. So I represent and promote the National Railway Museum to people who have already visited, to people who might visit, as well as stakeholders, so people who might be important to us like heritage railway magazines, and I do that through digital marketing. So social media, paid digital advertising, the kind that you see as banners on websites, as well as traditional marketing like posters, big 48 sheets which are like the billboards that you see at roadsides or railways stations and things like leaflets. I also represent our audience back to the museum to try and get more programming which is what they want and to make sure that their views are represented, and their needs are met by the museum as well.
So how do you represent the audience to the organisation?
So we have regular meetings that bring all different departments together that are purely focused on either revenue generation, or visited footfall generation, and that is when everyone brings their perspective and experience. So, I will bring things like, if I have sent an email out and I know that steam rides have received three times as many clicks as a new exhibition we are opening, that is really useful for the museum because they know that people are getting more excited by one product than another and we can put more resources into that.
And you do quite a lot of ‘techie’ stuff in your role don’t you? Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Absolutely! So there is a real mix. I have social media management, so I post regularly across our accounts and interact with people on there, but we also have a CRM system, so that is a ‘Customer Relationship Management’ system. Basically, every time you interact with a company, whether you are making an online order for a shopping website, or you are going to a store and you ask for your receipt to be emailed to you, that all sits on one database, provided you give them consent to do that. So, I work with that to manage when I can contact those people. So if someone has come in and booked to go on our miniature railway ride, in about six months I might email them again saying ‘you haven’t been in a while, do you want to come back.’ I could also use it to see where they live, so if we know we have a huge audience in Leeds, then we can spend our advertising money on that, because we know there are people there who are receptive to our message. It basically allows us to use the limited budget that we have as effectively as possible and try to only talk to people who are interested, rather than annoying everyone that might not be.
So it sounds like your role has got a really creative element, coming up with the ideas for the campaigns, and as you said it is in so many different modes, like posters, as well as digital stuff, but it has also got this really strategic component, and I imagine you have to back up all your arguments to the top people at the railway museum with data to prove what you are saying?
Absolutely. I think the reason and argument side of the degree that I did at university, which was philosophy, really came in handy for that. I am used to building a case and getting across key points, especially things which are quite complex. So, the senior management team at the railway museum, one or two understand the CRM work I just spoke about, but most don’t and so I’ve got to present that information to them in a way that they understand, and I would say that is the most crucial skill that you can have in business, no matter what your speciality is, being able to make it understandable to others and get your point across and convince them to trust in you and what you are doing.
Yes, that kind of speaking with impact, but I guess as you say, it is also backing things up with evidence. So that is interesting that you feel that your philosophy degree directly relates to what you are doing now. Did you have an inkling of what you wanted to do when you were doing your degree?
I think I did. So for me, I chose my degree because I was really interested in the subject, I really enjoyed the philosophy that I did at a-level, and I didn’t really have any idea of what degree I wanted to do relating to a career, I just knew that I wanted to go university and have that experience of those three years, of living with people my own age or learning things, and all the extra-curricular activities available. I thought that was going to be really good for me. So, I just chose a degree that interested me really and it turned out accidentally, that there are all these transferable skills, but that took me a while to realise. It was only when I was applying for jobs, when you’ve gotta market yourself effectively, that you pick out on those little things when you can turn that into a justification, and I felt like a fraud at the time, but looking back it is definitely true – those things have helped.
What led you to digital marketing in particular – how did you decide that was the role for you?
I honestly didn’t decide it, I kind of fell into it. I think being young you come up against more experienced people doubting your experience, but you are also put in this little niche like ‘oh you understand digital – millennial’s you understand that.’ It is certainly not always true, and there are certainly more people who have a lot of experience, who have taken the time to learn it and get on board with it, but while that niche was available to me, I was like I’m gonna use that because I can get ahead. I also did a course. So, when I was working at York Commercial Services here at the university, they offered me the chance to do a professional qualification in marketing. You could specialise in strategic communication, digital marketing or PR. I chose digital marketing because there is a lot more technical terminology and analytics at play that I thought, that would help me more. You can pick up so much. The news is so on it in terms of GDPR, big data, those kind of news stories, so you are surrounded by it already by just having that know-how of ‘ this specific term means this’ which is really helpful, as it can be daunting if you feel like you are not quite getting it. If there is a load of people around the table using these words you don’t understand, it’s like – am I meant to be here?
So, would you recommend that people get that qualification? Was it the Chartered Institute of Marketing? Would you recommend that people get that if they want to get into this area?
It was yes. I think, honestly I got more from conferences and stand alone events that I went to that weren’t formal training, it wasn’t something that I put on my CV. I got more from them that was useful. The thing that the qualification gave me was the confidence that I did know what I was doing. I was only maybe 2 years into my career at the point that I started doing that, so it gave me confidence that all this kind of common sense stuff was right. It gives employers the confidence that one, you are committed to your career, that you are not gonna go off in a different direction, and two, you are not young & inexperienced. Depending on your employer, that can be a bit of a worry for them. Others, they see it as an exciting opportunity.
I meet students who are debating whether to do the CIM, and what level, and when to do it. In my experience as a careers consultant I have noticed that with any professional vocational qualification, it can be more useful when you do have some work experience behind you, rather than just finishing university and doing another theoretical qualification without any sort of context and reference. You said you were a couple of years into your career. Would you have appreciated it as much if you had done it at the start? Would it have given you more confidence earlier on? Or do you think it was better to do it after a couple of years more experience?
I think it was definitely better to do it a couple of years after. Once you get four or five years in, I’d say maybe wait and do a post-grad qualification, but in the first one to three years, you want enough work experience under your belt that you can relate to the people around the table who are probably in the same position and you have some real examples to ask questions about. You can relate to the ideas factored around projects that you have worked on. But also, with the side of the professional certificate level of the qualification, and you have to do a case study with that. So, you need to be in a position where your employer is going to give you a bit of freedom with a project. I had that right from the start, because I did a project-based internship through the careers team. That was through the Student Internship Bureau, so I already had that experience and trust, which was helpful. If I hadn’t got that freedom by the time I was doing that qualification, I think I would have struggled a lot more to write a compelling thesis at the end that really gave the CIM team what they were looking for.
The organisation, they paid for that qualification for you?
Yes, that was great!
You’ve mentioned earlier that you feel that you got a lot of transferable skills from your degree, you’ve mentioned words like analysis, problem-solving, and ability to communicate ideas. Any other core skills or personal qualities which you think that somebody should have if they are thinking of working in digital marketing and within the heritage sector?
I think having a passion for learning is really important in the heritage sector. So, museums are places where people will go and spend time and learn when they are there. So being at university and being surrounded by that learning environment matches quite naturally to a museum environment. Also, just getting to know other people from different walks of life and being able to relate to others. That is a key skill. I was really shy at university and I had a good core group of friends, but in seminars I really struggled to speak up. I think, had I got a time machine and gone back, I would have gotten better at that because that was something which made me really nervous in the workplace. You can get used to that, and you get those skills.
How did you overcome that then? Because doing the job that you are doing, where you are having to really convince people to spend part of a precious budget, that people have spent a lot of time fundraising and working hard to get that money, applying for grants etc. You are having to convince them to believe in you and spend the money on the stuff that you are saying is the right thing to spend it on. So, if you were feeling too nervous to speak in a seminar, how did you change from that?
I think there is two things with that. One is simply walking around the museum, I make sure I say hi to everyone. It is really small but it gives you a sense of community and gets your face out there, and just that one act really breaks down that automatic ‘shutdown’ that you might have as a shyer person. So that really broke that down. And secondly, I think it is really going back to that niche. Most meetings I am in, I know I am the person who knows most about a subject. If not, the only person who knows about it, so I don’t have to worry about perfecting what I am going to say in my head before I say it. I don’t have to worry about being 100% accurate, I can go in there confident and say ‘ well, that isn’t the case, I know that generally the trend is…’ Being that person and being asked questions and being seen as that authority really improved my confidence and now I can take that attitude with most things that I do, because I know my ideas are good, I have the ability and it is all grown on those tiny things.
So, any other words of wisdom for students who are thinking that they might want to get into either digital marketing or the heritage sector, any advice that you would give them?
So I think with digital marketing, just read what’s out there. There are so many free online resources. So smart insight is a really good insight for marketing professionals in the digital sphere. Reading articles on there will make you more aware of the terminology being used, or having a go when you have an outlet available to you is really good. So when I was at uni, I was on Alcuin’s college committee, and I had a bit of a go at quite a few things there. It is a nice safe space to experiment and it gave me some really good examples to use in interviews. With heritage, volunteering is always a really good option, or if you can’t facilitate volunteering because you might need an income, then front of house roles, museums are always looking for visitor fundraisers. They are the people on desks usually, or tour guides, or we call ours ‘Explainers’, but York is a really good city to get that seasonal work, even if you did it for just one summer, that is really good exposure. When I’m interviewing anyone that has museum experience, no matter what kind of experience it is, I will always prefer them because it is a unique environment and they understand it and also having the perspective of front of house people is really valuable in an office role and it is something that we don’t get enough of, so I’d definitely say pursue those roles.
Just for any York students out there, we advertise those on our website through our volunteering pages on the Careers website. I will put the link in the show notes. Any sort of key challenges which you think are coming up on the horizon, so if people do get the work experience and think, yes this is something that I want to pursue, what should they be anticipating for the future? You recognized that digital is only going to get bigger, so specializing in that, and capitalizing on the fact that ‘people automatically think I’m an expert because I am a young person.’ Is there anything like that where you think, this is an area that is growing now?
I’d say in terms of digital, something that museums are struggling to get to grips with is how to make the most of digital, and how to measure it as a real measure of success for a whole museum. It has been quite a niche thing, and a lot of museums are now looking at digital as similar to people coming through the door. The director of the British Portrait Gallery recently did an interview in the Guardian, talking about how someone who looks at your website & your online collection, they could be a thousand miles away and might never come to the museum, but they now see you as a trusted and quality museum because of that digital experience. So, I think giving a real appreciation to modern society and the fact that we spend more time on our phones, we are constantly accessing knowledge and learning through the news, through online resources, and counting that in our measures of success alongside visitor figures is I think really important. I think coming into the industry, some of the challenges that you are going to come up against are the low pay and the pressure and the overwork. That is a huge problem in our sector. It is rife with mental health challenges and something that is really important is looking after yourself. Burnout is something that I have seen in colleagues and friends and certainly in myself, so to get home from work and be exhausted is one thing, but knowing yourself and getting a good sense of checking in with yourself, knowing when is too much and when that is, is really important, and making sure that you take time off when you need it, you go to the doctors, and you have honest conversations with your line managers. I think the industry understands it is a challenge and so things like flexible working arrangements, whether you work from home one day a week, I do that, or you might have flexi-time. That is something which they usually facilitate, which is really good and I think the industry is working hard to be more proactive so that people don’t get to that point.
I’m certainly reading a lot in Museum’s Journal, Arts Professional, where that is a key issue. Employers are always wanting employees to do more with less, and there are other sectors like that, and I think you are right, finding that balance, but hopefully it is something that they are trying to address because it is certainly getting a lot of attention, and people are not just accepting it as ‘this is just the way it is’ kind of thing.
Absolutely. I think as well that there is some recent research on visitors to museums. They go there to feel less stressed and it is creates a sort of positive wellbeing feeling for visitors, and making that connection and bringing it back to certain colleagues is really key.
That is a nice peaceful note to end it on. Thanks ever some much for talking to me today, it has been really interesting and good luck with all of the digital marketing stuff.
Thank you very much.
I will add some relevant links to the episode description and a link to the full transcript of today’s show. For more information about the Student Internship Bureau, we actually have two episodes through the What Do You Actually Do series, on different students who have recently done some SIB internships, so if you want to know more about that have a look for the ‘It is not easy being green’ and ‘Make it yours’ episodes to hear about some real life up to date examples of what that is really like.
Thanks for joining us this week on What Do You Actually Do? This episode was hosted by myself, Kate Morris, and edited & produced by the Careers & Placements Team. If you love this podcast, spread the word and subscribe. Are you eager to get more tips? Follow the University of York Careers & Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All useful links are in this episode’s description. This has been produced at the University of York Careers & Placements. For more information visit york.ac.uk/careers.