Michael Cirigliano II
Whitney Museum of American Art
I joined the Whitney Museum of American Art as a copywriter and content creator in the museum's marketing and communications department in February 2020, ready to dive deep into the Whitney's storied collection, exhibition program, and 90-year history. I was excited to expand the museum's digital audience and entice people to visit the Whitney in person.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Just one month after hopping on board, the museum needed to close and I needed to help the team pivot the Whitney's content strategy — and fast. That meant moving away from the onsite experience and instead strategizing ways we could provide inspiration through art and make people feel connected to the museum during its temporary closure.
These are the three steps that made it happen.
Step one: Show people how they could "Whitney from Home."
Using the Whitney's existing content offerings as a foundation, I wrote a Whitney from Home landing page that pulled together all the ways people could engage with the museum's collection and content online. The page kicked off with a message on the importance of creativity, inspiration, and community during uncertain times, which resonanted with our audiences across web, social, and email.
Step two: Transform the museum's newsletter.
The Whitney's email newsletter was completely focused on the onsite experience, which gave me and my team the opportunity to redefine the newsletter's intent. What could we offer readers while we were closed that would continue stoking their interest in the Whitney and provide regular doses of visual inspiration?
To keep our audience satiated, we overhauled the newsletter's structure, which had been focused on overviews of exhibitions on view, dining options, and upcoming events. The new format foregrounded personal voices from the Whitney — each issue included a "Collection Reflection" written by a Whitney staff member about a work from the collection that was lifting their spirits — and then drove readers to thematic content collections and recent activity on Instagram.
We also updated the newsletter's cadence from biweekly to weekly, believing that readers would find value in hearing from the museum more frequently.
During the four-plus months the museum was closed to the public, the weekly Whitney from Home email newsletter:
maintained its strong open rate
increased clickthroughs by 50%
reduced unsubscribes by 50%
Once the museum reopened and I began to draft ledes that focused on the exhibitions on view, all of those stats remained strong.
Step three: Develop new content to engage audiences.
The final piece of the Whitney from Home puzzle involved creating new content that would further engage our audiences. To speak to art lovers of all ages, I wrote copy for a series of coloring pages based on Edward Hopper works in the Whitney's collection, a bingo board celebrating the fifth anniversary since the museum's move to the Meatpacking District, and several long-form Instagram Stories that gave people entry points to learning about key movements and artists in American art.
Then, it was time to reopen the Whitney.
In late summer 2020, New York City was ready to reopen its museums. This didn't mean just redirecting people to the same visitor information, though — there were new hours of operation, amenity closures, and ticketing protocols in place for visiting and a wealth of new policies to communicate to ensure the Whitney followed all mandates from the city and the state.
But most importantly, we wanted people to feel welcomed back to the museum, knowing that the entire Whitney team was doing everything possible to make every visit safe and stress-free. To do that, the language used on our website, in our emails, on our social channels, and across all onsite signage needed to be warm, friendly, and easy for everyone to understand.
Following the reopening, feedback was overwhelmingly positive from visitors and the museum's members. They felt prepared prior to their visit, and felt welcomed and safe during their time at the Whitney.