Julissa Marenco, the Smithsonian’s assistant secretary for communications and external affairs & chief marketing officer, talks with Doug Simon about the unique challenges of managing communications for the organization’s 19 museums in the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk” video interview.

That requires balancing the needs of each individual museum with the goals of the Smithsonian as a whole, she says. “Each museum unto itself is its own subbrand, if you will, with their own respective communications team. In my capacity, I oversee the big brands from a kind of rounding up all of our museums and all of our cultural centers whenever we need to have a message that's one for the institution.”

To bring the Smithsonian’s brands together, Marenco says that she stresses the common mission that unites all of its parts. “Across the board, we work on educational resources, we work on providing visitors, providing folks that visit us online and in person, educational resources, historical context.”

With museum-going becoming an increasingly virtual experience in a pandemic-dominated world, she says that the digital groundwork the Smithsonian put into place before COVID has been a big plus.

“In a pre-pandemic world, we were heavily invested and working on developing our digital assets so that an individual, irrespective of where they were, had access to the wonderful collections of the Smithsonian and to our exhibits, to our objects, to our educational resources.”

The power of “soft influence” in communications is another topic that comes up for discussion. “In any environment, irrespective of whether it's a decentralized environment, whether it's a more kind of intertwined environment, at the end of the day, being able to have soft skills will help you be more effective.”

Transparency and trust are also key. When Marenco wants to fill a position, she looks for people that she calls “forces for good.” She says that “if you're rooted in that trust and transparency with your colleagues, and they know you're a force for good, that will help you move the ball forward.”

But maybe the most important secret to success that she shares with Simon is to always be prepared—or even overprepared. “What you don't get an opportunity to present will serve you just the same in a different capacity at a different time in a different meeting,” she tells Simon.

View all of the interviews in the “PR's Top Pros Talk” series. Subscribe to get notified when new episodes are available.

Interested in taking part? Contact Doug Simon at dougs@dssimonmedia.com

D S Simon Media helps clients get their stories on television through satellite media tours and by producing and distributing content to the media. The company also produces live social media events.