Elizabeth McGuire Interviews Marketing Director Cindy Hohman

March 8, 2021

Executive Director Elizabeth McGuire recently interviewed Cindy Hohman, Marketing Director of the Colorado Music Festival & Center for Musical Arts, about Cindy’s career path, how she found the Festival, and about the Festival’s 2021 brand refresh, which Cindy managed. The Festival’s new brand will roll out gradually over March; preview the new logo here:

Watch the interview or read the full transcription below.


Elizabeth McGuire: Hi, I’m Elizabeth McGuire, Executive Director of the Colorado Music Festival & Center for Musical Arts. And as part of my goal to highlight our exceptionally talented staff, I’m very pleased to introduce Cindy Hohman, our Marketing Director. Hi Cindy.

Cindy Hohman: Hi Liz.

Elizabeth: Cindy, I’d like to discuss a bit about our Festival brand refresh that we went through recently, but first people may be interested in your background a bit. If you don’t mind answering these questions, what led you into arts marketing to begin with?

Cindy: Well, I am absolutely a marketer period. It’s a large part of who I am. And so I actually got into marketing in just the general nonprofit world. But I loved the arts and I always tell people that my wee little one back then was my inspiration for working in the arts because she was a little artist in kindergarten and I was interested. Somebody said, “Hey, you should go over to this art school and check out their camps for young creative kids.” And I went over to the Art Students League, which is in Denver, and signed my kid up for these camps and loved the place and loved the artists and the environment and the creativity. And I just wanted to be part of it, so when a job came open there, I applied for it and got that job. And since then my daughter is now in her early twenties and graduating with a BFA in fine art. And so I’ve been marketing in the arts for all of those years.

Elizabeth: Wow. Yeah, that’s an incredible story. Our kids influence us in so many ways. I’ve had similar experiences, so thank you. And I’m grateful for this every day, but what led you to take this current position?

Cindy: Well, I was working as the Marketing Manager in a large team of very talented people at the Denver Art Museum and I got remarried. And my now-husband was living up here in Boulder County and he’s an engineer, I’m an arts marketer. I said, “Why don’t I move toward where your job is?” And we came up to Boulder County and then my commute to the Denver Art Museum was just hard. It was a lot of hours spent commuting. 

And so I left that job and I did some consulting for a number of years and got connected to the Colorado Music Festival & Center for Musical Arts and was really honestly taken with, well, I think we all know this, I’ve said it before, I was very taken with you. When we met and had coffee, we had an instant connection and we really connected. And just as I would put it, we really jived on a number of things. We just had a lot of like, “Of course, of course. This is how things need to be working.” 

And then you needed some help with an interim marketing position and I was not interested in taking a full-time job. I just ended up falling in love with the staff and your management style and the creative things that we get to do. And I essentially… There were jokes in the office for a number of months about how you were just going to extend my contract for 400 months or something, and I woke up one day and decided, you know what? If I actually left this position and let somebody else become the Marketing Director, that I’d be sad. And it’s true. I came in one day and I said, “Liz, I think I want to talk about this position.” And you said, “It’s yours if you want it.” And that was just such a match made in heaven. It’s been great.

Elizabeth: Well, thank you. The flip side of that was having to conduct a search and meeting some incredible people along the way, but feeling, “Gosh, the person that I want in this role is right in the other room.” And it felt equally distressing for me, but it’s like, well, I have to do this. I have to fill this position. But so when you came into my office that day, I was very excited and I felt a little bit vindicated too like, “Okay, good. I’m not wrong. My instinct isn’t wrong about this fit.” So thank you. Yeah, definitely mutual.

And so let’s get into the branding because we recently went through a brand refresh for the Festival and we’re about to unveil that. And I’m very excited about it. And it is something that we’ve been talking about for many years. It’s been a dream. Could you give us a little bit of background about the Festival logo?

Cindy: Yeah. Well, I’ll take a half a step back and say that one of the things that when you and I were sitting in your office regularly and talking about the things that the Marketing Director needed to do for this organization, we both were very adamant that the Center, our school, and the Festival needed separate identities because they’re separate things.

And so we were talking about doing a brand refresh for honestly, both sides of the organization, but the festival being the one that was more critical. And so those conversations just got me excited and this project has been something that honestly I’ve worked in. 

I have a Master’s degree in brand management and I have done a lot of marketing research and I’ve done a lot of the pieces and parts of brand refresh projects, but normally in a position like mine, you’re hiring an agency and somebody else does the work and you give them some money and you have a little bit of input. And I was really excited to actually be able to lead the process myself and be kind of the head consultant for the project.

So I’m super excited too. We have this beautiful new logo and a very clear personality for the Festival. And so I think that’s what you asked me. I just kind of go on about it.

Elizabeth: No, that’s exactly how I remember it as well. It’s been a long-time goal of the organization, but… Well, I’ll let you answer this question, but what was the timing? Why did we choose this timing for the brand refresh?

Cindy: COVID. COVID has changed a lot of things for a lot of organizations. And for us, we were extremely lucky to be in the position, us as staff, that we were able to get government support, the payroll protection stuff. And our staffs remained intact and we didn’t have a festival. And so, it was an opportunity for us to do something in the summer that we would never, ever have the time to do. And honestly, if it weren’t a COVID year, I’m not sure we would have been able to carve that time out of a year at all because as you know, but maybe those watching don’t know, is our administrative team manages two separate things — at the Festival in the summer, and a year-round community music school.

And so when the Festival isn’t “tickets on sale and 20 some concerts through the summer,” the flip side of it is the school is getting ready, is ramping up. And so there’s never really a downtime except for those two weeks after the Festival when we all just kind of half pass out and just, we’re so tired. And, but that’s just a forced break. It’s honestly something where we have to pick ourselves back up pretty quickly and get back into because the fall for the school is very busy. And so it was really a perfect opportunity for us. And if there’s anything that I could say about a COVID year that I’m grateful for, was the opportunity to do this project so.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s been important for us as people and as a staff to find the silver linings in the COVID era and that was certainly one of them. I mean, again, it’s been a dream of ours and we were able to do it. And it’s always… I was certainly aware of your background and your degree, your advanced degree in branding, and, but in a normal year, we wouldn’t have been able to take your time to do that. We would have normally… And we’re planning on having to have, bring in some sort of a consultant to do it for us, and which is extremely expensive if you want it done really correctly. So the opportunity that we had to be able to kind of lean on the staff strength that we had in you, and then also bring in some other volunteers, that I’d like you to talk about a bit, who was involved in this process?

Cindy: Yeah. So I was really the, I guess you’d say the project manager. Probably the best title for me for this project and kind of the project lead. But then we had, I had, and I’ll say I had, I had a partner in this of Arlene Gerwin, who is a member of our board. She has extensive background in brand management and brand strategy. And she’s just a lovely, very smart person. And she was my partner in this. And I was very excited to have her as a sounding board for all of it. And like what next steps do we need to take? What strategy, what research are we missing? She helped me review a lot of content and research and all of those things that we already had and kind of helped me really distill those things into something that the creative team could use.

And then we’re also very lucky that Henry Beer who is… So many people in Boulder know him, he’s so well known for his design business that he has run in Boulder for decades, I think. And he’s extremely talented as a, I guess you’d say maybe creative director, and that’s really the role he served in for this project is just directing the creative and kind of being the connection between the strategy and the actual artists doing the graphic design. 

Henry introduced us to Mark Jasin, who did the graphic design and the logo work on this. And Mark is extremely talented as well and he’s both a… Does graphic design as well as brand strategy and illustrations, so he’s a multi talented creative. So we got very lucky to have him involved as well.

And then of course, not as an extra, but as a really critical piece of this whole team and the process was the staff. I mean, you and me and Peter [Oundjian], our Music Director, and Alberto, who’s our General Manager, and a couple other board members really, we got together and had a number of really in-depth strategy discussions about who we are and who we want to be and who our audiences are and we want them to be. And so, it was just a great team effort with a couple of really special team members that we were able to convince to join us.

Elizabeth: So what were the primary goals of this process when we entered into it?

Cindy: Well, definitely — one of the biggest goals, as I said before, is that the Festival needed an identity that was clearly for the Festival and represented who we see the Festival being now and into the future. And we want to still make sure that that brand for the Festival communicates some kind of… is a shared family with the Center for Musical Arts as well, but it needed to really have its own personality. And so they’re like siblings. They’re not the same thing. They’re not the same person or the same personality, but they’re siblings. And so that was important.

And for me, a very important part of this process was, as you’ve heard me say so many times, redesigning a logo or a brand refresh project like this is not having somebody show up in front of us and put a logo with some pretty colors in front of us and just say, “Isn’t this pretty?” because pretty doesn’t get to the point. The goal here is having a clear strategy about who we are and who we want to be, and then have that reflected in the logo and the colors and what we say about ourselves. And so that was, as you know, a huge chunk of work that we did leading up to handing off that creative brief to the creative folks.

Elizabeth: So that’s my next question though, is what were the elements of that creative brief? What needed to come together in order for us to hand something off to the artistic team and say, “Here. Here’s what we need this brand to reflect”?

Cindy: Yeah. Yeah. So we ended up having just a, I think it was maybe a page and a half creative brief, and the creative brief had, I think, five or six key statements about who we are. And as you can imagine, this organization is more than 40 years old and there have been many, many surveys conducted over those decades. And there is research everywhere that you can… Secondary research you can go find. There’s always studies being done about arts audiences. 

And so there’s all this information that we had to kind of bring together. And if you can think about that, we probably reviewed six or seven different secondary research reports. We reviewed probably four years worth of survey data that we had on our end. I conducted an additional survey on top of that going out to thousands of our current and past patrons. 

And so we had to really distill all of that into these five bullet points about who we are. And we had to also distill who our audiences are and who we wish them to be. And then the other thing was, for me, what really got built into all of that creative brief was I love… And I wish I… Actually, I think I have the book here with me, I’ll show you this nice, big —

Elizabeth: Oh, good. I was hoping you would share the book.

Cindy: –My nice big book that is [Archetypes of Branding]… Yeah, but I’ve had this book before in my career and I actually went out and bought another copy of it, but it’s basically using Carl Jung’s archetypes. Those have been built upon for marketing and branding use. And so it’s basically like, “What are your personality archetypes?” And so we went through a process here with the staff and the board and through surveys to our patrons, kind of asking those questions of like, “What’s our personality?”

And we really collected all of this information and got together in a meeting and decided the three archetypes. I think I’d say the primary archetype we focus on and what you’ll see in this logo is the Artist. That is our primary architect, which makes sense. It’s not something out of the blue and we didn’t just make up something that we’re trying to make it make sense. That’s fundamental to who we are, but then the other two archetypes being the Athlete, meaning strong and strength and persistence and perseverance. 

And so the Artist, the Athlete, and then the Visionary. And that was very important, I think, to both you and Peter, that we’re not just going to sit back on our heels, that we’re always pushing forward and trying to do new things and kind of be on the leading edge.

And so that Artist, Athlete, and Visionary personalities are really present, I hope you’ll see in that logo, in the materials that we produce from that.

Elizabeth: Well, one of my favorite memories from those conversations… Well, I should say there are a couple. One is that group that we had, the small group that got together and made those final decisions, whittled them down into those three really quickly. We all really kind of came into it with the same sense and I think that’s a good sign that we all believed in the same archetypes.

And then one of the conversations was relative to the Athlete because that’s one that maybe you wouldn’t immediately think of, but one of our board members, it was Stephen Trainor in the meeting who said: think about the musicians and how they show up for six weeks. They perform that number of concerts under those circumstances, it’s onstage, the weather can change. It is an athletic pursuit, physical stamina for everyone to put this Festival forward.

And I really like… I think that, and it also really reflects Boulder as a community as well because people are athletic here. They’re healthy. Certainly we all strive to be more so, but I loved that we weren’t just talking specifically about the Festival, but the conversation became broader about the community and how do we think people might want to see us? What would draw them in from other parts of the world? What aspects are special about us that we’d like to hone in on? 

So I loved the Visionary. I loved the Athlete and of course the Artist was a clear choice. And I have to say going through that exercise, and I think brand refreshes do this for everyone, if you do it the right way you come out of it with more than a brand. You come out of it with a kind of a guideline for thinking about things as well. The brand infuses itself into every aspect of the organization. So I always think about those archetypes when I write a letter… 

Cindy: Me too. And I love those. It’s like every… I love them because it’s like everything that we write and everything that we produce. I’m currently working on what folks will see is our 2021 season brochure. And you will see that the clear direction on this is it needs to uphold the Artist archetype and as the primary. And I think everyone will see that in there and which makes me so happy because that’s what this whole process was driving toward is what’s the foundation of who we are and then how to reflect that through how things look and how we talk about ourselves.

Elizabeth: Well, that said, I’m thrilled about the logo. I enjoy this type of process immensely anyway. I love visual art. And to me, this was kind of an experience in visual art, being able to see multiple options. And then again, the group really honing in on one in particular that I think is brilliant and you’ll unveil it elsewhere. But what are you most proud about relative to this process?

Cindy: Gosh, you know what? To be honest with you, I’m very proud that what I said I could do, I did. It’s one of those things that, like I said, it’s the marathon that you have. You’ve run so many 5Ks and 10Ks, of course you’re sure you can do a marathon, but until you get into it and you get into the middle of that process and near the end where you think you’re not sure you’re going to make it and you finish it and you sit down on the ground and cry because you’re so happy that you actually proved to yourself that you can do what you said you could do. And that’s how I feel about this whole process. And the end result is that I’m just extremely proud of delivering the process and the end result that I promised you I could.

And the other thing that I’m quite proud of is that… marketing can be one of those things that people either think they know, everybody thinks they’re a marketer, or it can be something where people just want to check out because the language can be a little bit different when you’re talking about brand and such things and brand positioning and all of those kind of more… Yeah, very cerebral in the marketing world and people can either check out or just think they know how to do it, and don’t want to engage in a process. 

And I’d say everybody between the volunteers that we had helping, Mark, who is the one who created the logo, and the staff, everybody was so willing to listen and hear and learn and have some of their predispositions kind of challenged and to say, “Alright. Okay. So maybe that’s what I thought, but maybe this research that we’ve gotten or whatever…”.

Everybody was so very willing to listen to the data and wait for patron feedback, wait for our 650 or so responses to our survey and take this in a very through this process step at a time, rather than trying to just jump to the end and say, “Oh, I know what logo you need and it needs to be green with this font.” So everybody trusted in the process and it really, really worked so very proud of that.

Elizabeth: Great. Well, I mean, as you were talking, I was thinking you actually personally embody the Artist, the Visionary, and the Athlete. It’s exemplified in this process. Thank you so much for all of your incredible work, branding and otherwise.

Cindy: Oh, you’re welcome.

Elizabeth: It was a pleasure talking to you today and hope to see you, hope to be in the same building again with you soon.

Cindy: Yeah, I know. I’ll see you in a Zoom call soon, at least, but I look forward to seeing you in person too. And just so everybody knows, I am actually interviewing Mark, the graphic designer who created the logo for us about the process on his end about doing that and working with us so everyone can watch that as well.

Elizabeth: Well, I look forward to that. Mark is an incredible talent. And again, I thank you, Cindy.

Cindy: You’re welcome. Thanks Liz. Talk to you later.

Elizabeth: Bye.

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