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How the National Aquarium Aligns its Brand Image to its Mission

The National Aquarium relies on the high volume of marine life content it captures to inspire donations, apply for grants, and connect with followe...

  • 1M+ average annual visitors
  • $1.3B+ economic impact
  • 145k+ assets housed in PhotoShelter

Maryland’s #1 Tourist Destination on a Mission for Marine Life

The National Aquarium is a non-profit institution and Maryland’s #1 tourist attraction, captivating over 1M visitors a year. Much more than an entertainment destination, the organization is committed to marine conservation and environmental stewardship. To carry out their mission, the National Aquarium relies on the high volume of marine life content it captures to inspire donations, apply for grants, and connect with followers to raise awareness on social media.

The Challenge: A Brand With a Buried Message

As the Director of Visual Creative, David Coffey is deeply involved in capturing and managing the vast array of digital assets that showcase the aquarium’s diverse marine life and conservation efforts. He works on a small team with Megan Conway, the aquarium’s Media Specialist and Archivist. When David was hired on, he  identified key areas in digital asset management that required immediate attention to align with the aquarium’s ambitious mission.

Misaligned messaging. News outlets focused on the entertainment aspects of the aquarium instead of its education and conservation efforts. That means missed opportunities for grants and donations.

An inaccessible content blackbox. “[Before PhotoShelter] we were faced with a kind of blackbox of what photos we had and what we didn’t,” explained David. The creative team was burning assets to CDs, saving photos to desktops, or keeping content on a server that was not easily accessible to everyone.

Expensive, ineffective tools. The team tried a “really old, outdated photo management system”  but it was “really bad and really expensive”: $10,000 a year with a 50GB limit. That means that the team was overpaying for a tool that wasn’t setting them up for success.

Brand reputation at risk. Keeping photos on desktops meant no copyright control. “We got sued by a local photographer right before I was hired at the Aquarium for sharing assets we didn’t own because our staff just kept photos on their desktop and used them whenever they needed,” David explained.

“Assets were scattered all over the place before PhotoShelter. Our colleagues on our exhibits and design team were using a system that was only accessible to them; the marketing team was just keeping things in Dropbox, so nobody had shared access to anything. The way that PhotoShelter is set up makes [the platform] so much better than what we were using before. Having a system all of our staff can use is a success.”

Megan Conway, Media Specialist/Archivist

The Solution: A Strong Brand with a Streamlined Workflow

The National Aquarium transformed its digital asset management by switching to PhotoShelter, moving from outdated practices to a streamlined, efficient workflow. This shift has enabled David Coffey and his team to manage and share their vast collection of images easily, significantly enhancing their marine conservation outreach.

Modern asset management. PhotoShelter provided David and his team with a powerful solution that streamlined the search process, making it easier and faster to find the right images. This modern approach prevented repetitive use of the same photos and enhanced collaboration between the communication and social media teams. Features like Quick Send made assets easy to share with internal and external stakeholders and the Lightroom plug-in allowed for swift editing and asset distribution.

Centralized digital media access. “A guest once reached out to us because they didn’t want their photo to be in an advertisement,” explained Megan. “In our old system, we’d be left to struggle with: ‘Where is it? Who sent it out? It’s in Dropbox. Who can tell? Who knows?’ With PhotoShelter we can track assets and we were able to quickly get that [photo] back from all the outlets it was shared to. That peace of mind has been really great for us.”

Protecting its brand reputation. A searchable and accessible library played a key role in safeguarding the National Aquarium’s brand. PhotoShelter ensures the aquarium staff has a clear understanding of photo usage rights, preventing copyright issues. “PhotoShelter is invaluable to us. Every team is able to access it, search so easily, and find what they need, and we are all benefiting from that,” said Megan. PhotoShelter’s permissions feature also enhances collaboration between the creative and social media teams, aligning them on which assets can be shared and assigning specific access based on team roles.

Accelerating grant applications. “A big ROI for us is that people can get on [PhotoShelter] and find specific photos they need to apply for grants to show the impact their program is having in the community,” said David. The improved search functionality enables the aquarium to prioritize educational and conservation-focused content across social platforms to highlight their key initiatives effectively.

“A major factor in our satisfaction with PhotoShelter is that it can be accessed from wherever you are. Especially during the pandemic when some of our processes did come to a halt with remote work, we never stopped posting new content to social media because we were all able to access PhotoShelter. That was a huge win.”

Megan Conway, Media Specialist/Archivist

Realigning National Aquarium’s Brand & Team with PhotoShelter

PhotoShelter has empowered the National Aquarium to share its mission more dynamically and impactfully to inspire donors, receive grants, and attract visitors. Simplified asset management led to more effective storytelling and better engagement with audiences. The National Aquarium can now focus on crafting stories that educate and engage, furthering marine life conservation efforts.

“Showcasing high-quality photos and videos makes a big difference. By capturing and sharing those really magical organic moments, we have seen increased engagement on social media, but we’ve also seen our reputation grow to reflect how we want to be seen as a conservation organization.”

David Coffey, Director of Visual Creative

Go Behind the Scenes with National Aquarium


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