Managing Director and Marketing & Communications Manager: Michel van Maarseveen and Jacolien van Wezep of Paleis Het Loo

Astrid Prummel 17 June 2021
Interview Leadership

Jacolien van Wezep, after a 20-year corporate career, was looking for a place where she could do something completely new. General director Michel van Maarseveen of Paleis Het Loo found it interesting that she was not from the museum world. Their match was not obvious, but it clicked immediately. “Even during the job interviews, the energy sparkled back and forth.

Part 6 in a series of interviews with executives and their marketing & communications directors.

It wasn’t the royal allure that attracted Jacolien van Wezep two years ago to the position of Manager of Marketing & Communications at Paleis Het Loo, which is pretty much right up against her backyard. By the way, she does love the royal family, which Michel van Maarseveen surprisingly does not consider important. Michel: “Kingliness is not a prerequisite for working for us. Rather not, I would almost say. We don’t need groupies.’ He himself is neutral about it. ‘I am not a big supporter of the royal house and not a republican. I find the royalty historically very interesting and see its great added value for the Netherlands.’ Jacolien: ‘I also don’t think that Palace Het Loo is only about royalty. This is a historically important place. If you want to understand the Netherlands, learn something about the history of the House of Orange and how we came to have our monarchy, you can’t ignore Het Loo Palace.’

You worked for Ahold Delhaize, Wehkamp, C1000 and IBM. Why were you “done” with the world of corporates?

Jacolien: ‘I enjoyed working there, but I didn’t see myself doing the same trick again for a long time at a large corporate. I was looking for a place where I could do more justice to myself outside the frameworks, limitations and cycles that you simply cannot avoid at large corporate – and certainly listed – companies. There was a great assignment here. It appealed to me enormously. The energy at Het Loo Palace is so special. As soon as you enter the grounds here you forget the outside world. That is unique about this place. The phase of change in which Palace Het Loo was rediscovering itself, working toward the grand reopening; to step into that was a treat. A big candy jar for a marketing professional.’
Michel: ‘I remember one time you said: here you are walking around in your own product. I thought that was so beautiful.’
Jacolien: “Yes, but that’s the way it is: you step into your brand as soon as you come in here.

Why did Paleis Het Loo choose Jacolien as Manager of Marketing & Communications?

Michel: “The renovation we have been in since 2018 also means that we have to reinvent ourselves as a company, as an organization. We want to make the Paleis Het Loo brand more contemporary. We had a good, operationally strong marketing communications department that knew how to maintain lines of communication to the media, but we were looking for someone who could also bring strategic innovation to make the palace ready for the future.

‘Business director Pien Harms and I did the job interviews together, and I remember well that during the interviews with Jacolien we just couldn’t get out of talking to her. There was a click right away. I think it’s important in this kind of conversation that you get energy from someone; Jacolien gives plenty of that.

‘In the 25 years I’ve been working in the museum world, I’ve noticed that you have two types of new employees: one has to get used to it tremendously the first year, the other actually understands right away what is being asked. Jacolien is the latter, which allowed us to gain speed quickly. While she has a totally different background. I am very pleased with her professionalism, strategic thinking and enthusiasm. We live on enthusiasm for our product and she can bring that out like no other.

Indeed, did you not have to get used to it, even though many things must have been different from the corporates you came from?

Jacolien: “I stepped in without judgment, and if I didn’t understand something I asked: why are we doing things this way? More reflective than I immediately thought for myself. People here were less commercial and a little more operationally minded, more focused on doing, on execution. There was less inclination to hover over the subject matter for a moment and ask: why are we actually doing this, is anyone waiting for this, have we ever asked our visitors about this?

‘A few things struck me from a commercial point of view. Then, for example, there was a bus of visitors none of whom bought anything in the museum store. I wondered: is the store in the right place, do we have the right offer, do visitors not know about it, are they only there for a short time? Just to understand. I come from a retail environment, so I wanted to know: once the group is in, do we know what they want, how do we get them to spend more euros with us? Last year we gave the museum store a place in our social campaigns and the sales of the online store have really gone up by communicating more online. These are small gains, but it is actually very easy to turn on. Turning people on was also fun to do.’

What does the new positioning of Palace Het Loo look like?

Michel: “Our ambition is to almost double the number of visitors to 500 or 600 thousand in the first year after the reopening. Before Jacolien came, we restructured, integrating programming and marketing. Before that, marketing communications only came into play after everything was already figured out: the exhibition was already up and they could just quickly write the press release, that’s what it came down to. When Jacolien came, programming and marketing were in one cluster, but it still had to be worked out. We were at that stage. We said: we are going to reposition Het Loo, more towards the visitor and we are also going to look more at: what is our social task, how do we relate to the royal house, what does that mean for current events? What do we want to give to our visitors, why do they come here?

What are the answers to these questions?

Michel: “I think it’s a multitude of things. There are people who come for the beauty of the place and there are people who come for the stories. We want the visitor to be touched; no one leaves here emotionless. We want to reinforce that. In the old situation, we were sometimes seen as the shop window of the monarchy. Many visitors also think that the king and queen still live here. On the one hand, that is very attractive and indeed, very occasionally you see them walking around here, which confirms that image. But the royal family is also sometimes viewed in a less positive light – you saw that in the discussion about the royal family’s Greek vacation during last year’s lockdown. We think we should be a platform where all these things are discussed. We won’t be critical, but we show value-free all sides of a story, not just the agreeable side.

If Het Loo used to be the shop window of the monarchy, how would you describe it now? What would be a nice subtitle?

Jacolien: ‘I thought it was beautiful that our queen promoted the More Music in the Classroom Foundation in the week she turned 50. I then thought, More Palace Het Loo in the Classroom! Every child should get something from the history Netherlands, from our royal family and monarchy. We are subsidized by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and are allowed to show schools and educational institutions our beautiful product and offer teaching programs We have recently had an education marketer specifically dedicated to this. Paleis Het Loo is historical heritage that we want as many people as possible to know about.
Michel: “Society is changing, cultural diversity and inclusion are important themes. Also with us. Everyone can take home something different: the beautiful garden, an insight, a nice day, good coffee. But even a republican should feel at home here, or people who were not born in the Netherlands and want to learn more about our culture. A challenge for us is to attract more staff and volunteers with a migration background. There is still a world to win there for our organization with 130 employees and 170 volunteers.

How is your mutual cooperation?

Michel: “Definitely good. Between Jacolien and me is Marieke Berendsen, Head of Public & Program. But we have always said: communication must have a short line to the management. Marieke handles that very well. Jacolien and I have a lot of contact and we are regularly here at the palace. We consult a lot, ask each other for advice and switch gears quickly.’

Do you ever have disagreements?

Michel: “Definitely. But I’m happy with Jacolien’s professionalism and trust that too.’ To Jacolien: ‘I look more through a policy lens and you look more substantively: how do we bring that to the public? We exchange arguments and the best approach follows from that.’
Jacolien: “Michel and Pien give me a lot of space from the management to implement new ideas.

Have you come up with many new ideas during this corona time?

Jacolien: “Definitely. At large staff meetings at the palace, various speakers and management gave an update and addressed people half an hour before we opened. That was a lot like broadcasting. Last year we came up with a talk show concept à la Jinek, in which I interview guests for an hour at the table of our own communications studio. Colleagues can listen in remotely and ask questions. Pien and Michel are the opening guests and at the end they answer critical questions from colleagues and volunteers. The response was very good and lively; there was really a lot of interaction. It made the organization a little more open and brought people closer together during the difficult corona time when many colleagues worked from home. The other day, someone on my team who had last been at the palace last March said that she still always felt connected. I think that’s a compliment to all of us.
‘What also worked well was the newsletter we sent around every week. Colleagues who occasionally worked at the palace asked us to take photos that we shared with colleagues at home via the newsletter. It’s good to try things; you can always quit if it doesn’t work. We don’t have the budget of big corporates, but with free publicity and PR we achieve a lot. We had many recordings of TV programs here last year. That included programs with a broad audience, such as Project Rembrandt. With that, we reached 2.3 million people and it didn’t cost us a euro.

How important is communication to Palace Het Loo?

Michel: “Hugely important. A big advantage for a museum like Paleis Het Loo is that the media are interested in us. That’s an advantage, but it also makes us vulnerable, because if there’s something going on the media know where to find us immediately and then things can go the other way. You have to handle that well. What I find interesting, and Jacolien has also brought this about, is that we started to tell a lot more interesting stories on our website, in addition to practical information for visitors. We had already started a little bit with content marketing, but that has now been really well implemented. Communication is now an important part of our entire strategic and content policy.

Jacolien: “We now also have colleagues who vlog. We gave them vlog tips through our own training institute Palace Academy and came up with vlog concepts. Very nice to see how that has been taken up with great enthusiasm.’

What are the best results of your collaboration?

Michel: ‘The best result is yet to come, I think: the opening. The exact opening date is not there yet, but the turn of the year would be a great time to announce it.’

Jacolien: “We don’t want to give too much away yet. We will start with a beautiful opening show and then there will be a big campaign. We’re also getting a new logo and a new color palette which I’m proud of because it’s a big step for the brand.’

Michel: “I found that difficult for a while. The current logo contains a monogram that dates back to the 17th century, to which, as a historian, I am quite attached. I understood the choice of a logo without a monogram cognitively, but emotionally I found it difficult. But I was persuaded. I relied on Jacolien’s expertise and am greatly looking forward to showing all of the Netherlands and perhaps Europe the new palace.

Paleis Het Loo was built in 1686 on the outskirts of Apeldoorn. Until 1975, the royal family inhabited the palace. It opened to the public in 1984. The museum has been undergoing major renovation, expansion and renewal since January 2018. Reopening is scheduled for 2022. Paleis Het Loo is owned by the Dutch state; Paleis Het Loo National Museum Foundation carries out the management and maintenance of the buildings.

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