Can I build my future on a handful of beans?

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The Independent Culture
The problem:

I have, like many people, had to retire early from local government and am unlikely to be employed again. However, I have developed an unusual proposal for my future - a museum of food, which would be largely educational. My background is varied, with nine years in the private sector (mostly architectural work) and 33 years in local government (in urban design, transportation planning, policy and corporate planning, economic development, and tourism). I am qualified as an architect and town planner, and have Master's degrees in Museums and Galleries Management and in London Studies. I have worked with businesses, community interests, third sector agencies, trade unions, and all levels of government (including Ministers). My research, knowledge, experience and collection of references, data and ideas is wide and may be the basis of a successful project, but I feel I may lack the status or "clout" to proceed alone.

Peter Ashworth, Bromley

The solutions:

Sir Terence Conran, Terence Conran Limited, says:

You need to market yourself, and to do that successfully you first need to attract attention. Short letters work - long ones don't. Decide on the nub of your idea, then sell it doggedly to people who you think could help; writers, journalists, critics, board members of museums and galleries, potential sponsors. If you can get a foot in just one door, it can open up all sorts of leads, but be prepared to do the donkey work. Someone influential might allow you to use his or her name, but they are unlikely to lobby on your behalf. As momentum builds, put together a costing or business plan. Be realistic; from what you outline, you are unlikely to get rich, so budget for a fee or salary that you can justify to potential sources of funding or sponsorship. Remember to keep things simple; research data, business plans, your background, etc, should only be presented as appendices to that attention-grabbing "big hit" that will really capture people's imagination.

Steve Marinker, Heinz Public Affairs Manager, says:

The Museum of Food is such a good idea it's a wonder it hasn't been done before. How to get sponsorship? I'd be tempted to configure some of the museum around the big grocery categories. Approach the biggest players in each category with a sponsorship proposal. No marketer will be comfortable with the idea that a competitor might get there first, so at the very least they'll give you a chance to come in and present the opportunity. Another tactic is to match a theme to a sponsor. For example, brands which are keen to be thought of as family orientated might be interested in sponsoring a section on "children and food", while brands keen to position themselves as "pure and natural" might be interested in sponsoring a section on agriculture. Companies are increasingly looking for ways of engaging with consumers interactively. It's called "brand experience", and a museum offers all sorts of opportunities for brands to come alive for the consumer. How about the story of the baked bean? Follow the journey from the Great Lakes of the US to the Heinz factory in Wigan. Activate the laser beam which checks each bean, add the tomato sauce yourself, then check the seam of the can to make sure it's good and safe, etc etc.

Paul Thompson, Director, Design Museum, says:

You must first seek the advice of the Museums & Galleries Commission in London, and your local Area Museums Council, to establish if there is a need for your project. Personal enthusiasm is one thing, but is there a market need in financial/visitor attraction terms, and in scholarly/curatorial terms for your project? Having established the need, and built a business case for support, it will take a lot of lobbying and hard work to get the project opened - and some degree of financial commitment beyond the initial euphoria of Year One. Museums are for life - they are long-term ventures and operate to an entirely different life cycle from a standard commercial venture. Establishing long-term financial commitment, from public sources as well as private, will be difficult but it is essential. A well-known champion or patron who will endorse and lobby on behalf of the Museum would be a strong advantage (Delia or Ainsley?!) My gut reaction (if you'll forgive the pun) is that a Food Museum sounds like a great idea! Good luck.

Compiled by Carmen Middleditch

If you have a work problem and want some expert advice in order to solve it, write to Carmen Middleditch, Fast Track, Features, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2451; or e-mail c.middleditch@