Skip to Content
Cornwall Museums Partnership

Marketing: Why size doesn’t matter





Whether you love it or hate it, everyone wants to talk about marketing. Is it some kind of magic that can transform your museum into a popular cultural hub, or is it just a lot of effort for no return?

Well… The truth is, marketing, plain and simply is telling people about who you are and what you do. The challenge is doing this in the right way, and reaching the right people.

Whether your organisation is big or small, the principles are always the same. Whilst researching for a recent talk I gave, I found an interesting article on the V&A website. Always an avid admirer of their collections, I always thought they must have the most fantastic budget and complicated marketing plan to execute the amazing exhibitions they have on offer. The truth is, they are just like the rest of us. It’s all down to a few key principles.


Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes

Look who visits your museum and try start to form a profile of of your regular visitors. These groups can be split down into categories, helping you form a plan of how to best decide how to target these groups.

Different target audiences will have different motivations for attending a museum. Holiday makers and seasonal visitors will have different reasons for attending than a local family looking to explore a new exhibition. Think about where these people are likely to go, and how can you get the information to them. Where are they likely to see the information and what will make them come and visit?

You could look at targeting the tourism bureaus, posters in local shops/ supermarkets, offers in newspapers offering BOGOF, or a ½ price vouchers, inviting editorial teams of lifestyle magazine to do a feature, leaflet drops in holiday homes etc.  The opportunities are endless.

Use your contacts

By creating a list of local press contacts, you should try to reach out to them and get to know them. You may have to give something away, like inviting them for a free lunch or an exclusive first look around a new exhibition.

Whether this is basic editorial such as a local newspaper or lifestyle magazines, these organisations will offer a degree of free editorial if you have a good story. It’s sometimes an idea to centre this around an ‘event’ or ‘launch’ to measure how impactful the coverage has been.

Look for opportunities

Marketing is all about raising awareness, this maybe as simple as featuring in parish newsletter, the local tourism guides, and ultising memberships for organisations such as Town Chambers, FSB’s, and Visit England.

Target specialist groups

Is there a particular group that would be interested in an exhibition? For example – the V&A often get editorial in musical magazines for exhibitions that are centred around musicians like David Bowie and Pink Floyd. This is no different for your exhibitions. The larger museums use basic marketing principles but operate on a much larger budget. Many of the same principles can be replicated on a much smaller scale.

Creating posters and leaflets

These can be in targeted areas for groups that you are trying to invite into the museum. It may promote late openings for students, or mother and baby mornings for parents.

Social media awareness

It can be the dreaded medium that you either love or hate. Good content is key. It’s best to have one person managing this. Create a calendar of items like key events, special days, holidays etc. These will form the basis of your content. Concentrate on the platforms you know best. Use it to enhance what you are already doing – it won’t necessarily bring people to you directly, but it will raise awareness. It’s more important to post good content fairly regularly rather than something that’s not interesting everyday.

Create events that your audience want to attend

When looking at your target audience, you then need to ask yourself the question, what are you doing that will make them want to come to you. This could include reaching out to different groups and offering the museums as a space that people want to use. Are there speakers that could come for a special talk? Guided tours that could take place in School Holidays?

Communicate to your regulars

Retention of visitors is easier than acquiring new ones, so it’s also important to make your regulars feel valued and listened to. This could be by regular communication by email and newsletters. It also includes surveying people on the door to find out exactly where they have come from. This could be a simple question on admission to the museum or by asking them to fill in a quick form.

Collaboration is key

Don’t be put off, as many of these activities will take time to establish links within the community. One great way of spreading the word of a campaign, is collaboration with other organisations. This can range from anything to hosting a breakfast club for the chamber of commerce, to building links with local schools and colleges.

Going forward…

Some of the best marketing can be done for free. The main task is to look at the capabilities within your team and give tasks to each person. Remember, it’s impossible to do everything. It’s better to focus on one or two things and complete them well rather than a scattered effect.

Author: Becky Palmer, PlanB Marketing & Events

Our Funders