Festival of Museums – event marketing made easy (or where to start…)


EVENT MARKETING written on blackboard background high resolution

“Do you know what we need – we need a blog on marketing!” we all agreed in our Festival of Museums planning meeting a couple of weeks ago. “Yes!” we all thought, “that would be awesome!”

And then we thought about the practicalities of what to include. Cue head scratching.

So what would be useful? What elements would museums like to know when it comes to promoting not only their Festival of Museums event, but any event in the calendar? Where does event planning end and event marketing begin?

What we came up with was a potted guide that covers a bit of event planning and a bit more marketing planning. Some of this will be teaching you to suck eggs, and other stuff you may struggle to find relevance for, but by including all of it we will hopefully give you a pick list of things to consider if they fit in with your plans.

So, here it goes…

“To begin, begin…” Wordsworth

Before beginning all your marketing and planning for your spectacular event, there are a few things that you could do to make the process a little easier for yourself:

  • Tell people – By people I mean your marketing department (if you’re lucky enough to have one), your team, your management, EVERYONE. If everyone knows, then everyone can help spread the word.
  • Come up with a team – Who will be best placed to help? What skills will you need? Who can help with your marketing and on the day? Your team can offer you day to day support as well as being your brainstorming buddies when you’re generating initial ideas.
  • Get ready early – Start your planning now. It’s never too early. The longer you have to plan the more you can achieve. Oh – and you can submit a super duper application for a grant from MGS (gentle reminder nudge – deadline is 25 November…)

“Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.” W. Clement Stone

So what is it that you’re wanting to achieve? How many visitors will you attract? What type of person are you hoping will attend? Think about the following before you go any further:

  • Don’t be too ambitious! A little ambition goes a long way, but don’t try and hold an event to rival the Commonwealth Games…
  • Make sure your targets are realistic e.g. how many people do you realistically think will attend? How many usually come? What’s the capacity of your proposed venue?
  • Make sure you set measurable targets e.g. visitor numbers or income from sale of refreshments.
  • Set some interim measures to check you’re on track throughout the planning process. If you find you’re falling very short on anticipated numbers, it might be time to re-think, or to try something different to attract people.

“Rule number 1 – never lose money. Rule number 2 – never forget rule number 1.” Warren Buffett

It’s important that you don’t lose money doing this. No, really. Even if you are only able to break even, income generation should be one of the things you are considering early in your planning. You could try:

  • Charging an entry fee
  • Charging for refreshments
  • Getting sponsorship (either financial or in kind)
  • Or you could try more novel ideas that fit in with your event (activities like ‘Guess the age of the curator?’ ‘Guess what the strange object in our collection was used for…?!?’ You get the idea…)

We’ll be covering this in more detail in a future blog, but if you’re considering how you’ll do this early in the process, you’ll be able to plan them in far more easily – and potentially source some awesome prizes or a fantastic local home baker to provide a scrumptious income source!

“Everyone is not your customer.” Seth Godin

The basis of marketing and the basis of event planning are the same – who are you catering to? Remember – there’s no such thing as the ‘general public’! Segment your audience into different groups depending on:

  • Who they are
  • What age they are
  • Where they live etc.

The group you put them in will dictate how you speak to them and what you plan as the content of your event. Also, unless it’s by design don’t limit your audience by being too ‘niche’.

“The most important thing to remember is you must know your audience.” Lewis Howes

Once you’ve decided who you want to attract, think about what you know or have found out about them. What appeals to them – their likes and dislikes? Are there any other characteristics you’re aware of?

You might find information from those in the front line (front of house), any visitor surveys you might have done, or even friends groups that you might have. Or just know someone that fits your audience profile.

Another way to find out people’s opinions is to use your social media channels. If your existing followers are the ones you’re aiming your event at, why not ask them what they’d like to see or where they find out about events?

If you’re aiming to attract an audience you’re less familiar with you might want to look at either the National Census  which will give you some quite in-depth details about the make-up of the population in your area, or the Visitor Attraction Monitor which will give you the latest data on visits to Scotland’s attractions, with a particular focus on museums and galleries.

Whoever you end up aiming to attract, come up with a persona around them. That is to say, think of someone you know who fits your audience profile. Throughout your planning, keep them in your mind and check regularly that what you’re planning will be their cup of tea. No point in offering a fun event involving a bar, band and fluorescent face painting if they’re more your sit down dinner and poetry reading type…

“Competition makes us faster. Collaboration makes us better.”

Before you go any further, it’s worth considering what else is on offer in your area. Think of this in terms of:

  • Your audience – what else will attract them (and potentially keep them away from your event)?
  • The date – is there anything else on locally on the same day (and that could potentially draw the focus away from your event)? Chances are, if you’re part of Festival of Museums, this is a distinct possibility!
  • Price – how are other things in the area priced? Are they competitive with you? Or you with them..? What can you and can’t you charge for (i.e. if there is free parking round the corner and you are charging for parking, chances are you won’t make much money!)

And finally:

  • Can you collaborate? If another event is happening, you either schedule yours at a different time, or you work with each other to drive visitors from one event to the other. Win win!

The key to this is to have your ear to the ground in your local area. Make sure you’re talking to other museums and galleries about your plans. Check with your local friendly journalist (if you have one) what else they’re featuring. Look at the ‘things to do’ guides (either online or offline) in your area – can you identify any clashes?

 “Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh the things you can think up, if only you try.” Dr Seuss

So now comes the fun bit. You’ve done the background planning. You’ve thought about who you’d like to join you. You’ve found out which of those pesky local events you’ll be up against, or found yourself a wonderful ally who will also be running something the same day. You’ve thought of how you’ll raise a bit of cash on the day. Now for the event planning.

When you go to have your initial brainstorm with all your creative colleagues, remember:

  • What you’re wanting to achieve
  • Your audience (think about the persona you built up)
  • Your income generation plans
  • Who you’ll be working with/in competition with

Now is the ideal time to read our fantastic Event Planners blog which will give you far more practical guidance around planning the event itself.

And keep your eyes peeled for our next blog early next month which will give you MUCH more detail on the channels of marketing you can use and practical steps to creating a big noise around your event!

In the meantime, keep up to date with all the festival fun by signing up to receive the Festival of Museums ebulletin, follow us on twitter @FestofMuseums or check our webpage for updates.

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