Communication as we open up [Part 2]

This post sets out practical ideas and inspiration from around the world on communications as museums and galleries re-open following the Covid-19 lockdown. It follows Part 1 which set out strategic questions and tips about communications that organisations can consider when re-opening.

Tailor your comms to your organisation

  • Your reassuring information and safety messages don’t have to be dry and generic – link them to your collections and tailor them to your organisation if you can.

I love:

Really make the most of your website

  • Signpost all your marketing to a focal point on your website (ideally a short and clear url) which you can easily update regularly.
  • Date your information page so visitors instantly know if it’s current.
  • Use FAQs as a way of clearly breaking down key information for visitors so they can easily find answers to their questions – consider asking your audiences via social media channels what questions they have ahead of a potential visit, and answer them. Creswell Crags have a great set of clear FAQs for potential visitors.

Chester Zoo has a clear homepage that signposts you to their re-opening video, very comprehensive FAQs, and their booking page.

Consider the images you portray

  • Audit your marketing images and take down any showing busy groups and crowds which will not represent the visitor experience going forward, and put people off.
  • If you’re requiring or advising visitors to wear a face covering when they visit, include some photos of visitors wearing them in your marketing. This will act as a visual prompt, reinforce the message, and help normalise it. The Cromwell Museum has recently announced they request visitors wear face coverings with a photo of a statue of Cromwell wearing one.
  • Involve and show your team in your communications as this is reassuring and shows your whole organisation being on board. I love how this re-opening video from Historic Royal Palaces involves so many different team members.

Don’t forget the importance of internal comms

  • It might sound obvious but make sure staff, volunteers and trustees are kept up-to-date with and are involved in re-opening plans and policies.
  • Prepare answers to FAQs that staff/volunteers may face from visitors and brief them. For example. why do visitors have to pay the same as before when some of the galleries/interactives/experiences aren’t open? Why do visitors have to wear a face covering in the museum shop but not the museum as a whole?
  • Encourage anyone who’s front of house and in visitor-facing roles to feed back on visitor experiences, whether through anecdotal feedback, observational or more formalised surveys. And back office staff – including those with responsibility for communications – should be encouraged to spend time on the “shop floor” to get a better understanding of what it’s like and how the experience can be improved.

Make the most of stakeholder comms

  • Invite local media to visit and walk through what a visitor experience will be like.
  • Partner up with other local attractions and support each other, cross-promote visitors and encourage visits to your locality.

Word of mouth

  • Encourage early visitors who have a positive experience to spread the word, whether it’s to their friends and families or on TripAdvisor.
  • Listen to and be responsive to feedback (whether directly to you or on TripAdvisor or Google Reviews).

A big mismatch in your messaging and visitors’ reviews will have a detrimental impact on trust and future visits (see for example some very mixed TripAdvisor reviews since re-opening for LegoLand Windsor).

Make the most of the We’re Good to Go mark

  • Apply for and use the We’re Good to Go mark in your promotion. I’ve seen lots of organisations already proudly sharing the mark e.g. the National Holocaust Memorial Centre and Museum on its Facebook page, and Woodbridge Tide Mill Museum on its home page.
  • Contact Visit Britain for PR opportunities (page 21), who are interested in hearing:
    • Stories of people or tourism businesses that are adapting and / or innovating as they prepare to re-open
    • Day trip content ideas an hour or less from a major city, town or location
    • And news and major upcoming events.

I’d love to discover more great examples of museums and cultural organisations’ re-opening communication, so do share if you know of any gems.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Communication as we open up [Part 1]

As museums start to re-open their doors to visitors following the Covid-19 lockdown, marketing and communications will play a crucial role in informing, reassuring and engaging audiences.

It’s not business as usual and we can’t expect audiences to come flocking back simply because we’re open again, much like the “build it and they will come” mantra was always disingenuous.

Audiences’ experiences of the lockdown and pandemic have varied enormously, and the same goes for their confidence, willingness and ability to visit in the coming weeks and months.

This blog sets out questions and tips about communications that museums can consider when re-opening, and Part 2 includes some ideas and inspiration from museums across the world that have already re-opened.

Context

ALVA (The Association for Leading Visitor Attractions) has commissioned visitor sentiment research tracking how the public feels about returning to visitor attractions over the past months. ALVA has generously made this available to all free of charge, and it’s a really useful place to start.

Key findings (from Wave 4, conducted 8-11 July 2020) that impact on communications include:

  • there is growing confidence in visiting attractions although half the market remains cautious about visiting
  • younger people are more likely to be the earliest returners, with those from older age groups less confident about a quick return – especially to indoor attractions
  • visit confidence among those with children is now higher than average for every attraction type and growing
  • the main barrier to visiting is still around social distancing (especially about fellow visitors), although this has softened slightly following the social distancing guidelines’ reduction from 2m to 1m+
  • anxiety around using all forms of public transport to travel to attractions remains high
  • attractions located in tourism hotspots need to keep local residents onside as they seek to attract summer tourists (many local residents would rather tourists stay away)
  • the ‘We’re Good to Go’ mark has built some strong awareness already and is likely to have a major positive impact on visit confidence
  • there is a demand for attractions’ facilities but also high anxiety around using them, especially toilets, indoor catering and interactives
  • there is increasing support for the compulsory wearing of face masks/coverings for visitors to make them feel more comfortable about a visit.

Questions to consider when planning your re-opening communications

  1. Can any elements of your existing communications plans be resuscitated, or do you need to develop something from scratch?
  2. Which audiences are you now targeting? Which of your previous target audience groups are likely to return in the short-term? Are there any new audiences you could reach out to and engage?
  3. How will you reach these audiences? What channels will you use?
  4. What are these audiences looking for? What concerns do they have? What information do they need? What do you need to communicate to them?
  5. What will you spend your marketing and communications budget on?
  6. How will you evaluate what you do?
  7. How can you maintain an agile approach to your communications? (You may need to quickly adjust what you do as government guidelines change or in the event of a localised lockdown).

Top tips for re-opening communications

  1. Communicate as a human, show empathy and build trust – this is more important than glossy and expensive efforts.
  2. Provide reassurance and build confidence about visiting.
  3. Be mindful of the public mood and sensitive to different personal experiences of the pandemic.
  4. Manage audiences’ expectations, be honest and upfront.
  5. Be clear and succinct in your guidelines and advice.
  6. Remain true to your organisation’s vision, values and personality.
  7. Provide a warm and heartfelt welcome.
  8. Don’t do a heavy sell. The National Gallery’s line “The Nation’s Gallery, open and ready when you are” is simple and feels right.

Read Part 2 for some practical tips, inspiration and examples from around the world.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

12-month annual museum passes: what is the rate of return?

Back in early May I asked the Twitter hive: “For museums with a free return visit within 12 months: does anyone know an average, examples or research of the proportion of visitors who take this up?”

I was keen to benchmark a client’s figures and get a bit more context to explore whether aiming to raise their rate of return was a realistic – and desirable – prospect.

I promised to share the responses (where I was given permission to do so), so here goes!

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MuseumNext takeaways

MuseumNext takeaways

I’ve been following along to #MuseumNext conferences on social media for a few years and they always have a great buzz around them. So when MuseumNext founder Jim Richardson created an early bird freelance offer to this year’s London conference, I (and many other freelancers) jumped at the chance to attend.

In fact, Jim called it an “invasion of freelancers” and we had about 40 freelancers at our Museum Freelance social meet-up on day 1 from across the UK, America, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Turkey and more! Some left inspired to set up something similar to Museum Freelance on their patch. This is brilliant news, as a thriving supportive community is such a boost for freelancers.

Some of the crew at the Museum Freelance meet-up at Museum Next
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Reflections on Agents of Change – the Museum Freelance conference

A cancelled meeting means I’ve finally got the chance to finish my blog post on the third annual Museum Freelance conference held in Manchester in March. I organised it with Marge Ainsley as a conference dedicated to freelancers working with museums, heritage sites, libraries and archives.

My key takeaways were:

  • Be yourself and be authentic
  • It’s ok to make mistakes – learn from them
  • Question your purpose, what do you want to be, what do YOU want to do?
  • The importance of online networks – join them, get involved in them
  • Change can be positive
  • Being “unemployable” is great!
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Example: tailoring digital content to users

I really liked this from The Drum – after signing up (free of charge) to get to their website content, I was given three options of what they can do for me:

The design is clean, with clear calls to action.

It’s a simple concept, easy for a user to do and feel like it’s something that benefits them – information tailored to what they are most interested in.

And of course for the organisation an opportunity to flag some of their products and services and get a useful layer of user insight about each of their preferences.

The Drum is a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe so you’d expect them to get it right. But this approach could easily be scaled up and down and be transferred to cultural organisations’ websites and e-newsletters to establish what their users and audiences are most interested in e.g. visiting, buying a ticket, finding out about events, doing some research, being inspired and then curating relevant content to them as a result. No doubt some of the bigger cultural organisations already do this for e-newsletter sign-ups, but I’ve not seen it frequently and certainly not on their websites. Would love to see examples if anyone has any case studies?

End of week testimonial

On Wednesday I delivered the findings of a substantial piece of audience consultation on behalf of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich. The project team and trustees were so receptive to the findings – they listened, they got it, they’re excited about the possibilities and ready for the challenge.

It was so encouraging to see, as audience development and consultation is new to the organisation. It was a meaningful project and one I feel privileged to have contributed to. I was delighted to receive this note from the client today:

“Congratulations and a huge thank you from of all of the Governors and staff for a very thorough, well planned and executed piece of work.  It will not only inform and underpin the immediate project but, most importantly, the development of the offer as the Library moves forward. […] Thank you once again for all of your work and skill in bringing together such a helpful piece of work.”

Richard Hill, project manager, The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

About the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

The Memorial Library is a really special and unique place. It was set up to honour the nearly 7,000 Americans in the Second Air Division who lost their lives during the Second World War in bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany from their Norfolk and Suffolk bases.

It is intended to be a living memorial, to not only be a tribute to those Americans who were killed, but also to act as an educational and friendship bridge between the UK and USA.

Audience consultation project for the Memorial Library

However the organisation recognised the need to increase and broaden its visitor base. I was commissioned to undertake a programme of front-end user, non-user and stakeholder consultation to help the Trust to understand:

  • the Library’s current user profile
  • barriers to engagement from non-users
  • what both sets of audiences would like to see from a redeveloped Memorial Library.

The work involved a feedback station in the Library, a series of focus groups, telephone interviews with stakeholders, an online survey, face-to-face interviews with users of the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library (the Memorial Library is housed within it) and two public consultation events.

Tips on running staff reflection workshops

One of my pet bug-bears is project evaluation for the sake of it, as a tickbox exercise.

Done well, there’s so much value that can be mined at the end of projects. And yet I see some organisations just evaluating on the basis of funders’ requirements, with no thought to how they can genuinely learn from the experience in a practical way going forward.

Rather than just focussing on ‘what we’ve done’, I champion an approach that identifies lessons learned and implications for future projects. I want to ensure that good practice is recognised and embedded in organisations, and we avoid duplicating mistakes.

Benefits of a staff reflection workshop:

A staff reflection workshop can be a really useful way of capturing transferable lessons. Done well it can:

  • Be a safe space and valued opportunity for participants to have their voices heard
  • Help to deepen understanding, collaborative working and relationships amongst the participants
  • Enable team members to bounce ideas off each other
  • Uncover a wealth of insights and ideas
  • Be the basis for a best practice guide for future projects
  • Give participants a sense of buy-in and ownership of the best practice guidance
  • Be a method to help team members reach consensus
  • Act as a type of closure on a project for participants
  • Be fun and engaging!

But a session needs careful preparation and facilitation so that it remains constructive and productive and doesn’t degenerate into a whinge-fest, go off tangent for a long period of time or is dominated by a minority.

I have organised and facilitated reflection workshops for a range of different organisations, where participants have comprised members of different internal departments, teams and different organisations.

Here are my top tips for running a constructive team reflection session:

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My takeaways from the SHARE Museums East conference

Last week I went to SHARE Museums East’s annual conference held at the stunning Firstsite gallery in Colchester, aimed at people working in and with museums in the East of England. The theme was ‘Embrace, Empower, Employ’.

I was there as a delegate and also as a representative of the Museum Freelance Network, presenting a break-out session on Working with Freelancers aimed at museums’ representatives and hosting a Museum Freelance stand with fellow consultant Claire Adler in the breaks. It’s great that SHARE recognises the importance of freelancers and consultants to our sector and provided a platform for us to develop relationships between the network and museums in the region.

As ever with cultural sector conferences, delegates’ and speakers’ passion, dedication and quest for learning and sharing really came across during the day.

Here are my four main takeaways from the day:

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Greener freelancing

Last month Bridget McKenzie guest-hosted a Museum Freelance chat on Twitter on the topic of ‘green’ freelancing.

Bridget is the director of Flow Associates and founder of Climate Museum UK, a mobile museum creatively stirring response to climate emergency and Everyday Ecocide which exposes ecoblindness, erasure of other species and climate denial in media and culture.

We only scratched the surface in the 45 minutes on Twitter, but it felt like a good start to get a conversation going.

Some examples of green freelancing practice people raised were:

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