Museum Freelance Covid-19 Hardship Fund opens

I co-run Museum Freelance in a voluntary capacity with Marge Ainsley and we champion and support freelancers working with museums, galleries, heritage sites, archives and libraries.

Throughout lockdown we’ve been lobbying hard behind the scenes on behalf of the self-employed in the sector. Whilst the Government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) was a welcome and much-needed boost for many, many people were not covered under the scheme including:

  • people who started freelancing after April 2019
  • people who were previously majority employed in the SEISS eligibility years but are now majority self-employed
  • people who are the owner/director of a limited company.

We are therefore so pleased to have secured a £7,500 grant to provide emergency support for freelancers who work with museums, heritage sites, galleries, archives and libraries in the UK.

Museum Freelance’s Covid-19 Hardship Fund is for freelancers who are in urgent need of critical financial support due to the devastating impact of Covid-19 on their work and livelihood, and who have not been eligible for and received the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

There will be 15 grants of £500 each. The grants do not need to be repaid.

The fund has been made possible thanks to a generous grant from a charitable trust that wishes to remain anonymous, and will be distributed by the Museums Association – we are enormously grateful to both organisations and their supportive representatives.

Please visit our website for the full details and apply through this short form by Friday 4 September if you are eligible, and do share with others who may benefit from this fund.

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

15 marketing tips for small and medium-sized museums during the Covid-19 outbreak

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented uncertainty and challenges for everyone. And with government briefings and advice being frequently updated, museums are having to react nimbly and creatively.

Mindful that many small and medium-sized museums don’t have any dedicated in-house marketing staff and may be overwhelmed in the coming months, I’m ramping up by blogging with the aim of providing more useful resources aimed at these organisations during this time. Future blogs I’m planning include:

  • ideas for social media content during this time
  • free marketing training ideas
  • crisis communication
  • tips on home-working (having done it for over seven years now).

But I’d really welcome other ideas you’d find useful or questions you might have.

For now, here are 15 marketing tips aimed at small and medium-sized museums during these challenging times:

1. Unschedule social content

Look at all scheduled social media content and unschedule it if no longer required (e.g. for an event that’s no longer happening) or if it’s not appropriate in the current circumstances.

2. Evaluate upcoming plans

Look at all upcoming marketing and change course if necessary. If you were promoting an upcoming temporary exhibition that will now not open, can you pull any print or adverts or change their content? Pause, take stock and reflect.

3. Communicate clearly and compassionately

Be honest and open with your team, audiences and suppliers. A lack of communication leaves room for uncertainty and rumours, so even if you don’t have the answers yet, it can be useful to go out with some communication to show that you’re on the case.

4. Prioritise customer service

Prioritise customer service and responding to enquiries, rather than pumping out lots of ‘clever’ content for now. Your museum is likely to face so many questions from audiences about the cancellation of events, how to get money back, what’s happening to memberships and so on. For larger museums with different functions such as visitor services and front of house, work jointly to ensure the process and communication is consistent and as smooth as possible for audiences.

5. Be part of your community

Many people are understandably incredibly anxious and unsettled at the moment, and museums can play a really important role in helping their audiences and communities deal with these new circumstances. This may be online by sharing practical advice and information; sharing a message for help from a local foodbank; being a reassuring presence by continuing to share your usual weekly photo from the archives; or just providing a welcome distraction from the torrent of Coronavirus news in people’s social media feed. We’re all in this together.

6. Be authentic

I think a lot of people will be looking for things that will reassure them, ground them and help them keep a semblance of normality under these abnormal circumstances. Museums, their objects and stories are steeped in history and can anchor us while the world around us is such an unknown. Make the most of the amazing objects, knowledge and stories you’ve got.

7. Be sensitive and human

Don’t use this as a crass bandwagon opportunity. Be sensitive in what you use in your marketing, and the tone and language you use. Know when to remain silent. Already there are some organisations getting it right, being honest, approachable, heartfelt and generous, whilst others are not. Chances are that many people will remember how they were treated by organisations when we emerge from this mess.

8. Share your education resources

If you already have materials online, contact your key schools asap to let them know about what you have, as the schools I’m in contact with are planning their teaching materials now in anticipation of school closures. If you haven’t got anything online yet, consider whether you can make things available on your website, since parents and carers will be looking for things to stimulate and entertain their children with if or when they are stuck at home.

9. Partner up

There are already lots of conversations happening in the museums sector about promoting each other’s resources and working together on ideas and solutions during the Coronavirus outbreak, for example on the GEM JISCmail and MCG JISCmail. There’s a new #MuseumFromHome hashtag over on Twitter where people are sharing quick videos of themselves taking about a museum object for one minute. Get involved!

10. Listen and adapt

The situation we’re in is unprecedented and very hard to predict. Your audiences’ needs are likely to change over the coming weeks so listen and be responsive to their needs.

11. Create good digital content

If you find that the main flurry of customer service questions starts to quieten down, you might have time to think about content to post while your museum is shut. Now more than ever there’s a need to be in content mode not selling mode. Think about content ideas around your museum, its collections and stories that might engage, interest, entertain, move or stimulate your audiences. With more and more people forced to limit social contact and outings, make the most of video. Whether you do some behind-the-scenes at your museum, an interview with a curator, a recorded mini education session, or a quick Instagram story of Facebook live. Remember it doesn’t have to be polished and perfect. Experiment and bit and get something out there, it will get better. The Museum Social Media Managers group on Facebook is worth joining to learn what other museums around the world are doing at the moment. And keep an eye on Mar Dixon’s feed on Twitter as she announces sector-wide hashtags e.g. #WhyILoveMuseums is on Wednesday 18 March.

I’ll expand on this point in a future blog post dedicated to social media content with lots more ideas

12. Repurpose old content

Some teams might find they will have no access to their museums or collections at all during this time which will call for even greater creativity. Can you organise a virtual ideas generation session with colleagues to give you more ideas? Is there any content from a year or two ago you can repurpose? Do you have access to object photos you can share and if not, do any colleagues have any relevant photos on their phones worth sharing

13. Resuscitate your “never get to” list

As most business-as-usual activities will have stopped, you might find that a lot of your normal to-do-list actions are no longer required. If that’s the case, see if there are some of those important-but-not-urgent jobs that you could tackle. For example, undertaking some evaluation, expanding website content, labelling photos and sorting computer folders, doing that online training course you keep meaning to.

14. Team contact and communication

As most museums and offices are closing and encouraging people to work from home where possible, it’ll be really important to keep in contact with your colleagues. Partly so that you know what’s going on and partly to avoid social isolation. This may require some time to set up and get used to new ways of working, maybe using some new tech tools. Be patient and open to trying new things.

15. Look after your well-being

And finally, and arguably most importantly, look after yourself. These are exceptionally difficult times for everyone personally and professionally and you need to be kind to yourself. Mind have put together lots of tips and resources to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing. For me I find daily fresh air, exercise, a gripping book, baking and chatting to friends and family are key, whilst limiting social media and news scrolling as much as possible. I’ll expand more on this in a future blog post with tips on working from home.