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