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Museum Marketing: 5 Tips

Museum Marketing 101 Need guidance for your museum marketing? We’re here for you.

Whether launching a new museum or looking to drum up buzz for an upcoming exhibition, cutting through the buzz to garner media coverage for museum marketing can be one of the toughest challenges when doing public relations for cultural institutions.

According to the American Alliance of Museums, museums play a big part in the United States’ $192 billion cultural tourism industry. Cultural travelers are spending more and staying longer than other visitors, so savvy arts PR pros understand the importance of communicating news about upcoming exhibits to potential visitors through the travel pages and national media outlets.

As leaders in tourism marketing with extensive experience in museum launches and exhibition promotion, here are some creative ways to gain powerful media exposure to attract more visitors through your museum’s doors.

Host Out-of-Town Journalists

One of the most cost-effective and impactful ways to increase exposure for a museum is to host a journalist from a national media outlet before the opening of a major exhibit.

Organize a journalist visit by partnering with your local destination marketing organization (DMO). Develop a tailored itinerary that includes an in-depth preview of the exhibit with the museum’s curator or top executive. You can also coordinate with other local partners, putting together activities highlighting other top area attractions, historic landmarks, as well as dining and lodging options. This way, journalists will have fodder to develop a variety of different stories with different angles, for several outlets.

When finishing touches were being put on the Gateway Arch’s $380-million remodel and new museum, part of our strategy was to host a mix of freelance travel journalists to get a “sneak peek” at the National Park before its re-opening with an itinerary that included other great St. Louis experiences.

The results included more than 300 broadcast, print, and online placements in outlets such as CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, and NBC’s Today Show. Museum media coverage also drove the needle on visitors, increasing annual attendance by 44%, and contributing to a 159% increase in people entering Gateway Arch National Park during the month of the grand opening.

Go to the Newsmakers

As the epicenter of major U.S. media and a hub for international media outposts, a media mission in New York City can reap mega-benefits for your museum. A typical media mission involves a multi-day schedule of sit-down meetings, quick meet-and-greets, and even a meal or coffee with a targeted selection of editors and journalists who are the decision-makers and creators of editorial content in the travel and culture realm. This can be a key museum marketing plan tactic when doing public relations for cultural institutions.

We’ve worked with many clients in hosting media missions, and the first rule is to come armed with a great news hook. This might be news of a new museum, or an exciting – or quirky – new exhibition, significant anniversary, or another element appealing to the press.

Setting up a media mission can be done independently, with your DMO, or with a partner like our museum marketing team. When partnering with your DMO, they will often work with other local entities such as hotels, entertainment venues, tour companies, and attractions to provide editors and journalists with a mix of meeting options and story ideas. They can also handle the heavy lifting of set-up while splitting the cost among participants.

A well-organized schedule of appointments (Second rule: don’t keep a journalist waiting!) will allow your marketing executive along with museum and destination spokespeople to provide the key facts and highlights about the museum, as well as paint a broader picture about other offerings for visitors to the area.

Employee Star Power for Museum Marketing

When the new Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga teamed-up with Grammy-Award winning country artist Vince Gill, coverage for the museum went Platinum.

Vince Gill is hugely popular among the museum’s target audience. With an aim to position Chattanooga as Tennessee’s next live music destination, we brought Gill’s star power to the media along with messaging from the museum’s curator that resulted in 12 million earned media impressions in coverage with top-tier outlets such as The New York Times, People, and USA Today. The city’s growing live music and entertainment scene became a big part of the media coverage for the museum and contributed to a nearly 18 percent increase in visitors to Chattanooga in the months following the opening.

Other ‘star’ examples in museum marketing include Amy Schumer performing for the opening of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY; two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Brandi Chastain participating in events during the opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX; and even celebrity architects such as Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Tadao Ando and others associated with some of the world’s most revered art institutions.

Drill Down on Your Target Media

While throwing something at the wall and seeing if it sticks might be the approach for some publicity seekers (and possibly a few artists), we recommend doing in-depth research to uncover the best possible journalists to share your museum’s story.

One way our team has developed its extensive database of journalists and their specific beats is by researching articles that have appeared with similar museums and exhibitions. We also look to target the hometown press of artists who featured in an upcoming exhibit. A simple Google search can bring up plenty of results, complete with journalist bylines. From there, it’s easy to find contact details on a specific writer to add to your pitch list.

Another route is to use the services of a journalist/publicist platform such as Muck Rack. This subscription site enables arts publicists to research writers based on past articles, outlets, beats, and geography, and provides ways to pitch writers directly via email and social media.

Host Local Freelance Writers

Sometimes, your best media ambassadors are the ones closest to home. Reach out locally through your DMO, local Chamber of Commerce, or LinkedIn to connect with freelance writers in your community.

While a local freelance writer may write regularly for the publications where you read your local news, they also have the world of media at their keyboard’s fingertips, with a range of outlets that might be able to take your story to regional, national, and even international publications.

Look for ways to build relationships with local freelancers, through media receptions, roundtables, or a working lunch, and don’t hesitate to ask about their other outlets. By identifying and offering local freelance writers the inside scoop to a new exhibit or other major museum news, your institution can share its story well beyond its city borders.

Interested in learning more about how DCI can help increase awareness about and drive visitors to your art museum or cultural institution? Reach out to [email protected]. We’d love to create a winning strategy for your organization.


Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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