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Sue Runyard's new practical handbook explains how to sell your museum

A introduction which examines the principles that underlie marketing and public relations and how they are applied

Contrary to the opinion of bright new sparks at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (see p.22), most museums today are not averse to moving with the times and marketing themselves. The authors of this handbook, doyennes in their field, can draw on twenty-five years of wide-ranging experience from both sides of the Atlantic.

Admittedly, the museums marketing momentum in Britain has been felt mainly in the last ten years. A meagre five full-time marketing officers were employed in British museums in 1988, approaching forty in 1992, while the number now is well over a hundred, with many more working part-time. But as the introduction states, to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century museums, galleries and not-for-profit heritage attractions will have to apply increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques to attract visitors in a highly competitive environment. Moreover, “they may have to use persuasion (i.e. public relations) to defend and explain their role for the public good, which the short-term policies of local authorities, government and other may unwittingly be destroying.”

Sue Runyard’s Museums marketing handbook of 1994 provided an A-to-Z practical introduction to marketing. The present work adopts a more strategic approach, examining the principles which underlie marketing and public relations and explaining how they apply to cultural institutions, as well as providing practical advice. It encompasses the marketing strategies required for institutions as a whole, as well as for individual exhibitions or events. It considers the relationship of museums not only to tourism, but also to wider audience development in order to promote access to parts of the population not reached before. New techniques—direct marketing through mail, internet and other means—are also covered. From the public relations section, advice on dealing with the threat of funding cuts and crisis communications of all kinds (in their time the authors seem to have been confronted with little short of the ten plagues of Egypt) should be required reading for every museum director.

Underpinning all the marketing and public relations strategies is the basic discipline of research, planning, implementation and evaluation. The authors firmly believe in the power of information, “In marketing terms, gathering and understanding ‘foundation’ information is critical to success.” But they warn against asking the wrong sort of questions. Millennium Experience bureaucrats puzzling over the seeming discrepancy between the Dome’s highish approval ratings and lowish visitor figures would do well to heed the warning to “beware of the politeness factor”: the public’s desire to confirm the decision to commit time and money to a visit by taking a positive view of the experience.

The handbook touches on some larger themes, from the relationship between marketing, public relations and fund-raising (a chapter contributed by Camilla Boodle) to regional economic impact studies. Case studies liberally sprayed with bullet-points are scattered somewhat haphazardly throughout the text. Ironically, in its poor editorial and production values, the Stationery Office has failed to rise to the authors’ marketing standards, while the retail price is little short of extortionate.

Sue Runyard and Ylva French, Marketing & public relations handbook for museums, galleries & heritage attractions (The Stationery Office, London, 1999), 290 pp, 12 b/w ills, £25 (pb) ISBN 0117026492

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'How to sell your museum'