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How do you market exhibitions to audiences with competing preferences? Hannah Carroll shares her top tips.

Photo of a bloggers' event
Special events for bloggers can create a real buzz around an exhibition

Separate your audiences

For any exhibition, there are always different people with different interests and priorities that you are trying to reach. It’s important to think about how best to target each of these audiences in particular since they won’t all respond to the same marketing channels and approaches.

For our current exhibition, ‘Enchanted Dreams: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of E.R. Hughes’ at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, we are trying to attract a range of audiences, from Pre-Raphaelite enthusiasts and fine art exhibition-goers through to more general museum visitors and families.

Image 1

As a result, we developed two different creative treatments to promote the exhibition: one that is more muted and traditional in tone aimed at adult ‘arts-engaged’ visitors (see image 1) and one that is much more vibrant and ‘sparkly’ geared at general audiences looking for festive ‘things to do’ in the Christmas season (see image 2). The second treatment pushes the family-friendly aspects of the show, such as the ‘Fairy Glen’, a resource area full of stories and activities.

We sent the two creative options to different media outlets depending on what is most appropriate for their readers. For instance, national art titles, like the RA Magazine, Art Quarterly and NADFAS Review, have received the ‘arts-engaged’ treatment, whilst local newspaper titles – like the Birmingham Post and Metro – and outdoor advertising on trains and in the city centre, have been sent the more ‘general’ creative treatment.

Collaborate and cross-promote

Given the limited resources of arts organisations in the current climate, collaborating with colleagues in other institutions is a great way to make your budget go further.

Birmingham Museums Trust is a member of Heart of England Galleries, a consortium of Marketing & Communications Teams in the region that work together to share knowledge and cross-promote our various exhibitions and products. A prime example of how we collaborate is the Galleries Night event that has been staged in Birmingham twice a year for over a decade. At these events, a free ‘art bus’ travels around the venues offering visitors ‘out of hours’ access to the galleries and allowing us to share our audiences. 

Image 2

For particular exhibitions, we also seek to develop partnerships with relevant museums further afield. For instance, for our recent exhibition, ‘Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol’ (Summer 2015), I set up a competition with the William Morris Gallery in London and a 2-for-1 promotion with Compton Verney in Warwickshire, which was promoting an Arts and Crafts exhibition at the time. Similar cross-promotion is a cost-effective and efficient way to spread the word.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth

In the era of social media, simply letting people talk is an increasingly powerful marketing tool. Visitors will always believe the opinion of their friends and peers over that of journalists. One way in which we have capitalised on this recently is in the development of bloggers’ events that aim to encourage prominent arts and lifestyle bloggers to engage with what our museums have on offer and to spread the word to their followers.

Our first event was held in October where we introduced 15 bloggers to recently-opened attractions at the Museum & Art Gallery and then took them for afternoon tea in our Edwardian Tearooms. The event was such a success and generated so much buzz on Twitter and blogs that we are now planning a whole programme of bloggers’ events for 2016. We hope that these will become effective methods of promoting all our new attractions in the New Year.

Hannah Carroll is Marketing Officer at Birmingham Museums Trust working to promote the Trust’s nine venues, including Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum and a number of historic properties in the city.
Tw @hannahecarroll

Enchanted Dreams: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of E.R. Hughes runs at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 21 February 2016.

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