There is, perhaps, no worse feeling. After putting hundreds of hours into the conception, fabrication, and promotion of an exhibition, you discover that the visitation numbers are abysmal. People meander through the gallery here and there, but they aren't lining up outside the doors; they aren't calling for tickets; they just don't seem all that interested--much to your utter chagrin. What happened? You went through all of the proper PR channels; you navigated those waters with ease, but still the rooms were silent--no buzz at all.
If you've ever found yourself in this situation, read on. Here are a few tips from our Scheduling and Exhibitor Relations (marketing) team that might help you avoid the exhibition bust blues:
Q. What's the best way to market an exhibition?
A. First, you need to know your audience. Will your core group of visitors care about this topic? Conversely, are you trying to reach out to a totally new group? What might appeal to them? Try testing the waters through your website, written survey materials, or an exhibition prospectus. Sometimes, it's most effective just to talk to people.
Q. What shows usually bring in the most visitors?
A. For us, the exhibitions that are the easiest to book are those that deal with diversity and culture. This is very relevant to every community because the world is changing. You can no longer present things from just one side. Science exhibitions, that can successfully speak to students, are also hot right now. No matter what the age, people just can't get enough of highly interactive exhibits (like our new science show DIG IT!)
Q. Movies, theater, concerts, folks have so many entertainment options. What do you think people are really looking for in an exhibition?
A. There's a lot of exhibitions out there about the same old thing, but we believe people want to learn about topics that haven't been addressed in the mainstream--exhibitions about immigration, Native Americans, or African American history. On the other hand, it doesn't have to lofty to be interesting. Some of our most desired exhibitions have been about popular culture. Lunch Box Memories was a show of, you guessed it, vintage lunch boxes (Star Trek fans rejoice). Another option is to tap into a prominent anniversary. We tied 381 Days: The Montgomery Bus Boycott Story to the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks historic decision not to give up her seat. Still, whatever you decide to pitch to your board/senior management or to the public, it needs to have broad-base appeal.
Q. Are there some topics that are still too hot to handle?
A. Definitely. You can easily offend or slight someone, especially in religious matters. What we have found is that museums in large metropolitan areas (with diverse communities) are a bit more open to tough issues. But, there is certainly an untapped market out there for anybody who is brave enough to go there.
Michelle Torres-Carmona, Ed Liskey, and Minnie Micu make up SITES' hard-working marketing staff. Like many folks at the Smithsonian and at your museums, their behind-the-scenes efforts make things possible for the rest of us!