Culture24 took on the challenge of co-ordinating the Museums at Night campaign in January 2009 with a mission for museums and galleries to attract new audiences into venues simply by staying open late and putting on a special event.
Despite a timeframe of only 16 weeks, the sector responded with an enthusiasm and creativity that was remarkable. By the time the weekend arrived in May, 157 events were taking place with an audience of over 34,000 people attending across the UK. Events ranged from torchlit tours, battleship boogies, museum sleepovers and powered up steam engines to hip-hop crews, Tudor dancing, speed dating, interactive sound installations and more.
The weekend received overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors, with over 80% rating their experience as eight or above out of ten. Over 60% were new to the venue, having heard about the event through national press, the Culture24 site, word of mouth, local press, radio or Twitter. Thanks to an effective and inventive PR campaign, regional and national coverage appeared in over 150 publications and a host of websites securing an equivalent advertising value of over £40,000. All of this should be viewed in the context of extremely tight timescales and a total expenditure of only £23,000.
Co-ordinating a national marketing campaign is a complex initiative. Budgets for such projects are often hundreds of thousands of pounds and can involve creating a new brand and identity from scratch. But Museums at Night was different.
The campaign’s success is a clear example of how the existing assets of Culture24 can be exploited and used to get added value from public sector investment. Culture24 are uniquely positioned as online publishers with the largest database of cultural venues in the UK and a publishing infrastructure that supports several established websites with excellent search engine optimisation. Crucially, they also have an established network of thousands of venues which are actively updating their information into the Culture24 database themselves and who are in regular contact with the editorial team about their activities.
Culture24 were able to bring into play from their existing infrastructure many of the tools that are needed to support an online national campaign. In particular, their editorial skills allowed the richness of the stories, curiosities and happenings across the museum and gallery sector to speak for itself.
Organisationally, the campaign took over Culture24 in the final eight weeks of the project and an exceptional amount of effort went into securing its success. Thanks are due to the Cuture24 team for this but also to the many curators, museum staff and volunteers who made the weekend itself so magical.
Next year the campaign has the potential to double or perhaps triple in size. There could be more regional and city clusters of activity, more strands specifically targeted at different audiences, better tourism tie-ins and a real level of general public awareness.
The Museums at Night story is a great example of what can be achieved by the cultural sector through an integrated approach to online marketing and PR that is both rooted in the sector itself and informed by an understanding of audience needs and online behaviour.