8.2. Communication outside the walls of the museum (Andrea Kárpáti, Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Today it is evident that even the best product needs advertising. Here we do not go into details about the phases and procedures of an advertising campaign; we only present a few good examples from the field of museum communication. Creativity of developers is often restricted by limited funds; still, many of the routine solutions cannot be blamed to this factor alone. The most obvious mistake museum PR specialists commit is the disregard of the audience segments that they have to target. Campaigns will never be able to reach all potential museum visitors – they have to be dedicated to one or a few special groups characterised by age, educational level or special interests.

Posters in public environments

(Tamás Vásárhelyi)

The most frequently used advertising medium is the poster. If we have funds, a giant poster placed at a busy junction is among the most effective ways of calling attention to an exhibition – and through this, to the museum, too. Such a huge expense can only be justified if the show has the potential of becoming a blockbuster (for example, because it exhibits major works of art or exciting – and understandable for many – new results of science, or is organised to commemorate an important historic event in the life of the nation). Smaller posters can be placed on many other surfaces, than walls of houses. For example, passengers of a metro line will (have to) stare at our poster while ascending and descending the escalator or travelling in its carriage. Buses and trams may also be used as moving poster boards, too. In every town and city, there are advertisement surfaces for hire at busy junctions and on the highways. Museums rarely make use of these options, although their “product” is much more pleasing to look at and at least as exciting as a new brand of coffee.

Museum staff members who are in charge of commissioning these posters, often perceive them as yet another surface to publish long texts about the exhibition. Most of them have one work of art in the centre (the curator’s favourite that, unfortunately, is not always good for viewing from a distance or catchy enough to make passers-by notice and stop to read about. The style of exhibition posters is decently elegant – however, the genre itself demands louder, more striking visual solutions. Different locations and audiences demand different messages and images on a poster to be effective enough to be worth the expense and time devoted to their development. For example, different messages can be transmitted on a busy street for all pedestrians than at the museum, where only those people come who have some sort of interest for the institution. Also, schools welcome special posters that can double as educational materials.

three posters of yellowish green colour on glass doors on a street.

8.7. picture: Exhibition posters about the opening of several shows seen in an underground tunnel and at the Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest, at the opening of its new wing in 2004. (Photo: Tamás Vásárhelyi)

A range of glass showcases on the wall of a huge building, at the eye level of passers-by.

8.8. picture: Vitrines on the wall of the  Natural History Museum, London, guides visitors to the entrance and provides useful information „on the go”. (Photo: Tamás Vásárhelyi)

The sign that calls attention on an exhibition can be a normal traffic sign that indicates a museum or historic monument, a special sign at the side of the road, or a banner. Visitors to the open-air museum in Szentendre, Hungary, will be guided right to the entrance through a variety of signs, some of them with schematic images of the Skanzen, that also indicate how far there is still to go until we reach this institution apparently waiting for our visit. In Munich, at Isartor, the underground station closest to the Deutsches Museum („German Museum” that houses exhibitions about the history of science and technology), there are decorative panels on the walls about professions in these areas. The exit to the museum has a similar decoration. Another underground station features copies of sculptures to indicate that three art museums are housed on and near Königsplatz. In Paris, several metro stations are named after the museum they are close to (for example, Louvre).

Road sign and information boards at the side of a highway.

8.9. picture: Out of five information panels next to each-other, four calls attention to the Open-air Museum of Szentendre, the Hungarian Skanzen. (Photo: Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Museum flyers

(Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Flyers are among the most important (and also most frequently used) information materials. Those who access them learn about the issuing museum and, even if they will not turn up this time, they may come to see the attractions that the flyer indicates at some other occasion. If the flyer is nice or exciting, it will certainly be picked up, taken home and shown others – therefore, it reaches much more viewers than the number of copies printed.

Therefore, a good flyer does not only inform, it also acts as a teaser. It may have many formats, but the most frequent one is an A/4 sheet printed on both sides and folded three times to produce a sleek and easy to handle glossy piece of paper.

Museums do not use direct mail or distributors at underground exits, but they usually send some of their flyers to tourist agencies and information kiosks that are likely to be visited by their potential audience. In case of a temporary show, it is advisable to produce the leaflet well in advance of the opening and distribute it at the institution to motivate visitors to return.

Dynamics of advertisement

(Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Marketing and advertisement are different concepts. The role of the marketing specialist is to ensure that the exhibition is marketable: serves the needs of several visitor groups, it is enjoyable, easy to understand, user friendly in general. The marketing staff has to make every effort to find out about previous knowledge and experiences of target groups, tests their interest about the theme of the exhibition, devises a catchy title and an interpretive subtitle and oversees all documents in view of their appeal to visitors. The advertisement specialist „sells the show”. He or she approaches potential supporters and sponsors, offers them advertisement options at the museum, and purchases similar ones for the exhibition outside the museum. Commissioning and placing media advertisements are also a duty of this specialist. Marketing and advertisement are both necessary for the success of the exhibition – this time we focus on marketing, as it is more related to the subject of this book. 

Communication about the exhibition starts at least a month before the opening through social media sites: Twitter, Facebook and a special blog dedicated to the development of the show (see good examples in Chapter 7). There should also be pieces of exciting information about world-famous art works or groundbreaking scientific research “leaked” to the press.

Film and audio spots in the media and printed advertisements (interviews, leaflets, flyers, and posters) should appear about 10-14 days before the opening. The marketing plan should be developed so that to maintain interest all through the life span of a temporary exhibition. When a famous expert holds a lecture or a celebrity hosts a guided tour, a new (latecomer) exhibit arrives, an interesting event is staged, media should receive information and paid advert spots should also be purchased. Before the closure, an intensive campaign should be launched to reach those who do not want to miss something many others have found important enough to visit. If we are successful, results of marketing events can directly be observed in growing visitor statistics.

Printed and digital press

(Andrea Kárpáti)

Marketing an exhibition is an act of cultural communication. A museum event will be „in the news” for a longer time only if we can make it part of public discourse. Media experts presume that, in order to be shown by the media, a topic must have at least one (and preferably more) of the following three characteristics:

1.       Originality

2.       Importance

3.       Relation to a conflict / issue much discussed by society.

Not all museum exhibitions comply with all three requirements, and they should not be. Although if an exhibition is original, important and / or social issue-based, it is likely to lure visitors into our institution who would have never considered entering our gate simply because they supposed we had nothing relevant for their life to offer. [39]

While flyers and leaflets target the average visitor, exhibition reviews in the newspapers and the online media serve a different purpose. These belong to the genres of science communication, and target the interested and educated museum audience as well as professionals on the topic of the exhibition. A special review genre that focuses on not only the displays, but also on the mission, messages,  material and human infrastructure of the institution as a whole is called museum criticism.[40]



[39] An example for a much discussed, very successful social issue-based art exhibition is German Thought and Painting from Fiedrich to Beckmann, 1800-1939,  in the Louvre in Paris, till 1 September 2013.

[40] Read the discussion about this genre in the MuseumGeek blog and the response on Steven Lubar’s blog!