Having been part of the SHARE forward planning cohort, Nicola Sherhod of the John Bunyan Museum in Bedford decided to use the associated grant to develop a new approach to marketing. Here she shares her journey and her learning – with tips that will help any small museum.
Top tips for writing a marketing strategy
Nicola Sherhod, Curator, The John Bunyan Museum
The first key decision was that I needed to bring in outside expertise. I had worked with marketing consultant Helen Mitchell on previous occasions so she had a good knowledge of, and familiarity with the museum, and I felt that her skills and expertise would help us create a good document. The project lasted 3 days, if we had been working with a new consultant it would need at least an additional day for the consultant to understand enough about John Bunyan Museum.
This project came at the end of a longer process of museum development; first we created a new leaflet and suite of publicity material, including posters and brand guidelines. Then as we developed our Forward Plan we identified an organisational need to become more strategic. We had to go through the process of analysing our needs before it was worthwhile setting out a strategy.
2. Time and space to focus
As a lone curator with 101 pulls on my time, it made sense for me to travel to the consultant rather than her to me. This enabled me to remove myself from distractions in the office. Finding time and space (physical and mentally) to focus is key to the successful completion of any important document.
3. Access to knowledge and contacts
Helen’s knowledge was vital to this project, breaking down the process, talking through issues and queries, identifying areas which I had not thought about e.g. resources available. Helen’s broader experience of other organisations enabled her to point me in the direction of museums with similar issues/ projects that I could learn from.
4. Co-authoring- ‘critical friend’
Rather than the usual process of a consultant writing a document, this was a completely joint writing project. The process of co-writing allowed the time spent on it to be dedicated and instant; talking through ideas, allowing me to describe situations and experiences, and for Helen to offer advice and tease out the specifics to create objectives and activities for each section.
5. Aspirations vs reality
When working with an outside specialist a document like this could be very aspirational, sometimes too much so- and it is easy to get caught up in the process and agree to things, which are not achievable with limited time resources. This process allowed me to work through what was realistic, including a few aspirational bits – but all grounded in the museum’s current situation and capacity. Helen was able to challenge me to think of other areas of development and growth.
6. Language of marketing
It is important to understand the thinking and language of the marketing process. For us the process was to identify the museum’s different products and to make them known to the different target audiences (and actually having a target audience, rather than giving the same information to everyone). We identified the museums core products as: visitor experience, exhibition, events and activities, schools, groups, plus areas not previously considered i.e. the library and volunteering.
7. Organisational support
The process led to us identifying the need to increase capacity for marketing, to increase visitor numbers, repeat visits, improve communication, and partnerships. We identified the need for a working party and, ‘marketing steering group’ to help properly plan the year’s activities and support me. The strategy also identified ‘easy fixes’ for high priority; actions, such as making a set of historic costumes for our volunteer guides.
8. Nothing new
One of the biggest insights that came out of this process, was the realisation that so much of what this document contained described activities we had already started. We were already active in marketing, but in a fairly disorganised ad hoc way. The focus that this process developed enabled me to think more strategically. It has also helped us to put a basic timescale to our plans to make them achievable.
I learnt that marketing works best when it is a conscious part of planning and museum activity. I also learnt that like the Forward Plan, there is no point in creating a strategy document if you and the organisation don’t own it, and use it regularly when planning activities.
Helen Mitchell, Arts and Heritage Consultant and Project Manager
“In my previous work with leading cultural organisations I regularly co-wrote marketing, fundraising and strategic documents with senior managers. It’s a dynamic, stimulating and effective way of working. This is the first time I have worked in this way with a freelance client and I think it worked well.
Co-writing with Nicola allowed for a range of interactions including sharing of information, resources and materials, discussion in order to strengthen ideas, familiarisation with the concepts of strategic thinking, and intensive learning regarding copywriting and editing. It also produced a strong working document that Nicola owns.
Compared to a training course it might seem expensive to pay for three one-to-one days. But I think the intensity, responsiveness and breadth of the experience provided for the curator makes it worthwhile.”