Guest post: Felicity Plent on planning and marketing Summer at the Museums in Cambridge

We receive a lot of press releases at Culture24, but one from Cambridge Museums stuck in my mind for the simple, ingenious series of photos that accompanied it. I asked coordinator Felicity Plent if she’d write a post explaining how her team planned and marketed this season of events, once her busy summer was over.

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Cycling to work the morning after Twilight at the Museums (when 3,000 parents and children descend after dark!)  I started thinking about an idea that became Summer at the Museums.  I was feeling evangelical! I wanted us to grab hold of all the extra people we had encouraged to visit our museums through Twilight and get them back here for the summer.

What I wanted was a great big bag of fun, family things to do at Cambridge Museums – offering summer days out that parents would choose as an alternative to London trips, or instead of costly outings to the cinema /bowling/swimming on poor weather days. But I also really wanted to know what children choose to look at when they visit our museums, because so many of them had used torches at Twilight to look at exhibits differently.  In previous summers we had used trails linking all the museums, but actually all we needed was an umbrella of publicity that supported the brilliant events that were already running.

A poster featuring a sunglasses-wearing sculpture and penguin eating icecream

A colourful poster combining art with fun summertime images

With a plan formed, I asked our designer, Kath Lees, to create a poster, events calendar and ‘Draw What You Saw’ postcard competition entry form inspired by seaside postcard images, end of the pier slapstick and sunshine.  The result was a downloadable calendar showcasing over 60 events for children over the holidays. It was available on the University and Cambridge museum websites, and sent out to schools to circulate via parentmail.  The postcard competition, which could be entered at all museums, would then give us feedback on what children thought was worth looking at.

A postcard to enter a museum drawing competition

The back of this postcard has a space for children to draw what they saw at the museum. Courtesy Cambridge Museums

I persuaded Crayola to give us the prizes and we posted our favourite entries on a Flickr gallery. Weekly and overall winners gave us something new to talk about on social networks each week as the entries came in.

But it was Kath’s sunglasses imagery for the campaign that really tipped the balance. Again on my bike one morning, I had one of those shiny moments - Sunglasses = Look! A quick shopping trip furnished me with 14 pairs of novelty sunglasses.  A round of emails persuaded our Museum Directors to let us use the sunglasses as props on exhibits.  And, with the help of a brilliant local twitter diarist and photographer, Sir Cam, we used the resulting images across social media and the web to promote our calendar and competition.

A stone lion outside the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge rocking a pair of blue plastic sunglasses

The iconic lion outside the Fitzwilliam Museum, rocking a pair of sunglasses - a simple but effective image to create

4,200 people attended the family events at our museums over the summer and over 900 children entered our competition. Oh, and we’ve already been offered a woolly hat for the lion in case of snow this winter.

See the whole museum-objects-in-sunglasses photoshoot here, the children’s illustrations of their favourite museum objects here, and the full Summer at the Museums programme here.

A smiling woman wearing sunglasses

Felicity Plent

Felicity Plent is the Marketing Co-ordinator for the University of Cambridge Museums: you can follow them on Twitter at @camunivmuseums.

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