Guest post: London Transport Museum on attracting audiences to late events

Today’s guest post comes from Lyndsey McLean and Laura Hilton of London Transport Museum, who explain what they’ve learned about attracting audiences from three years of running after-hours events.

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Like all specialist museums, London Transport Museum attracts a specialist audience. People love us when they’re children, and when they have grandchildren of their own – and we love them, no matter what age they are!

But we know that the appeal of London Transport goes beyond transport enthusiasts. We have amazing design and fine art collections, and a keen interest in transport technology and the future.

Museum visitors at dusk in front of a digital map installation

As darkness falls, Museums at Night visitors discover interactive digital installations. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

When the people in the middle, in their 20s, 30s and 40s find us, they are often incredibly excited to discover that there is more to the Transport Museum than buses and trams. And when they come to a Late, they are more than happy to discover those buses and trams with a drink in their hand.

The role of the Public Programmes team is to widen the appeal of the museum, to run events that appeal to our core audience, and also to run events that will tempt other audiences – people with an interest in art, design and technology.

A couple doing a craft activity

Craft workshops are always popular at Lates. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

We are now into our third year of Late events and have experimented a lot and learned a lot. Embarking on Lates back in 2009/2010 was both exciting and a little daunting. The museum operates as a charity and social enterprise so our budget for such events is derived solely from ticket sales, and we are working alongside some fabulous museums running late events for free.

We do have an audience for Late events, and they give us amazing feedback when they come in. We’ve tried:

  • free Lates
  • linking in with an exhibition opening
  • inviting social groups to come for a discounted rate
  • packing the night with events
  • and letting the museum speak for itself.

Some strategies work better than others, but successful events are dependent on many factors, ranging from season and weather through to content and pricing.

We aim to tie our late events in with an exhibition launch or wider London festival such as Museums at Night or the London Festival of Architecture. The event then receives extra press and PR coverage in addition to our own efforts.

A man reading aloud from a book

Author Craig Taylor reading from ‘Londoners’ in the Mind the Map exhibition. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

Content needs to link to and promote our temporary exhibition. The event therefore relies heavily on the appeal of the exhibition and we try to be as creative and innovative with the themes as possible to keep up the energy of the lates.

Late openings are hard work and expensive for us to run, but rewarding when feedback from first time visitors states that they found the museum vibrant and exciting and would definitely come back to future events.

Two top tips for income generation

  • Partnership working can bring a new audience, content, and media coverage. In 2011 we worked with onedotzero on our events programme, exposing the museum to a new technologically literate audience. Partnering with Museums at Night in 2012 gave us author Craig Taylor, who read from his new book and signed copies for visitors.
  • Remember your internal partners – our in-house caterers provide a bar at Late events, the Learning Team have worked with young people to provide drop-in workshops, and curators have provided talks and tours … all at no or low cost to the museum.

Cartographer-in-residence Emily Wilkinson maps visitors’ comments about the Museums at Night late opening. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

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2 women smiling in front of a framed picture

Laura Hilton (L) and Lyndsey McLean (R)

Laura Hilton has worked in Public Programmes at London Transport Museum for two years. Previously, she worked in communications and events at London Underground and Transport for London. Laura is a secret Routemaster geek.

Lyndsey McLean has worked at London Transport Museum for two years, initially in the Learning department and as a Public Programmes Manager for the last eighteen months. Previously, Lyndsey worked in museum learning departments in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Thanks, Lyndsey and Laura!

If you’re reading this and you’ve got something to say about any aspect of audience development, event planning or marketing for arts and heritage venues, I’d love to publish your guest posts too. Drop me an email at rosie@culture24.org.uk.

One response to “Guest post: London Transport Museum on attracting audiences to late events

  1. I didn’t even realise museums did this – how fantastic. Would much prefer this as a night out to a head-thumping club!