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Museum marketing: no longer a dirty word

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Abstract

Marketing is still a dirty word to some in museums. With the term come images of used car salesmen and the ‘Disneyfication’ of culture. Is it possible to market your produce successful without ‘dumbing’ it down? This brief history of museum marketing, the changes it has undergone, and the approaches taken in many museums, shows that it is. It would be nice if museums did not have to worry about marketing. It would be nice if the money just rolled in by itself. Sadly, new economic realities mean that cash-strapped museums cannot afford to be complacent about attracting visitors through the doors to exhibitions. To stay afloat, they need to attract new audiences as well as keep established ones. Marketing is no longer an option: it’s a survival tool rather than a dirty word.
Museum marketing: no
longer a dirty word
Ruth Rentschler
Although most arts organizations are non-profit institutions, they are not
non-market institutions.
(DiMaggio, 1985)
Introduction
Marketing is still a dirty word to some in museums. With the term comes images
of used car salesmen and the ‘Disneyfication’ of culture. Is it possible to market
your product successfully without ‘dumbing’ it down? This brief history of
museum marketing, the changes it has undergone, and the approaches taken
in many museums, shows that it is.
It would be nice if museums did not have to worry about marketing. It
would be nice if the money just rolled in by itself. Sadly, new economic reali-
ties mean that cash-strapped museums cannot afford to be complacent about
attracting visitors through the doors to exhibitions. To stay afloat, they need to
attract new audiences as well as keep established ones. Marketing is no longer
an option: it’s a survival tool rather than a dirty word.
What many in museums fear, however, is that in pursuing a larger market
they will be forced to tamper with their product in a way that compromises
its artistic integrity. They are worried their art will suffer at the hands of the
market. Finding the middle ground between complacency and Mickey Mouse
is the tricky part, and the challenge.
Background
Marketing in museums is in a period of major reassessment. This change in
the purpose and priorities of museums has impacted on the nature of museum
marketing. The recognition of new museum roles and the need to appeal to
differentiated audiences has created new challenges for previously traditional,
custodial directors (Gombault, 2002; Rentschler, 2002). This chapter explores
the role of marketing in museums over 30 years, from the mid-1970s. It briefly
overviews some of the changes which museums have undergone that have
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led to an increased focus on marketing. It contextualizes the change in market-
ing approaches and roles within the different management styles for museum
directors. In doing so, it shows how these different styles illustrate the changes
in professional perspective from the traditional focus on custodial preserva-
tion to the more current focus on educating and entertaining the public.
Museums: changing roles, changing context
Since the early 1900s, not-for-profit museums have been subjected to accelerated
change, due to a refocusing of government policy; a well-educated community
with higher expectations of museums and a more diverse community which
desires a better reflection of contemporary issues in museums (Griffin, 1987;
Ames, 1989). At the same time, the level of funding to museums has come
under increased pressure, arguably forcing directors of museums to become
entrepreneurial, particularly when devising strategies to meet the needs of their
creative mission (Rentschler and Geursen, 2003). Museums are fulfilling a role
of tellers of a sacred story and sometimes on a sacred site.
Museums are therefore combining the traditional, functional role with their
new purposive role (Weil, 1990; Thompson, 1998), using a range of approaches
including online technologies. Functional definitions relate to activities per-
formed in the museum and are object-based: to collect, preserve and display
objects. More recently, the shift in definitions relates purpose to the intent,
vision or mission of the museum where the focus is on leadership and visitor
services: to serve society and its development by means of study, education and
enjoyment (Besterman, 1998). These definitions are illustrated in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1 Shift in museum definitions.
Functional Museums acquire, conserve, communicate Object based
and exhibit art for study and education
Purposive Museums are for people to enjoy and to learn People based
from collections which are held in trust for society
As museums themselves are changing to meet the needs of a changing world,
so too important concepts change. Change has led to an increased interest in
marketing in museums and to a reappraisal of their purpose, evident in the
changing definition of the word ‘museum’. The change in definition has been
gradual and has been influenced by prevailing social and philosophical atti-
tudes. The change in purpose affects not only the stories museums tell, but
also the method of telling those stories, the corollary of which is a greater role
for marketing—the focus of this chapter.
Museums contribute not only to social and cultural development, but also
to the spiritual and emotional sense of national self through telling stories. In
the UK, government is responsible for roughly 60 per cent of museum funding
No longer a dirty word 13
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14 Museum Marketing: Competing in the Global Marketplace
(Matty, 2005). In the USA, museums receive a median figure of 24 per cent of
their funding from government sources (AAM, 2006). The Australian museum
sector alone reached 1329 museum locations in June 2004, with income of
$919.4 million. While most museum income was derived from government
funding, 9.7 per cent came from fundraising, 6.1 per cent from admissions and
5.4 per cent from sales of goods (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005). The
museum sector faces more competition from new venues and leisure attractions
for visitors who have less and less free time (Burton and Scott, 2003). Contem-
porary approaches, using marketing, to tell legendary stories are appropriate
for museums.
The cultural industry, a growth industry in which museums play a central
part, contributes $19 billion to the Australian economy annually, emphasizing
also the economic contribution museums make. This is mirrored in the UK
where museums contribute £3 billion to the economy (BBC, 2004). Museums
closely follow popular music as the most frequently attended cultural activity,
both in terms of number of people attending and number of visits (Australian
Bureau of Statistics, 2005). The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a sur-
vey of attendance at selected cultural venues in March 1995. It revealed that a
total of 3.1 million people (22.3% of the Australian population aged 15 years
and over) had visited a museum in the period studied and museums were
considered to be either very important or important by 71.5 per cent of the
Australian community. This support was evident across all states and terri-
tories, irrespective of whether the reporting individuals were users of the
facilities. US museums receive 600 million visits annually (AAM, 2006). In the
UK, museums attract upwards of 100 million visits per year (BBC, 2004), this
number is steadily increasing, being up from 59 million in 2000 (Wright et al.,
2001). By marketing museums, their role can be improved, which is of national
benefit in times of change and funding scarcity.
Museums: managers and marketers
Museums may differ in the types of collections they hold, but they do not differ
in their principal aim: education (Griffin and Abraham, 1999). How then do
museums and their directors implement effective marketing practice, without
compromising the needs of their educational mission. Indeed, a rational eco-
nomic approach to museum marketing often dilutes the effectiveness of the
educational mission.
In this chapter, by taking a historical perspective, it can clearly be seen that
both directors and marketing styles have evolved to meet the changing needs
found within the museum sector. The style of the director impacts on the per-
formance of the museum, given that there may be a gap between the desired
performance and actual performance, due to the nature of museums as profes-
sional bureaucracies (Griffin and Abraham, 1999). In professional bureaucracies,
individuals are influential in setting the agenda of the organization, often by
appealing to colleagues outside the organization rather than those within.
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No longer a dirty word 15
As such, directors’ styles and managerial preferences may not be applied evenly
across the museum.
Traditionally the prime function of museums has been to gather, preserve
and study objects. The director was perceived as the keeper of objects, as one
who performed the custodial role for the cultural capital of the institution: its
creative works. Today, managing museums entails understanding both the
custodial role and the need to attract visitors. As museums are part of the not-
for-profit sector and depend on government for up to 70 per cent of their
income, they must be seen to offer value to government by attracting increas-
ing visitor numbers. Government funders are asking for greater accountability
for money granted. One way accountability can be documented is by sound
marketing approaches (Laczniak and Murphy, 1977).
Marketing approaches have been used to increase visitor numbers and to
encourage, change and expand the museum role from one of custodial empha-
sis to one of audience attraction and increased participation. Hence, museums
are developing marketing techniques to help them become more successful in
meeting these challenges.
These transitional changes have impacted on the internal cultural organiza-
tional factors such as museum structure, complexity and diversity of services
(Gombault, 2002). Together with the drive towards formal accountability, these
changes have increased the need for museum directors to have the orientation
and skills of marketers, in addition to their custodial skills. Rentschler (2001)
identifies four types of museum director, two of which are relevant to this dis-
cussion. These are the ‘entrepreneur’ and the ‘custodian’. Each type brings
a different emphasis to aspects of museum service. For example, the entrepre-
neur focuses on the furtherance of the organization through creative program-
ming. The generation of funds—through changing exhibitions, identifying
donors, personally contacting major donors, developing efficiency measures,
using consultants strategically and preparing market analyses—is a con-
sequence of this outlook. The entrepreneur also uses relationship-market-
ing programmes to encourage visitors to become members and then donors.
In contrast, the custodial manager focuses on the traditional activities of
research and collections. Custodians are less involved in business activities.
For example, they do not use consultants or prepare market analyses, survey
non-visitors, or encourage visitors to become members and donors. Today’s
museum managers are required to use the skills and approaches of both the
entrepreneur and the custodian in order to fulfil the changed mission found
in today’s museum sector.
Changes in museum marketing reflect the changing directorial role. Museum
marketing has been academically conceptualized as falling into three main
periods, each building on the previous—the foundation period, the profes-
sionalization period and the entrepreneurial period (Rentschler, 1998).
Research on the foundation period (1975–1983) has found that articles on
museum marketing were dominated by issues of educating visitors; raising
staff awareness of the benefits of visitor studies; and, occasionally, the economic
impact of the arts on the community. The articles in the first two groups have
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16 Museum Marketing: Competing in the Global Marketplace
a data-collection focus rather than a strategic action-oriented focus. The modus
operandi operating during this time was beginning to be challenged from a
number of sources that herald the beginning of a more professional period, in
which cultural change occurred in museums.
Museums became more democratized in the professionalization period (1988–
1993). These changes forced the recognition of the applicability of marketing
to non-profit arts organizations (Andreasen, 1985) and marketing departments
were added to museums (Ames, 1989). Restructuring of the public sector also
had an impact: evidenced by a shift in power and authority from producer
to consumer, funders demanding greater accountability and the contracting
out of services occurring at the local level. All of these elements empowered
‘a new managerial elite’, less focused on ‘cultural gate keeping’ and more
engaged with the ‘celebration of entrepreneurship’ (Volkerling, 1996). It is
assumed that professionalization will draw closer to achieving the twin aims
of increasing and diversifying audiences (Rentschler, 2002).
Marketing in museums is in transition, heralding the beginning of an entre-
preneurial period (1994–present). Recently, collaborative marketing models and
a new view of visitors are evident, which diversify revenue sources by obtain-
ing new audiences, products, venues and multi-art experiences (Radbourne,
1997). In tandem with this shift, has been increased focus on identifying the
nature of the relationship between the visitor, the museum and the market
(McLean, 1997).
Different perspectives on museum marketing:
then and now
The identified periods impacting on marketing in museums are discussed
in this section. The distribution of academic articles reflects the wider his-
tory of museum marketing. Two comments can be made about the distribu-
tion and focus of articles. First, the USA dominates in both volume of articles
and in thrust of articles. There are approximately three times as many articles
in the USA published ‘Museum News’ as the ‘British Museum Management
and Curatorship’ on the subject of marketing. Second, even when the North
American journals do not dominate in volume or articles (e.g., ‘Muse’), these
journals reassert their dominance with special issues on marketing.
The number of articles focusing on marketing as ‘tactic’ has remained steady
over the years, while the number of articles which focus on marketing as ‘cul-
ture’ and marketing as ‘strategy’ has altered significantly. Prior to 1994, articles
in industry journals which discuss marketing as strategy accounted for 10 per
cent of the total number of articles. After 1994, this percentage jumps to 60 per
cent (Rentschler, 2002). This rise reflects the shift that has occurred in museums
with respect to the use and role of marketing within the organization, which
is, in turn, indicative of the change in museums’ perception of audiences. As
museums are now much more reliant on philanthropic and corporate support,
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No longer a dirty word 17
the relationship has been transformed from a hierarchically based one-to-one
of service (Rentschler, 2002), thus marketing now plays a very significant role.
The focus of the articles in marketing as culture is quite different from those
which locate marketing within the fields of strategy and tactics. Articles which
address marketing as culture often show no awareness of, or interest in, the
marketing implications of the study. As DiMaggio et al. (1978) found many
such studies are for internal or external political purposes, didactic purposes
or to argue for more resources by citing the economic impact of the arts on the
community. In contrast, articles which locate marketing as strategy and mar-
keting as tactical are action oriented rather than data-gathering oriented.
A wider interest in the methodologies of the behavioural and social sci-
ences is suggested by the focus of more recent articles. McManus and Miles
(1993) visitor studies article entitled ‘United Kingdom: focusing of the market’
chronicles this shift in attitude. A market-driven approach to exhibition plan-
ning and design has resulted in an increasing use of preliminary assessments
of visitors’ opinions on contents and topics for new exhibitions.
Recognition of the multi-dimensional nature of the museum experience, and
consideration of the value of both purposive and functional roles, is vital in
any organizational analysis. Adoption of appropriate and current marketing
practices keeps museums culturally relevant and ensures their place as loci of
cultural importance, particularly in the context of changing consumer prac-
tices. The Internet has enabled audiences to visit museums located far outside
their physical region, frequently offering new and different kinds of experi-
ences with which to engage on a vast array on topics traditionally explored
within museums. It is vital therefore that museum managers adopt such mar-
keting practices as will ensure their continued attraction of audiences and
other stakeholders. Links within online exhibitions can direct the visitor to
engage in other museum activities, thus utilizing the potential for audience
engagement. In an age where income revenue is of high importance it would
behove museums to explore all avenues to their full capacity. Philanthropic
opportunities to support their preferred institutions can be offered to visi-
tors as they navigate their way through exhibitions without compromising
the quality of the content, providing a thoughtful and informed process is
designed and adhered to (Burnette and Spann, 2006). Sponsorship opportuni-
ties are likewise abundant, harnessing the marketing capacity of the Internet.
A new economic reality is emerging where financial viability is more depend-
ent on ‘success in the commercial marketplace’ (Williams and Rubenstein, 1992).
Museums continue the trend by targeting and segmenting the marketplace,
and recognizing the variety of audiences to whom they are marketing their
services—the funders, the public and the organizations’ staff and volunteers,
whether board members, curators or artistic directors (Tweedy, 1991; Scaltsa,
1992; Mclean, 1997). Kotler and Andreasen (2003) cite the importance of these
constituencies in not-for-profit marketing. The marketer needs to be sure to
whom they are marketing—whether to funders to make them feel confident
and therefore a source of funds to the museum, or to the visitors to whom the
service is delivered. Different strategies are needed for each audience.
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18 Museum Marketing: Competing in the Global Marketplace
Conclusion
This chapter has provided a framework within which the development and
history of marketing in museums can be analysed. This chapter has looked
at the role of marketing in museums since the mid-1970s. It briefly overviews
how increased focus on marketing has been underpinned by changes in muse-
ums’ appreciation of the role of marketing, as also their mission has changed.
It contextualizes the alteration in marketing approaches and roles within the
different management styles for museum directors. It has shown how differ-
ent styles exemplify the transformation in professional perspective from the
traditional focus on custodial conservation to the more contemporary focus
on educating and entertaining the public.
Awareness of the concurrent responsibilities of the director to attract new
audiences through appropriate marketing is essential if museums are to remain
culturally salient institutions. Successful museum marketing may require
a combination of different management styles. However, this needs careful
consideration in relation to how each aspect should be managed. The custo-
dial style works well with education, the core dimension of the museum serv-
ice. All staff need to know the value, history and context of education as it
forms the core part of the service delivery. The more augmented dimensions
of service delivery such as interaction, interpretation, communications and
accessibility need to be addressed, particularly in relation to complex and
interactive, social exchange service queries. This requires a greater marketing
emphasis. Diversity, degree of variability and complexity of individual cus-
tomer service requirements are valid experiences in museums. This is an inher-
ent characteristic of the multi-dimensional museum service and the varying
degrees of customer needs, requirements, perceptions, experience and ability
to comprehend instructions and directions. Therefore, recognizing the impor-
tance of the augmented aspects of the museum service is vital. A key purpose
of museum directors is to continually develop and improve all dimensions of
service to visitors. This requires staff commitment, as well as staff develop-
ment and the need for guidelines and measures for both core and augmented
service dimensions.
The implication for museum directors is that they become more ‘hands on’,
outwardly focused managers as well as efficient managers of a ‘collection’, in
all aspects of museum management. The use and recognition of informal net-
works are important if internal performance in terms of communication and
cooperation are to be successful. The thinking and behaviour of managers
are also particularly important within museums. The willingness and ability
of individual managers to adapt and develop their internal communication
and cooperation, underpins successful development of the service marketing
offering. Often, any change in the nature of management decision-making will
necessitate a change in managerial structure and have an impact on the indi-
vidual staff roles and competencies required. Custodial and entrepreneurial
skills will assist the effective manager to form a cohesive entity which is meet-
ing its service delivery requirements to all its stakeholders.
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No longer a dirty word 19
By recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of service delivery, museum
managers can ensure that the benefits of both custodial and entrepreneurial
marketing, management styles are used to achieve cohesion. All the aspects
of service quality require attention and, as each interacts with the other, unity
is vital for staff. Participation and involvement contribute to the commitment
and cooperation of staff in the evolving work environment. In this context, the
continual development of service quality in which marketing plays a central
role can become the museum ethos.
The implications that are emerging from this shift in attitude to museum
marketing since the mid-1970s, can be speculated: the strategic focus will con-
tinue to develop, along with the tactical focus, and visitor analysis studies will
be integrated into mainstream decision-making for marketing and general
management purposes. Given indications since the mid-1990s, marketing will
continue to be a crucial issue as it is a proven method of positioning museums
in times of change.
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Prezenta lucrare este structurată pe cinci capitole. Primele trei se regăsesc într-o proporție destul de însemnată și în Interpretarea și promovarea patrimoniului cultural din muzee (Candrea și Nechita, 2015), însă orice discuție despre comunicarea de marketing a muzeelor în perioada actuală nu poate ignora abordarea plecând de la general (marketingul muzeal) și făcând o scurtă incursiune în utilizarea mediilor tradiționale de comunicare (prezentate în cele 27 de pagini ale capitolului al doilea). Mini-capitolul despre guerilla marketing a fost introdus cu scopul principal de a sublinia necesitatea adoptării de către muzee a unei abordări neconvenționale și creative, bugetul redus al comunicării fiind de la sine înțeles. Astfel, se asigură trecerea de la comunicarea tradițională la comunicarea prin noile canale digitale, canale care facilitează și efectul viral în răspândirea mesajelor ce pot fi încadrate în categoria guerilla marketing.
... They offer memorable experiences, ideas, and activities not found in other places". According to Rentschler (2007), "museums are combining the traditional, functional role with their new purposive role (Weil, 1990;Thompson, 1998), using a range of approaches including online technologies. Functional definitions relate to activities performed in the museum and are object-based; to collect, preserve and display objects. ...
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... The first difference involves perspectives on the usage of the 'brand' concept. Although the operation of brand theory is crucial in general marketing, using the term 'brand' is seen as too vulgar in the arts market (Rentschler, 2007;Sargeant, 1999), as there is a belief that the explicit utilization of the concept of 'brand' might negatively impact the perceived 'purity' of the arts. Secondly, an artist can be considered a brand manager for his/her brand whilst managing their career at the same time, thereby generating a 'multifaceted public identity that is distinct from a product brand' (Muniz et al., 2014, p. 69). ...
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