From outreach to virality and everything in-between, press is an incredibly nuanced thing. Getting your museum featured in the media can be a huge win for any institution.
Whether you’re a brand new museum at the start of its press journey or an established institution looking to refine your approach, we’ve outlined some of our best tips to help you get started with the three basic parts of engaging with the press:
- Understanding where press comes from
- Interviewing and the actual process of working together
- Promotion or leverage of press coverage
Where Press Comes From
Here are some of the ways your museum may get press…
1. The press comes to you.
The easiest and most obvious way is that a journalist reaches out to you! That can be a member of the press that’s in your network or a referral from someone in your network. It could be a journalist that’s working on a piece relevant to the museum industry, relevant to your specific type of museum, or they could be working on a broader story that needs a quote from an expert on a specific category.
2. Active press outreach
If you’re looking for a more active approach, you can do press outreach. This outreach can either be done internally or by hiring a PR firm.
We suggest doing an internal story development exercise to figure out the angles and positioning you’re looking for in your museum’s coverage. Then, use that information to craft a message that’s right for a particular audience — as well as a particular journalist; those are often the same thing, but there could be a need for some subtle, nuanced differences in your approach.
Say you’re opening a new dinosaur exhibit in your museum. That’s a really exciting thing, and different stakeholders will be interested for different reasons.
- Your internal team might be excited because it’s a whole new direction for the museum, or maybe it’s something you’ve been working on for years to bring to fruition.
- Your donor base may be interested because it’s a chance to get people more involved in the mission, or possibly because it’s a chance to attract more people to the museum and the arts.
- Your mainstream audience might just think dinosaurs are cool and could be interested in visiting your museum on their next vacation.
- Other groups — like the museum professionals community — may be interested in a piece that covered the challenges you faced in putting a project together, or the technical aspects of sourcing the objects and artifacts used in the exhibit.
We’d suggest that your museum’s marketing team devise a PR strategy where they actively reach out and create these press opportunities.
The third option for attracting press opportunities is often seen as the most difficult and least methodical — but it is arguably the most high impact. This option requires you to create opportunities for virality.
This option is where your museum would do something so unconventional, unexpected, or noteworthy that people just can’t help but talk about it. This isn’t to say that the things you do day-to-day aren’t important (they’re very important!), but people and their attention tend to go toward the novel; something they see every day and are used to seeing probably isn’t newsworthy.
A great example of this is our Pokemon-themed museum tours. Last summer, when the Pokemon Go app was all the rage, we created a themed museum tour based around Pokemon. That trend was something the media was ready and willing to talk about! Journalists were already looking for opportunities to write exciting articles about businesses using Pokemon GO, and a result Museum Hack tours were featured on Fox News, Gothamist and other media outlets.
Another example is when Museum Hack created bachelorette party tours at the museum. We garnered press from larger media sources like the Wall Street Journal, but we were also featured in more niche publications like The Knot and Bustle, too. These features and mentions were highly relevant because those publications are popular with brides-to-be and bridesmaids.
For your museum, an event with the potential for virality could look like going for a world record, holding an unconventional event like a sleepover, or anything that defies expectations.
Bonus tip: If you do create a special event or attraction that is newsworthy, you can combine this with outreach to the press to make sure they know about it!
Interviews & Working with the Press
Here are some best practices for working with journalists:
Be conscious of time constraints.
The first thing to note is that the journalist is probably on a strict timeline to get their article done. That’s something you should be aware of so you can respond quickly. Don’t be uncomfortable with the idea that your communication may be rushed.
Everyone has different communication and work styles, so this time constraint doesn’t always apply, but it’s possible the person writing about your museum may need to get done by the end of the week (or the end of the day!), and you’re just one of a dozen people they’re chatting with (and it’s possible they’re simultaneously working on other stories). It’s important to be mindful that time constraints are a reality.
We’ve found that one really good question to ask at the beginning of a call is, “How much time do you have today?” This allows you to be respectful of those parameters and craft your answers accordingly. If you have more time, you can go in-depth in your answers.
Be a resource.
Another thing you can do to work better with the press is to be a helpful resource to them. For example, if someone is working on an article about museum patrons, the easy way to answer their questions would be to give them your perception of what’s happening on a day-to-day basis — but you can go a step further. Offer to survey a small group of your museum’s visitors to get the data needed for the article. That’s a level 10 approach that can create the opportunity to further your relationship with that person and perhaps be included again when they’re working on future stories.
Ask for clarification.
Feel comfortable asking for clarification if you’re not 100% sure about a question. It’s not uncommon to be a little nervous in an interview for the press, but by asking for clarification you give yourself the best opportunity to give the most relevant answer.
Create a PR response kit.
We’d also challenge you to come up with a PR response kit. This preparation means putting yourself in a journalist’s shoes, coming up with 10 or 15 questions they’re likely to have about your museum, and writing up polished talking points that you can use in response.
You can probably do a great job of the interview even if you’re relying on off-the-cuff answers, but by laying the framework with these talking points, you can have statistics, examples, and stories that don’t easily come to mind — and we highly recommend that you focus on and share those stories.
How to leverage your press coverage:
Once you’ve been featured in the media, there is an opportunity to leverage this press to reach your museum’s goals, like attracting new guests and members. Here are some options for getting the most coverage…
1. “As seen in…”
Everyone’s been to a website and seen a section proclaiming, “as seen in the New York Times/Forbes/Fortune/Huffington Post/any number of other media outlets”. You can (and we think you should!) do that, too.
This inclusion of media logos is usually done for a business purpose (it’s a great indicator of credibility!), but for museums, it’s a great opportunity to show people that something exciting is happening in your space. It’s social proof that you’re being talked about.
Larger museums like the Met or the Louvre probably don’t need to do this for their main site (after all, your recognition is perhaps even bigger than that of those media outlets), but could include media features for special exhibits or events. For small or mid-size museums, including media logos is a great opportunity to get people excited about what you’re doing.
2. Share with your followers
We also recommend that you send out your press mentions to your fans and followers. This press is something you can share via email or on social media with the intent of getting people to actively engage with this content. Ask them to comment or share their ideas on what’s being written about.
3. Run ads
This option is very business strategic and probably more appropriate for small or mid-sized museums — even ones with a small budget. Third party media pieces are a great opportunity to share your story, your mission, and what you do with people in a way that they trust — but the reality is that these outlets publish so many stories that if you just rely on their organic reach, you may not see a lot of people finding you from that.
Advertising tools like Outbrain help drive a particular audience to the article of your choosing. This tactic could be really relevant in finding tourists, travelers, or any specific audience you want to reach to ensure that they read it. This exposure makes the viewers more likely to attend or tell their friends!
Some people have a perception that marketing and press are “bad”; that if you have to market and promote what you do, it devalues the purity of the product. We disagree.
There’s nothing fundamentally bad or wrong with marketing. It’s an opportunity to get your awesome gallery, museum, or people in front of a larger audience — and that audience will value and appreciate what you do because of it.
Your museum is f***ing awesome, and it’s up to you to share it with the world.