Well, finally we’ve managed to get the new website done. We are promising ourselves to keep this one more up to date – which basically means me making sure I keep feeding information to those who matter!
We had a very interesting start to the year and the spring with the development of the first new exhibition at the Mary Rose Museum since it reopened 3 years ago.
You can find details here, but it was great to be involved in this new venture for the museum.
I’ve sat for many years on their management team committee as an external advisor, which has given me a great insight into some of the behind-the-scenes everyday machinations of running a world class, award winning museum.
That experience helps me to inform our discussions on all things interpretative, which in turn means a really coherent strategy working with the in-house team for conveying messages to the visitors.
And after all, that is what we are here for, isn’t it? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way!)
There seems little point to me in preserving, conserving and restoring objects, buildings, or indeed ships like the Mary Rose, if they sit in moth balls. We all know this.
Visitors are the key component to keeping heritage alive; the reason we should keep heritage alive.
So, when we are devising ideas and concepts, visitors are always our focus.
What will engage visitors the most?
How can we best achieve “motivating” them, to enjoy their visit; to buy something from the shop? How can we “motivate” them to recommend a visit to their friends and families?
How can we “motivate” them to return?
And this of course takes us back to the Mary Rose. The new exhibition provides a key marketing opportunity for the museum to offer potential repeat visits.
For many, many years it has been recognised that museums are not simply the custodians of a collection or the keepers of buildings.
They are part and parcel of the ever growing, and increasingly competitive, leisure and tourist industry. Given.
So, this means that commercial aspects of museum visits cannot be underestimated in value.
Commercialism can of course come in many forms.
It can be as simple as products in the shop, but it can also mean the manner in which visitor communication is created and delivered; the style and tone of its language; the reactions that each set of objectives wish to create; the balance between creating a didactic, and possibly uninteresting, approach to the so-called “Disney-fication” that is often viewed as heresy. And that balance, or the decision as to where on that pathway to rest, is a difficult one to make.
What is appropriate at one location, for one collection, may not be the same as at another – almost certainly will not be the same!!
Which leads to the one certain fact – our work will forever change.
Visitor expectations will evolve, but they can also be led. Led by brave decisions; we can follow or we can lead.
(Imagine the scene in the office of the marketing director of Compare the Market.Com, when an ad agency executive said, “We suggest creating a family of Meerkats and they are from Compare the Meerkat.Com. They are going to be our advertising platform for years to come!”. What self-respecting Marketing Director would say yes to that?!!?!? And now look.)
For us one of the most fundamental changes has been the advent of social-media and on-line tools. This has led to a real sea-change in our approach to defining how interpretation strategies are developed.
The “threshold experience” is no longer always at the front door of the museum; it is often on-line and can be uncontrolled due to personal comments from visitors on social media feeds.
A well-managed and designed on-line strategy must nestle closely with the interpretation on site.
Well if I could predict the future I would be sitting on a beach in a paradise infested island, with G&T in hand wondering what history there was yet to be unearthed hidden in the glistening azure sea and soft white sand.
Sadly, I am not clairvoyant and am thus in the office typing at a keyboard!
But one thing we do know. There is no doubt visitor expectations will become increasingly sophisticated and our challenge will be (as it is now) to meet or exceed those expectations within the sometimes rather tight budgets that the heritage sector has to work with.