Museum Marketing Tips
Archived content from 2000 - 2003


Launched on October 7, 2000, was ,at the time, the only site on the Web dedicated to bringing all of the Internet's best museum marketing resources together in one place.
When the site's domain registration expired the site disappeared from the web. The new owners of the domain have chosen to keep a very limited amount of the original content since the information may be as helpful today as it was in the early 2000's. The
  articles are also examples of the type of information that were available to this site's readership.

Thank you Katherine Khalife for all the passion and hard work you put into this site.

Content is from the site's 2000 - 2003 archived pages.

to the Web's marketing tips and tools resource for museums, historic sites, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and heritage attractions.

Our Mission
is to build the Web's most comprehensive collection of museum marketing tips, tools and resources -- practical information you can begin using right away to increase visitation, attract more members, donors and volunteers, build more community awareness of your institution and market your mission more effectively.


museum membership development Increase visitation and membership?

 Raise more funds?

museum marketing plan Attract more media attention?

heritage cultural tourism Develop a marketing plan?

 Book more adult and student groups?

 Get better results from your marketing materials and website?

museum marketing support Receive more support from your board, staff and volunteers?

 Beat the "not enough money, not enough staff to do real marketing" blues? can help you do all that . . . and more.



About the Website is the project (and passion) of writer and consultant Katherine Khalife. Launched on October 7, 2000, it's the only site on the Web dedicated to bringing all of the Internet's best museum marketing resources together in one place.

Effective marketing is an increasingly important issue for museums and other cultural institutions, but many don't have the financial resources to hire marketing professionals. As a result, marketing and communications often become the responsibility of already burdened staff and volunteers -- many of whom don't have the experience or training to market their organizations' missions effectively. At institutions where marketing positions do exist, heavy workloads can make research time difficult to come by. And whether they have marketing staff or not, many museums still struggle with marketing ambivalence: on one hand wanting to make a commitment to marketing; on the other, fearing they might be sacrificing mission if they do.

By being able to access a wide variety of online resources through this site, hours of Web searching are no longer required to find high-quality information pertinent to museum marketing. Tips, tools and tutorials are quickly -- and freely -- available to any institution that needs them. No membership or subscription fees are required to use the site or to receive the Museum Marketing Tips e-newsletter.



"What is Marketing?"
Is your museum's definition inside out?

by Katherine Khalife

Marketing is the process of planning and
executing the conception, pricing, promotion,
and distribution of ideas, goods, and services
to create exchanges that satisfy individual and
organizational goals.
- American Marketing Association

At a Pennsylvania heritage tourism summit I attended in May,2000, Carnegie Museums president Ellsworth Brown opened a morning workshop with the provocative question, "What is marketing?" I wasn't surprised to hear several museum professionals in the room respond, "It's getting people to want what you have." That belief about marketing is a common one. And it's at the core of a lot of the marketing problems many museums have.

Think Outside-in, Not Inside-out
Thinking of marketing as the process of getting people to want what you have is what I call the inside-out approach. Unfortunately, it's a one-sided, afterthought approach that only works if what you "have" also happens to be what people need and want. As Rebecca Leet, author of Marketing for Mission, puts it, "what people want has a great deal to do with what they purchase - with their money, their time, their energy, or their attention. Whether you're selling a commercial product or a nonprofit service, unless it meets the desires of people, most of them won't buy it."

Real marketing requires an outside-in approach, which Leet describes as "a mindset even more than a set of skills. The mindset is based on achieving mission through identifying what the client (or customer or supporter or volunteer) needs and desires and then delivering programs that achieve mission by being structured responsively to client needs and values."

Museums and the Marketing Mindset
Many museums, though, have a difficult time adjusting to the idea of needing to develop a marketing mindset. As consultant Will Phillips wrote in an excellent 1996 article, Linking Objects with Audience, "Historically, museums emphasized collecting and understanding objects and specimens, not audiences. The resultant strategy played on a field of dreams: Collect it and they will come." But today, as Phillips notes, audience needs and values must become a primary focus if museums want to attract more visitors. The new mantra needs to be "Know them and they will come."

Adopting this outside-in focus doesn't mean you'll have to replace your wooden wheel exhibit with a water slide. It may mean, though, that the wheel exhibit needs to be open on Friday evenings, or that some of those Tuesday afternoon wheel lectures would be better replaced with hands-on wheel-making workshops on Saturday mornings. And maybe it's time to add a few more benches to the exhibit hall, or baby-changing stations to the restrooms.

Knowing, Respecting and Responding
Knowing, respecting and responding to audience wants and needs is the key to effective marketing for museums. As Phillips says, "The audience requires as much respect and consideration as the objects museums so lovingly manage."

That reality, however, can be a bitter pill for some in the field to swallow. Don't we all know a few curators who secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) wish that museums were open only by appointment? And at least a guide (or two) who honestly believes that visitors with little knowledge deserve withering replies to "dumb" questions? And what about board members whose greatest pride is in their ability to keep the institution "the way it's always been"?

Developing a marketing mindset requires us to look at our audiences as customers, to see our museums through their eyes, and to adapt our facilities and programs to meet their needs and wants.

"This doesn't mean 'dumbing down' your content as some would have us believe," assured consultant Shellie Williams in a keynote presentation to the Philanthropy Center's Nonprofit Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida. "It just means making it accessible. And that means recognizing that people have different modes of learning and different attitudes around learning. We as presenters can offer a 'tiered' educational experience, where visitors choose how much learning they want -- is going to the performance enough, or would they also like a short history and aesthetics lesson before the performance? Or how about the six week course?"

"Audience" Doesn't Just Mean Visitors
Effective museum marketing requires us to integrate our own needs and desires with those of our audiences -- all of our audiences -- in order to create exchanges that satisfy both their goals and our own. But many institutions make the mistake of equating the term audience only with visitors. In actuality, though, members, donors, staff and volunteers are audiences too. Looking at them in that way -- as customers -- allows us to be more mindful of the exchange nature of the relationship. And it also paves the way for marketing to become a museum-wide function.

Marketing Shouldn't be an Afterthought
Unfortunately, too many organizations relegate marketing to afterthought status, confusing it with promotion, which is only one of its components. Exhibitions, special events, education programs and even new facilities are often completely planned before marketing is even considered. The "product" is conceived and developed in a vacuum -- then tossed over to "the marketing people" to "sell."

That kind of inside-out approach minimizes marketing's importance, restricts its potential effectiveness and helps perpetuate the marketing fears and disdain still prevalent in many institutions today.

Getting rid of those fears and adopting a marketing mindset requires that everyone in the organization become a stakeholder in the marketing process. First, by understanding what marketing really is -- and that it supports mission rather than undermines it. Then by making marketing a museum-wide function and an integral part of all planning -- an inclusionary process that allows ideas to be freely expressed. And heard. Only then can inside-out truly be replaced by outside-in.


10 Warning Signs
That Your Marketing Highway Needs Reconstruction

by Katherine Khalife

f you make a product good enough, even though you live
in the depths of the forest the public will make a path to your
door, says the philosopher. But if you want the public in
sufficient numbers, you would better construct a highway.
- William Randolph Hearst

What kind of marketing highway has your museum constructed? And what shape is it in? Does it run both ways between your organization and your community? Are all the on-ramps open? Are there plenty of interchanges for gathering information, building relationships and identifying wants and needs? Are road crews on the lookout for potholes and crumbling pavement, repairing them before they begin to seriously impede traffic flow?

Or is your marketing highway more of a one-way street, with blind alleys and speed bumps? Like the philosopher in Hearst's quote, do you first produce your "products" alone in the forest, then wait for your community to build its own path to you?

I've come up with a list of ten warning signs that indicate a highway in need of repair. If you find that any of them apply to your museum, you're probably due for at least some marketing reconstruction this year.

1. You assume that everyone in your community already knows what your museum is and what it has to offer . . . Don't they?

2. You define marketing as "getting people to want what you have." (You may find it helpful to read "What is Marketing?" )

3. You see the same faces at every special event you put on.

4. Fifteen years ago you held classes on Tuesday mornings and they were pretty well attended. A few years later, when hardly anyone was signing up for them anymore, you dropped classes altogether. Now you get calls asking if you offer any weekend courses. You tell them no, you tried classes once, but there's just no interest in them.

5. Your membership is dropping or just holding steady.

6. You're certain that people value the fact that nothing ever changes at your site. The proof? You heard a visitor say just last week, "I'm here as a chaperone on my daughter's 4th-grade field trip. Last time I was here was on my 4th-grade field trip. I can't believe it! This place is exactly the same! Absolutely nothing has changed." As she waved goodbye she added cheerily, "See you again when my 3-year-old gets to 4th grade!"

7. You're finding it harder to attract new volunteers. Some people have offered to volunteer at night, but you're not open at night. Others say they'd be happy to help, but they don't want to have to commit to coming in every week. As I overheard one frustrated museum director say, "What good does that do me?"

8. Almost all your professional relationships are with people in the museum world. Yes, you belong to the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but you don't go to the meetings or serve on any of the committees. You're too short-staffed to have time for that. Besides, you're not sure you share much common ground with those in the for-profit world.

9. The only local planning session or government meeting you've been to was that time you needed a variance to move your sign closer to the road -- to make your museum more visible in the community.

10.You'd never admit it out loud, but part of you is getting pretty tired of hearing all this talk about the need to change. After all, why should you have to change to fit the community? Why can't it change to fit you?


Marketing and Management Tips
For Tough Economic Times

by Katherine Khalife

The first thing I would do in a crisis period is to appoint a cost reduction task force, to develop a recession business plan. Please don't let it be only in the hands of the finance department. They will cut everything that counts - and tell you to stop marketing, when marketing is the only prop that you can turn to, to sustain demand.
   - Philip Kotler, Kotler Marketing Group

For many organizations, recession and the long shadow cast by September 11 have replaced the rosy glow and giddy expansion boom of recent years with a nervous pallor of uncertainty. In Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, museums have already announced staff cuts or postponed building plans. And in an October survey of more than 800 performing arts groups conducted by AMS Research and Planning, nearly 60 percent of respondents indicated that they're paring their budgets by 5 to 25 percent.

Not all museums are hurting, by any means, but most are feeling at least a bit feverish at the thought of what might be in store. With governments cutting funding, corporations scaling back their giving, foundation dollars flattening, security costs rising and tourism still sputtering, it's no wonder many cultural institutions are breaking out in cold sweats.

If yours is one of them, here are 19 marketing and management strategies to help you navigate through tough economic times.

Listen Before You Cut
Trimming expenses may very well be necessary, but where should you cut? Before you decide, take Kotler's advice and form a cost reduction task force. Large institutions may need to appoint a formal committee for this, but most organizations can accomplish the same thing just by really listening to staff and volunteers. The people in the trenches know where the fat is. Ask them.

By doing so, you'll not only discover cost-cutting measures you hadn't even thought of, you'll also achieve more buy-in for belt tightening. Dieting is, after all, always easier if we at least get to help choose the menu.

Apply the Customer Value Rule
When deciding which overhead costs to trim, take another tip from Kotler, coauthor of Museum Strategy and Marketing: "The rule for overhead is to apply the question: 'Does it add customer value?'" If it does, think twice before you swing that knife.

Resist the urge, for example, to make immediate cuts in visitor services and popular programming, or to chop customer service training. Instead, first get aggressive about improving your purchasing procedures. Make better buying decisions in all areas of your operation. Get new bids from suppliers, change vendors if necessary, seek more in-kind contributions, barter. And consider banding together with other institutions to make cost-saving bulk purchases.

Step Up Your Marketing, Don't Cut It
Since marketing is still viewed with ambivalence by many nonprofits, it's often the first thing to be cut when money gets tight. But that's a mistake. This is the time when you need to increase your marketing efforts, not eliminate them. For perspective on this same inclination in the for-profit world, read Alf Nucifora's look at what happened to companies who cut back on marketing and advertising in past recessions.

Do a Lot of Little Things Right
The tendency we all have in tough times is to search for the one magic bullet that will make everything better. But magic bullets are hard to come by. Most positive turn-arounds come about as the result of finding lots of small solutions, not one big one. The Children's Museum in Boston can vouch for that.

When the Big Dig, the city's massive road construction project, sent visitation at the institution into a serious tailspin, there were no magic bullets on the horizon. Instead, the museum concentrated on making a number of small changes that added up to a big recovery. Among them, discounted parking and a shuttle service to help visitors cross the construction gauntlet, and new exhibits designed to attract older children.

In a November Boston Globe interview, museum president Lou Casagrande said that attendance "rebounded 48 percent last summer" as a result. "We got clobbered a year before our colleagues did," and recovered "not because of a blockbuster, but because we did a lot of little things right."

Fix the Leaks
When times are good, it's easy to overlook the problems caused by letting things slide. If mailings aren't done on time, if data entry gets behind, so what? When cash flow is sufficient, the income leaks these practices create just seem like trickles. It's not until times get tight that we realize we've actually created gushers.

Membership is a prime example. "If your organization is not entering new members within two weeks after they join," William Dodd of Dodd, Smith Dann, Layher points out, "their first year will be a 13-month year." And if your renewal mailings don't start early enough, you'll likely not receive renewal checks until after expiration dates have passed -- adding a month or two to the next membership year as well.

You also set yourself up for unnecessary income leaks when you don't thank donors promptly. In a test conducted by Penelope Burk, author of Thanks! A Guide to Donor-Centred Fundraising, 14 months after new donors had been called and thanked for their initial gifts within 24 hours of receipt, their subsequent contributions were 42% higher than those in the control group, who hadn't been thanked promptly. Can you really afford not to fix the leaks?

Get Creative With Corporate Partners
With so many industries hurting right now, corporate dollars are dwindling. But there are ways your corporate partners can help even if they can't write you a check. Get creative about what you ask for.

Stephen Brand of offers these innovative ideas: Ask corporate partners to allow your employees to attend their training programs; become part of their corporate buying power (travel, office supplies, power, recruitment, etc); tag onto their existing advertising; and ask their experts to volunteer time working with your team to help cut costs or leverage marketing.

You might also explore establishing partnerships with companies in industries that are still doing well despite the recession -- housing, health care, child care, home furnishings and housewares, to name a few.

Consider Outsourcing
Are there tasks that could be accomplished more cost effectively by outsiders? Could outsourcing free up more of your staff's time for mission-enhancing activities? Is there an income stream you're missing out on because you don't have enough people to market/operate it? It's time to take a look at new possibilities.

One museum I worked with, for example, had abandoned its once-successful facility rental program. Too much staff time was required to show spaces to prospective renters and it was hard finding people willing to work evening functions. We solved the problem by working out a contract with a local event planner who handled all marketing and operational details of the program in exchange for a commission. It took some effort to find the right person and craft the right agreement, but reviving that income source was well worth it.

Encourage More Add-on Sales
If visitors enjoy their experience at your institution they naturally want to "buy more of it" -- so be sure to give them that opportunity. There are probably a number of places in your operation where you could be encouraging more add-on sales. Look for them. Are you offering related books at classes? Selling disposable cameras at your admission desk? Making it a point to remind guides to always recommend a visit to the museum store? These are small gestures, but if you initiate enough of them they can make an important contribution to your organization's financial health. You'll find more add-on sales tips in my article Would You Like Fries With That?

Design Messages and Programs That Speak to What's on Your Audiences' Minds Now
In the wake of September 11 and with the ripples of recession widening daily, people's values, concerns and lifestyles are changing rapidly. Your programs and messages should be changing with them.

The state of the economy and fear of flying make backyard marketing more important than ever as people postpone plans for long-distance travel and stay closer to home. Renewed patriotic spirit opens the door to heightened interest in local history and local heroes. And increased cravings for comfort, meaning, reassurance and togetherness pave the way for changes in everything from how people spend their time to what types of foods they order in restaurants.

Family volunteering, for example, on the rise in recent years, has seen a spike since September 11. If you haven't yet established a family volunteer program, what are you waiting for?

It's important to stay abreast of these changing cultural trends. (Iconoculture's Guideposts for Moving Forward and study findings at Euro RSCG Worldwide are good places to start.) Strive for relevance in your programs and exhibits, offer solutions -- and in the words of Frances Hesselbein, Chairman of the Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, keep asking yourself the question, "When our customers look at us, can they find themselves?"

Remove the Blocks
Most organizations have layers of bureaucracy that impede the flow of ideas and slow down the approval process. If yours is one of them, remove as many of those blocks as you can so that your organization is able to react quickly when news developments or changing trends warrant.

Make Everyone a Marketer
Everyone in your organization can be and should be a stakeholder in the marketing process. How can you accomplish that? First, make sure everyone understands what marketing really is (What is Marketing?) -- and that it supports mission, not undermines it. Then make marketing an inclusionary process and an integral part of all planning. Most important, let people know that their ideas are welcome -- and that they will be heard.

Get the Message "In"
You read an ad or receive a direct mail piece promoting an intriguing new product or service. But when you call for more details or go in to purchase it, you can't find anyone who knows what you're talking about. You're met with a blank stare, an "I don't know anything about that," or you're given the wrong information.

A lot of marketing campaigns fail not because the message doesn't get out, but because it doesn't get "in." Before you launch any new marketing initiative, be certain that everyone in your organization knows about it, understands their role in it, and realizes the importance of that role. Poor internal communication is bad marketing practice in any economy, but in tough times it can be devastating.

Put Your Money Where it Counts
Spend your money on results-oriented marketing materials, not image building. Four-color brochures, expensive annual reports, elegant stationery and dazzling store packaging are great for building your image -- and for draining your recession-era budget. When dollars are tight, it's more important to concentrate on creativity and effective calls to action. And while you're at it, consider doing rack cards instead of brochures and using more postcards and self-mailers.

Tune Up Your Targeting
Scrutinize your media buys to make sure you're reaching your target audiences and getting the biggest bang for your buck. Take advantage of all the market research information that media sales departments can provide. And don't be afraid to negotiate price. Mary Fessler of Media Matters offers some excellent tips on media planning and buying in her three-part article for

Think No-Cost and Low-Cost
Take better advantage of no-cost and low-cost promotional opportunities. Pitch more feature articles to newspapers and magazines -- the time you spend finding a good story angle can pay off more than most ads ever will. Send out tip sheets on timely topics to members and the media. Publish an e-mail newsletter. Keep the events calendar on your website up to date. Aggressively market your speakers bureau. Write newspaper op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. And start paying more attention to getting those "free listing" forms filled out and submitted on time!

Do More of What Works
If you have a popular event that always sells out, add an extra day or repeat it in a few months with a different twist. If certain classes always fill up fast, offer them on additional dates or institute a Part II. When times are tight, it often makes more sense to replicate than it does to reinvent.

At the same time, it's important not to put all your marketing eggs into one basket. Don't pin all your hopes on one event, one campaign or one method of recruitment. Increase your overall efforts so that if one thing fails, you have others to fall back on.

And take a closer look at what's working now and what isn't -- and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. If, for example, your corporate donations have nosedived but individual giving is holding its own, concentrate on cultivating more individual donors. If you usually do a lot of marketing to schools at a distance but security fears are keeping them from traveling, heighten your marketing efforts to schools in your own geographic area.

Avoid Entitlement Mentality
Keep your messages positive and remember that nobody "owes" you. When there's more year left than there is money, it's tempting to appeal to potential donors on the basis of urgent financial need -- even throwing in a bit of a guilt trip for good measure. Don't do it.

Many of your constituents are feeling the same economic pinch you are and, frankly, when they're worrying about their own ships sinking, they're likely to think that saving yours is your problem, not theirs.

People give because you fulfill needs, not because you have needs. But it's easy to forget that when you're feeling desperate. Keep focusing your message on all the positive reasons there are for supporting your organization: great learning experiences; good times; the opportunity to be part of your important mission, exciting programs and wonderful service to the community.

Get Out of the Bunker
If you're not already doing it, this is the time when you must get out from behind the desk and concentrate on building and nurturing relationships. Meet face to face with important donors, become active in community groups, cultivate new contacts -- and network with local business people. Hearing the strategies they're using to cope may help you develop even more of your own.

"When You Run Out of Red, Use Blue"
Pablo Picasso had the right idea. There are always solutions -- even in tough economic times. The trick to finding them is being willing to look for them. And being flexible enough to adopt them when you do.



November 7, 2002

Your Visitors are Trying to Tell You Something...
Are You Listening?

by Katherine Khalife

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
   - Henry David Thoreau

The soda machine saga

I once worked at a museum where the main exhibit hall was the size of two football fields. The space wasn't air conditioned and during the summer months visitors emerged from it flushed and perspiring, longing for cold drinks and a cool place to rest. When they learned that their only refreshment options were a child-height water bubbler in the lobby or a soda machine located two football fields away -- in a corner of the inferno they had just escaped from -- many of them didn't take the news too well.

I don't know how many summers the vending machine had been in that location or how many thousands of people had asked about refreshments over the years. But like clockwork, by the middle of every July the museum had received enough questions and complaints to launch its annual summer offensive: a small hand-lettered sign slapped up near the building's entrance announcing the lack of air conditioning or a cafe.

Hardly anyone ever noticed the sign, of course, so the cold drink frustrations continued. And every year as the summer wore on visitors grew thirstier, front line personnel grew crankier and weekly staff meetings took on lots of eye rolling about the public being "too dumb to read and too stupid to know it's summer."

And through it all, nobody ever thought of moving the soda machine or adding another one.


Like many financially strapped institutions, this one bemoaned the lack of available funds to conduct "real" market research -- all the while ignoring the treasure trove of information passing through its midst every day. Instead of listening, watching and acting on that information, everything was deferred until "someday" -- someday when a hefty grant would appear, someday when there would be enough money to hire a consultant, someday when there would be sufficient resources to conduct focus groups and design the perfect questionnaire. In the meantime, research -- and the solution to the soda machine problem -- would just have to wait.

Sound familiar?

If your organization is caught in the someday trap -- or if you're putting all your effort into a once-a-year survey and not listening to your visitors in between -- you're missing out on opportunities to gather important marketing information every day. Your visitors are constantly trying to tell you something. It's time to start listening.

Listen to your staff

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton put it this way: "The folks on the front lines -- the ones who actually talk to the customer -- are the only ones who really know what's going on out there. You'd better find out what they know."

The questions and comments your front liners receive from visitors all the time -- the things they've heard so often that they can recite them in their sleep -- are some of the most important marketing gauges you'll ever have. They can tell you:

  • What impresses people most about your institution
  • What they wish you had more of
  • What services you're not providing that you should be
  • What you think you're doing right that, in reality, isn't working and needs to be changed

The problem, however, is that staff members who are in daily contact with visitors are usually the very people left out of the marketing communication loop. Nobody ever asks them what they know. Or worse, no one listens to their answers. No wonder they get cranky.

Talk to your staff. Find out what they perceive to be your institution's strengths and weaknesses. Find out what visitors ask them for that frustrates them the most. Find out which policies and procedures are too inflexible, tying their hands and preventing them from satisfying visitor wants and needs. Find out if they feel there's adequate communication between departments, if they feel they receive mixed messages about their responsibilities or the amount of initiative they're allowed to take, and if they think they get enough information, training and support. And ask them what the soda machine saga equivalent is at your museum. I guarantee you that they know.

Listen to your visitors

Listening and responding appropriately have become such rare occurrences these days that a study conducted by TARP, a Virginia-based research firm, found that 96 percent of unhappy customers don't even bother trying to complain to the offending organization. Instead, they tell 10 to 14 other people about their bad experience. And the story of that experience can continue to circulate for as long as 23.5 years!

It's clear, then, that you need to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for visitors to speak their minds directly to you. That can only happen, though, if they're given ample opportunity to make requests, offer praise or get something off their chests -- and if they believe they're really being listened to when they do.

Comment cards

Comment cards -- and the way you respond to the feedback they generate -- can be one means for accomplishing this. But only if you avoid the common mistake of trying to turn those cards into a visitor satisfaction survey. Instead, use them as a listening device.

Why? Think about the times you yourself have filled out a comment card at a restaurant, a store or any other establishment. If you're like most of us, you've probably only done it when you felt an urgent need to be heard. Maybe you were thrilled with the excellent service you received. Perhaps you were highly dissatisfied with the experience. Maybe you had a brilliant suggestion to offer.

Whatever the case, you had a point to make and you wanted to make it. And chances are that at that moment you didn't give a hoot about little check boxes asking you to rate restroom cleanliness on a scale of one to five. You had something to say. And you wanted more space than those few little "additional comments" lines squeezed in at the bottom in which to say it.

Well-designed comment cards can be a valuable listening tool. If you're not already providing them to your visitors on a regular basis, or if the cards you currently use do nothing but gather dust on a shelf once they're returned, visit They offer some excellent tips on comment card design and response management.

Phone Calls

Want instant marketing insights? Pay attention to the kinds of questions people ask when they call your institution. What kinds of information do they request most often? What are they asking about now that they didn't ask about last year?

Phone calls contain a gold mine of marketing information and possibilities, yet they're a resource that's almost always overlooked.

Have your receptionist keep a record of the types and frequency of questions being asked, then periodically circulate that report among your staff. Knowing what callers are actually asking for is an important key to understanding where your museum is hitting -- and missing -- the marketing bullseye.

See (and listen) for yourself

Watching what happens when visitors come into personal contact with your organization can be an eye-opening experience. And it's one that needs to be repeated often. But how long has it been since you've actually played the role of visitor, calling for information or spending at least half of a typical day out on your own front lines? Be honest now. For most of us, it's probably been longer than we care to admit.

Some things to be on the lookout for:

How are visitors greeted? Are they met with an enthusiastic "Welcome!" -- or with an awkward stare or a suspicious-sounding "May I help you?" Do all staff members, regardless of department, make eye contact and smile when they encounter a visitor? Do they take the initiative to offer help if someone looks lost or confused? Or do they hurry about their own business, head down, trying to look invisible?

Who's visiting your museum? Families, groups, couples, singles, older adults? Is the mix the same or different than it was a few months ago?

How's the traffic flow? How long are the lines? Are the policies and procedures you've established to facilitate these things actually working? Are they enhancing the visitor experience or impeding it?

Are visitors picking up the handouts you provide? Reading the signs? Do they look confused as to which direction to travel in next? Do they appear weary and in need of a place to sit? Do visitors of different ages and types react differently, or are there noticeable commonalties from segment to segment?

What are visitors saying -- to you and to each other? And what are they not saying? What kinds of questions are they asking? What are they looking for that they can't find? Are they making any new comments or requests that you haven't often heard before?

Experiencing your own institution from the visitor's point of view can tell you just as much or more than technology, focus groups or questionnaires ever can. And all that's required to gather this valuable information is getting out there and really paying attention.

Putting it all together

Finally, as important as listening and observing are, they mean nothing if you don't act on what you learn. Here are some tips for doing that more effectively:

  • Don't keep the information a secret. Share it with your staff, your volunteers and your board. Do it every chance you get -- at regular meetings, through memos and in-house newsletters and in casual conversation. It's important for everyone to be aware of current visitor concerns. Besides, you never know who might come up with exactly the solution you've been searching for.
  • Whenever you make changes in response to the information you've gathered, be certain that everyone in your organization knows about them before they're implemented, not after. Buy-in and acceptance are much easier to achieve when people know why things are being done and what part they'll be expected to play.
  • Allow staff members to take a major role in creating the changes that will impact their departments. They're the ones closest to the situation and the ones who'll have to live with the results every day. Don't be afraid to let them participate. Chances are they've already given a lot more thought to workable solutions than you think they have.
  • Assume the best. Contrary to what we sometimes believe, most visitors are not out to take undue advantage of us. And most employees can be trusted to make the right decisions. Despite the way it sometimes appears, your staff wants to help ensure a positive visitor experience. They want to know they're playing an important role. And they want you to realize it too.


Articles Index

A huge marketing budget would be a wonderful thing to have, wouldn't it? But if you're like most nonprofits, chances are you don't have one. It doesn't matter. You already have other resources that are even more valuable. Our marketing and management articles will show you how to use those resources more effectively to build a mission-based, audience-focused marketing program that gets results.

museum resources Making the Most of Your Resources

  • "What is Marketing?" Is Your Museum's Definition Inside-out?
  • 10 Warning Signs That Your Marketing Highway Needs Reconstruction
  • Your Visitors Are Trying to Tell You Something... Are You Listening?
  • Marketing and Management Tips for Tough Times
  • 29 Ways to Get and Keep More Members
  • Creating Effective Marketing Displays: 12 Budget-wise Tips
  • Volunteer Recruitment Brochures, Part I: The missing voice
  • Volunteer Recruitment Brochures, Part II: Six tips for getting and using testimonials
  • Taglines, Part I: More than just a quicker picker-upper
  • Taglines, Part II: Tips on choosing one and using one
  • How to Connect to Your Community With a Speakers Bureau
  • Boost Sales by Making the Concierge Connection
  • How to Obtain Free, Low-cost and Donated Software
  • The Keys to Sustainable Audience Development
  • There's Art in That Appeal Letter!
  • 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Marketing To Grandparents
  • The Power of Thank You - In Fundraising and in Life
  • Quick Quiz: Who Are the Easiest People to Sell?
  • Would You Like Fries With That? Seven Ways Museums and Museum Stores can Encourage Add-on Sales
  • Quick Quiz: What's Your Museum's Most Important Asset
  • A Sleigh-Load of Holiday Marketing Tips
  • Museums Respond to September 11 Tragedies

museum marketing "What This Museum Needs is More Publicity!"

  • Getting Coverage in Local Business Journals: What They Want & Why You Need Them Now More Than Ever
  • E-mail Press Releases: Six DOs and DON'T
  • Would You Rather Buy a Strawberry or a Fragaria? Eight Copywriting Tips for Better Results
  • 10 Press Release DOs and DON'Ts
  • Want More Feature Stories? Ask Yourself "So What?"

 Marketing Your Museum on the Internet

  • Nine Common Marketing Mistakes Museum Websites Make
  • The Biggest Marketing Mistake Museum Websites Make
  • Take Advantage of It!
  • Is Your Website Journalist-Friendly?
  • Offline Website Promotion Checklis
  • Marketing With E-Cards, Part I: Museums and e-card marketing
  • Marketing With E-Cards, Part II: How to add e-card capabilities to your website
  • Marketing With E-Cards, Part III: How to successfully promote your e-cards

audience development Heritage Cultural Tourism and Group Tour Marketing

  • How to Turn Travelers Into Visitors
  • Boost Sales by Making the Concierge Connection
  • Is Your Museum Missing the Bus?
  • 10 Ways to Make Your Museum More Group Friendly
  • A Group Tourism Who's Who
  • Q & A: How to Start a Motorcoach Marketing Program
  • Nine Inexpensive and Effective Ways to Find More Group Business
  • You're a Celebrity: An Article for Reservationists and Guides
  • Step Up Your Group Tours by Stepping On


 Reader-Submitted Museum Marketing Tips

"Real life" marketing tips contributed by our website visitors.

 Recommended Books

Didn't find the information you need in the Articles Index or Links Library?



A FewMotivational Quotes


Marketing and Advertising

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.
- Charles Revson

Show 'em that your grass is always greener.  Soon they'll all be trying to come over to your side of the fence.
- Benjamin Pred

Authentic marketing is not the art of selling what you make but knowing what to make. It is the art of identifying and understanding customer needs and creating solutions that deliver satisfaction to the customers, profits to the producers and benefits for the stakeholders.
- Philip Kotler

No theater could sanely flourish until there was an umbilical connection between what was happening on the stage and what was happening in the world.
- Kenneth Tynan

Customers buy for their reasons, not yours.
Orvel Ray Wilson

People don't want to be "marketed TO"; they want to be "communicated WITH."
- Flint McGlaughlin

You must have mindshare before you can have marketshare.
- Christopher M. Knight

The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it.
- Elizabeth Dole

To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.
- Walt Whitman

Strategy and timing are the Himalayas of marketing. Everything else is the Catskills.
- Al Ries

Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going.
- John Naisbitt

Marketing is not an event, but a process . . . It has a beginning, a middle, but never an end, for it is a process. You improve it, perfect it, change it, even pause it. But you never stop it completely.
- Jay Conrad Levinson

What we call results are beginnings.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In marketing I've seen only one strategy that can't miss -- and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last.
John Romero

A recent government publication on the marketing of cabbage contains, according to one report, 26,941 words. It is noteworthy in this regard that the Gettysburg Address contains a mere 279 words while the Lord's Prayer comprises but 67.
- Norman R. Augustine

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying "Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday," that's advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed, that's publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations. If the town's citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they'll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that's sales.
- Unknown

If you make a product good enough, even though you live in the depths of the forest the public will make a path to your door, says the philosopher. But if you want the public in sufficient numbers, you would better construct a highway.
- William Randolph Hearst

If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language in which they think.
- David Ogilvy

I once used the word "obsolete" in a headline, only to discover that 43% of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline I used the word "ineffable," only to discover that I didn't know what it meant myself.
- David Ogilvy

I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes...
- Philip Dusenberry

You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You've got to say it in a way that people will feel in their gut. Because if they don't feel it, nothing will happen.
- William Bernbach

What helps people, helps business.
- Leo Burnett

Yes, I sell people things they don't need. I can't, however, sell them something they don't want. Even with advertising. Even if I were of a mind to.
- John O'Toole

If you are writing about baloney, don't try to make it a Cornish hen, because that is the worst kind of baloney there is. Just make it darned good baloney.
- Leo Burnett

We read advertisements to discover and enlarge our desires. We are always ready - even eager - to discover, from the announcement of a new product, what we have all along wanted without really knowing it.
- Daniel Boorstin

The philosophy behind much advertising is based on the old observation that every man is really two men -- the man he is and the man he wants to be.
- William Feather

Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.
- Leo Burnett

We find that advertising works the way the grass grows. You can never see it, but every week you have to mow the lawn.
- Andy Travis

Advertising is the "wonder" in Wonder Bread.
- Jef I. Richards

Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allowed to create them.
- David Ogilvy

Teamwork is essential. It gives them someone else to shoot at.
- Unknown

If you think advertising doesn't work, consider the millions of Americans that now think yogurt tastes good.
- Joe L. Whitley


About Katherine Khalife
Katherine has been helping nonprofits and businesses market their missions, products and services for almost thirty years. Her wide range of entrepreneurial and professional experience gives her an unusual breadth of practical knowledge and an ability to quickly analyze and troubleshoot marketing problems.

She has worked in marketing and communications at both the local and national levels, and as marketing director at an outdoor living history museum. Her background also includes twenty years in the tourism industry, as founding partner of a small company that specialized in heritage cultural tours of the U.S., Canada and the South Pacific.

As a writer, Katherine has coauthored three books for Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series and written over 150 articles. Her work has been published in periodicals ranging from Seventeen to Parachutist, as well as on a number of websites. For several years she also published an award-winning regional magazine of 20th-century popular history. Her marketing articles have appeared in History News, Museum Store, Vijesti and the Museum Store Association's Management Insight Newsletter, as well as in numerous regional museum association and Convention and Visitors Bureau publications.

In addition to publishing the Museum Marketing Tips website and e-newsletter, Katherine does writing, editing and consulting for businesses and nonprofits seeking practical solutions to their marketing challenges.


Marketing consultant Katherine Khalife is publisher of and the Museum Marketing Tips e-newsletter, used every month by thousands of cultural institutions and other nonprofits seeking practical tips to improve their marketing.