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The Economic Downturn: How Museums Can Respond. A presentation to the Canadian Museums Association, March 2009 by Gail Dexter Lord President, Lord Cultural Resources. Museums Have Been Adversely Affected by the Current Economic Downturn. Lower attendance levels

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the economic downturn how museums can respond

The Economic Downturn: How Museums Can Respond

A presentation to the Canadian Museums Association, March 2009by Gail Dexter LordPresident, Lord Cultural Resources


Museums Have Been Adversely Affected by the Current Economic Downturn

Lower attendance levels

Reduced admissions, retail, membership, and other visitor-generated income

Fewer functions have meant lower rentals income

Endowments tied to investments have lost value

Corporate and other donations have been cut back

Governments may not be able to keep grants in line with museum needs

Lower revenues have resulted in reductions of services, hours, events and major exhibitions.


Service Reductions not the Best Response

…Greater Focus on the Museum Visitor


… Strengthening the institution

Are the better way


A Particular Focus on Resident Markets

In tough economic times people are more cautious about taking expensive vacations…

…Museums may therefore benefit from the phenomenon of substitution as people seek out things to do, including attending museums, closer to home.


Increase Resident Market Attendance

Add value to the admission price.

  • collaborate to introduce “value added” admission ticketing structure to lead to customer sharing
  • Add value to admission charge by offering opportunity to "keep your ticket stub for a discount at the following participating museums.”
  • Offer incentives – free gift with every family visit (Gift to be picked up at the gift shop)
  • Discount on parking for every visit between certain hours
Create incentives for repeat visitation, e.g. ”keep ticket stub for half-price (or free) second visit within 60 days.”

Exposes visitors to retail opportunities and other revenue centers and adds value internally to admission charges without lowering them.

Challenge to communicate these opportunities during tough economic times when marketing budgets are limited. One answer to seek news coverage by actually writing and submitting news stories to media outlets which themselves are facing tough economic times and have fewer writers.

Don’t worry if ticket shared with someone else. What is important is getting people in the door!

Seek to Boost Repeat Visitation by Residents

Members are primarily residents and are repeat visitors. Find ways to add value to membership.

People are making decisions about whether or not to maintain their memberships.

It is tougher and more costly to have a membership restored after it has lapsed than to strategize ways and means to maintain memberships during tough economic times.

One way to do so is to offer two-year memberships that have a substantial discount on the second year.

Another is to increase the benefits of membership such as more exclusive members- only periods.

Membership as a Way to Increase Repeat Visitation

Art galleries and museums are seeking to attract more family visitors not just on family Sundays but on a daily basis.

Military, transportation and other museums with difficulty attracting women are seeking to focus on social history and emphasize the important role and accomplishments of women.

All museums are seeking to increase appeal to diversity -- by being relevant

Co-produce programs your community needs – Anything goes from Yoga to Choir practice

Using Public Programming to Increase Appeal to Less Traditional Market Segments

One art museum has publicized its permanent collection by a campaign of reproductions in a subway station.

Another invited visitors to select from photos posted on Flickr which were used in an advertising campaign.

Some museums are rotating their permanent collection three or four times per year – with dynamic themes that “feel like” special exhibitions

Marketing Strategies in Tough Times

Marketing permanent exhibitions:

marketing strategies in tough times
Marketing Strategies in Tough Times

But many museums have had to substantially reduce advertising budgets so have sought other ways to get the message out. For example:

Younger people are less likely to turn to newspapers and other traditional forms of communication some museums have their own pages on social networking sites

The best and also least expensive form of marketing is word of mouth. This means finding ways and means to get people into the museum so they can tell their friends and relatives about it.

bad news good news
Bad News:

We are likely in the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s.

Good News:

Museums have survived recessions before

New museums were built in the Great Depression

The museums that will emerge in the best shape will not be those that have cut the most staff, exhibitions, programs and other public services.

It will be those museums that maintained existing audiences and grew new ones

Museums are candidates for Government recovery money and infrastructure money – get your capital projects “shovel ready” starting tomorrow.

BAD News / GOOD News
Someone must lead

The leader must have a plan

You cannot save your way to health

Focus on today and tomorrow not yesterday

Extend Programming

Marketing is not brochures

There is only one spokesman and the message must be positive

The Board must allow itself to be restructured

-- from “The Art of the Turnaround” by Michael M. Kaiser (Brandeis University Press, 2008)

Prepare for the Future -- Institutionally