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Survey: How Museum Marketing is Adapting to Covid-19

It’s no secret that museums have been hit hard by Covid-19, with social distancing forcing them to close for several months and now limiting the number of people they can welcome.  

So how are museum marketing managers adapting to this new reality? We asked more than 500 museum marketing managers how the Covid-19 crisis has affected their work.

Accelerated switch to Digital Marketing

In the early days of the lockdown, museums took advantage of digital channels to stay connected to their audiences while their doors were closed.

Stay at home orders meant that audiences were spending more time online, and looking to both educate children and entertain themselves. 

So it made sense for museums to focus on digital.

As we move to the next stage of the crisis, museum marketing managers aren’t switching this focus, with most saying that they were moving all of their budgets online.

This has a lot to do with flexibility; using digital channels allows museums to change messages quickly. Something necessary when restrictions are constantly changing.

‘We already had a digital-first marketing strategy’ one marketing manager said, ‘but the crisis means that’s now the only channels we’re using’.

Digital isn’t free

Museums increasingly recognise that digital isn’t free and are committing budget to channels like Facebook and Instagram.

‘You have to pay to play’ one marketing manager commented, while another said the days of ‘reaching audiences through Facebook and Instagram without paying are behind us’.

Advertising budgets are shifting from outdoor and print advertising, both of which have lost out as marketing has gone digital. 

Museum marketing managers told us that the switch to spending more budget online requires them to learn new skills, with several mentioning that they intend to do training courses on Facebook advertising. 

Live streaming and Video

Museums are live streaming and producing more video than ever before, with some even experimenting with monetising this content.

Again the museum marketing managers who we spoke to talked about a skills gap with producing video, with most learning as they go.

Remember Email

Email marketing has had a new lease of life this year.

‘We’re relying on email marketing more than ever before’ wrote one Marketing Manager. And across survey replies, the increased importance of email marketing came up again and again.

Email marketing is cheap, effective and allows museums to share the latest updates without paying (much) to do so.

Museum marketing managers also realise that there is an art to getting an e-newsletter right. From the subject lines to effective design, small changes can increase both those reading and those acting on email marketing.

(Find out about the best Email marketing tools in this article)

Marketing Budgets are Falling

Across the board the museum marketing managers that we heard from reported that they expected their budgets to be cut as the financial impact of the crisis unfolds.

‘We’ll have to do more with less’, one marketing manager told us. Again this points to more online activities and ‘imaginative use of social media’.

The budget cuts differ from organisation to organisation, with 50% being the highest suggested, and more modest cuts of 5-10% more common.

Switch to Local

International tourism is dead, perhaps for several years. 

For museums that typically attract tourists through the summer months, this has had a significant impact on visitors, with almost all the marketing managers who participated in our survey reporting a focus on local.

This isn’t something that most expect to change in the next 12 months, with many predicting international visitors won’t return until 2022.


The survey illustrates an accelerated move to digital channels and marketing managers who are adapting to an ever-changing landscape. 

This means many are learning new skills and trying new tools to help their museums to serve their communities.

Budgets for marketing are falling and this survey doesn’t capture what’s happening in terms of redundancies within marketing positions.

Interested in learning more about best practice in Museum Marketing? The MuseumNext Digital Marketing Summit looks at the crucial role marketing plays in persuading our audiences to take that next positive step: to convert a passing interest into a ticket purchase, a website hit into an actual visit, an appreciation into real involvement.

Find out more here.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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