This fact sheet was prepared by freelance arts consultant Jo Finn, who spoke with marketing peers about how they are approaching their communications after lockdown.
Over the past four months museums have rightly been focused on keeping staff and visitors safe as well as addressing their financial concerns. But as the UK lockdown begins to ease, and museums prepare for reopening, the focus is starting to shift towards how to encourage visitors to return.
Covid-19 continues to create enormous challenges and compromises for our sector but there are opportunities to be explored and embraced when we reopen. This is unknown territory for all of us and ideas-sharing and learning from the approaches of museums around the world is likely to offer the most guidance.
Messaging balancing act
Getting the messaging right will be crucial, and regular sentiment scanning will help assess the mood of your audiences. Marketing messages are likely to be a balancing act between:
- Reassurance that your museum is safe to visit.
- Extending a heartfelt and warm welcome back.
- Being sensitive towards people’s personal experiences of the pandemic (which could include personal health/loss of loved ones/financial hardship etc).
- Addressing your commercial drivers for income generation (e.g. donation requests/ticket sales).
- Managing expectations of the limited visitor experience due to social distancing and reduced facilities. Some museums are producing videos to show the new experience rather than relying on the written word.
- Demonstrating the role of museums in providing ‘cultural nourishment’ and escapism.
Where possible, coordinate with other venues locally to establish consistent messaging around queuing and distancing measures, etc. This could be part of a wider collaborative conversation about promoting your region as a ‘staycation destination’.
Audit your comms channels first
Prior to making any reopening announcements carry out an audit of your messaging across all channels (online, in-venue, print collateral, etc) to identify what will need updating. It is also worth testing your messaging with your various audience groups before ‘going live’ to check that it resonates with an appropriate tone.
You may wish to avoid using images of the venue looking busy when you reopen, being mindful of people’s nervousness and showing that social distancing is possible. Something else to consider when auditing your channels. Will new photography be required?
Prepare an FAQ
Address common coronavirus-related queries with an FAQ on your website. This can also be referred to when responding to social media posts and press enquiries and will be a useful resource for FOH staff when visitors begin to return. Questions could include:
- When are you reopening?
- Will it be safe?
- Do I have to wear a mask?
- What will I be able to see?
- Will the toilets/café/shop be open?
Don’t over-sanitise your comms
Whilst we have a responsibility to ensure that what we are communicating follows current government guidelines, you can still retain your own tone of voice. Go back to your first principles, brand values and vision and ensure they are central to all your comms including functional signage.
There is a risk of over-sanitising the visitor experience and putting people off with long lists of dos and don’ts. We are all experienced at social distancing and the 2m rule now and don’t need to be constantly reminded. Remember your role in offering escapism.
Think about your audience segments
What will your visitor profile look like when you reopen? It may be some time before you welcome back schools, groups and overseas audiences. Identify the low-hanging fruit. Your new visitor demographic may be limited to individuals, couples and families from the local area in the first instance.
Talk to your audiences (including staff and volunteers). Find out what they have they missed and gauge their appetite for returning. You can address the concerns of your various audience groups with clear, nuanced and considered messaging.
Consider local nervousness about attracting visitors to the area and increasing the risk of Covid-19 spread. It will be important to get buy-in from this audience as travel continues to be restricted and staycations become the norm.
Don’t neglect harder to reach audiences. Will new forms of outreach be needed in the absence of a schools’ programme, etc? What are the opportunities here?
Lead generation opportunities
Are you ticketing entry in order to manage capacity with timed slots? Are you set up for online booking? Online ticketing will provide you with opportunities for data capture and lead generation. Think through marketing permissions and GDPR to future-proof new lists.
Flexibility and back to basics marketing
The vast majority of museums will be operating with reduced or zero marketing budget after lockdown and therefore the emphasis will be on owned (your website, email marketing and social media channels) and earned channels (press and 3rd party advocacy).
Any paid activity is likely to be digital first (which is more agile and offers more flexibility to ramp up and down as required). Use your analytics and evaluate what digital activity is successfully driving conversions and engagement. Adapt your digital approach accordingly.
Be mindful that there may be a glut of marketing activity as venues start to re-open. How will you have cut-through? Your usual channels might not work in the short-term and reopening offers an opportunity to go back to basics and rethink your marketing approach. Reflect on your vision and your USPs, revisit your brand values and your tone of voice, segment your audiences and target your messaging offer to attract visitors who are most likely to come back.
“The risk is that the messaging will blend into one, with overuse of phrases such as “We’re Open!”, “Welcome Back!” and so on. This might be the time for innovative marketers to really shine.”
Market Prospects for ALVA Members when the pandemic, David Edwards (Scattered Clouds), 2020
The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) has published ‘Resources to Support you Through Coronavirus
Museum Next has a range of marketing articles including tips on analytics, social media, and email marketing.
The Association of Independent Museums (AIM) has a new Marketing Success Guide.
Network with peers at Museum Hour 8-9pm every Monday on Twitter
Upskill in digital marketing with free Google training courses
Belfast City Council Tourism, Culture and Arts Unit: Marketing and Audience Development Toolkit for Arts and Heritage Organisation
Marketing-related guidance for charities from National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Marketing Planning – Where to Start from Museums Galleries Scotland
Audience Finder – free access to national audience data, enabling cultural organisations to understand, compare and apply audience insight – from The Audience Agency
Audience Spectrum –segments the UK population by their attitudes towards culture, and by what they like to see and do into 10 different profiles – from The Audience Agency
- Advice about Reopening Toolkits
- Advice about Business Continuity ‘Expect the Unexpected’ from DCMS
- Advice about HR from AIM: HR advice from TheHRDept
- Advice and resources for employers to support home working from Roots HR
- Advice about Business Resilience from AIM: Business Resilience Checklist
- Advice about Risk Management from GOV.UK
- Advice about contractual implications of cancelling events from Bates Wells
- Advice about reviewing your building risk assessments from the London Fire Brigade
- Advice on how to be more accessible on social media from the Disability Cooperative Network (DCN)
- Flowchart on Financial Stability for non-NPO organisations
- Example of Risk assessment by Hastings Museum Covid-19
- Example of Coronavirus Pandemic Plan by Chatham Historic Dockyards Trust
- Example of Pandemic Planning – Departmental Analysis and Impact Assessment – Chatham Historic Dockyards Trust
- Advice from MIND: Coronavirus and your wellbeing
- Advice for Museum Educators about Mental Health and COVID-19 from Group for Education in Museums (GEM)
- Advice on looking after your mental health while working from home from the Mental Health Foundation.
- Advice from the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance
- ‘Covid-19: Ultimate Guide to Free Video Conferencing and Collaboration Tools’ by UCToday
- Advice about remote volunteer from East Midlands Museum Development
- Example of a Digital Museum from Hastings Museum
- Digital Learning Resources from Group for Education in Museums (GEM)
- Advice on How to Make a Pod-cast and other content from Culture 24
- Advice on creating videos and live streaming from Museum Development London
- Digital Surgeries and ‘How to’ resources from Digital Culture Network (DCN) including: how to make videos on your Smart phone; tips on online donations; producing video content; advice on remote working and virtual conferencing.
- Digital Heritage Lab for small and medium heritage organisations, funded by Heritage Fund. Free 90 min webinars — 1:2:1 surgeries — Support directory
Collections Care Guidance during the Covid-19 Crisis
Conservation specialists Spencer and Fry have pulled together some suggestions on how to care for your museum collections during the Covid-19 crisis.
- Please put your health and wellbeing first. Only visit your museum if it is safe to do so and is within the latest government guidance.
- Highlighted actions can possibly be carried out at home.
- If possible and the current Government guidance allows, a regular check should be made of the museum or historic property to check the collection is okay, and all security and environmental control measures are working. If this requires lone working, put measures in place to make this safe (like notifying someone where you will be, and carrying a mobile phone.)
- Check all display cases and stores are locked and keys stored appropriately.
- Consider moving objects to store for additional security if this can be done safely.
- Ensure alarms and CCTV are working.
- Ensure all entry and exit points are secured, including windows
- Consider signage to point out the site is secured and monitored.
- Collections Trust with the ACE’s Security Audit Tool
- ACE Museum Security Toolkit
- Collections Trust has many resources to assist with security concerns from padlock specifications to GIS specification, scalding security and CCTV requirements
Reduce light exposure on light sensitive objects
- Close shutters, blinds or curtains to reduce natural light entering rooms with collections.
- Where blackout is not possible, close books on display, return light sensitive objects to store or cover with Tyvek or other museum safe material.
- Museum and Galleries Scotland information on control and monitoring of light
- English Heritage guidance on managing natural light
Check insect pest traps and prevention measures
- Remove any food and rubbish to reduce possible insect and rodent infestations.
- Change traps (if not done recently).
- Quarantine any object with a possible infestation.
- Check the latest trapping data and research insects found. Plot the data on a plan of the building.
- whatseatingyourcollection.com helps with identifying and recording museum pests
- English Heritage pest poster
- English Heritage Conservation Guidance and information on IPM
- English Heritage guide on how to plot insect data on floor plans
Review Environmental Data
- Download dataloggers – some systems can be checked remotely.
- If you are shutting the museum remember to keep on heating if it is controlling the humidity.
- Ensure that the environmental monitoring system is working and plugged in, ensure anyone who might check on the museum understands that this equipment must remain plugged in during any closure period. Label plugs if necessary.
- Change silica gel/ prosorb etc in display cases and storage boxes.
- Empty dehumidifiers if required.
- Review the last 12 months of environmental data.
- Museums Galleries Scotland’s advice on monitoring temperature and humidity
- British Library Guide to Manage the library and archive environment (PDF format)
- English Heritage information on calculating silica gel requirements
Start/ finish or update your Emergency Plan and check appropriate measures are in place.
- Check all contact details are up to date for staff and suppliers.
- Check priority cards are up to date.
- Hold a table top exercise using video conferencing.
- Check all rubbish is removed to reduce fire loading.
- Check electrical devices not required for environmental monitoring/ control or security are unplugged. Do not unplug freezers if they are being used for the storage or treatment of objects.
- Remove any unnecessary flammable items from site, ensure any flammable materials are stored correctly, e.g. in a flam cupboard.
- Ensure taps and unnecessary water supplies are turned off to reduce the risk of flood (NB heating systems should be left on if controlling the humidity or needed for frost protection.)
- Historic England guidance for emergency planning, salvage and fire precautions
- Museum of London’s Emergency Planning e-learning tool
- Museum of London’s Pocket Salvage Guide
- Collections Trust links to making and implementing emergency and salvage plans
Update/ check the inventory and labelling
- Carry out data management and data cleaning.
- Label objects.
- Consider making the inventory digital.
- SHARE Museums East youtube video shows what should be in an object marking kit
- SHARE Museums East youtube video shows how to label textile objects
- SHARE Museums East youtube video shows how to label paper objects
- Collections Trust on digitising collections
- Carry out high level/ deep clean.
- Update cleaning schedules.
- Plan for how the museum might be cleaned for reopening in line with decontamination guidance.
- Guidance about decontamination in non-healthcare settings
- Historic England advice on cleaning history surfaces
Update collection care policies
- Update hospitality guidelines.
- Update filming guidelines, etc.
- AIM’s Guide to Corporate Hospitality and Successful Venue Hire
- English Heritage – Hospitality Events in Historic Houses
Update your Health and Safety policies
- Collections Trust Guidance on COSHH
- HSE on COSHH
- Museum of London’s Hazards in Collections
- Collections Trust’s How to guide: hazards in museum collections by Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Service
- HSE Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
- HSE guidance on asbestos and Asbestos Awareness Course
- Carriage of Dangerous Goods Act – this could affect you if you are moving or loaning objects that potentially contain hazardous materials
- UK Government Controlled Drugs Regulations
- UK Government guidance on commonly encountered controlled drugs
- HSE guidance about control of radiation
- HSE advice on implementing the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Share Guidance on completing Risk Assessments
Check collection care equipment
- Audit what you have and if it is in working order.
- Write a list of equipment required and cost.
- Consider donating any unopened boxes of PPE to the NHS.
- To donate PPE, please contact email@example.com
Carry out a benchmark assessment and/or condition check the collections
- Collections Trust ‘Benchmark’ self-assessment audit
- Collections Trust guidance on condition reporting with examples and a crib sheet
- Condition reporting tool from The Scottish Conservation Studio
Commission conservation work
- Consider sending objects for conservation if access to the object is possible and you can safely pack and transport the object. Some conservators will be able to work in their studios during this time.
Read up on Collection Care/Preventive Conservation
- AIM Guide to Successful Collections Care
- Collections Trust’s Signposts to Collections Care: a self-assessment pack for museums was written by South West MLA and offers advice on how prevent damage to your collection by preventive conservation
- Museum and Galleries Scotland guidance on improving stores
- Read the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (purchase)
- English Heritage Conservation and Collections Care Advice and Technical Papers
- ICON page on further resources including links to online journals
Undertake online learning
Keeping your Buildings and Collections Safe during the Covid-19 Crisis
Priorities for Temporary Museum Closure
- Make sure that more than one or two people know how your building works and who to contact for what. Set up multiple tiers of backup. Draw on your staff, volunteers, and Trustees to set up systems and communications that will ensure our buildings and collections for the future.
- Check your insurance company’s minimum requirements for security and maintenance checks, and for building occupation levels and arrange to comply
Building Security and Environment
- Ensure physical perimeter security
- Maintain a minimum staffing where possible to ensure alarms and the environment are monitored and maintained as necessary.
- Where buildings and open sites do not have the benefit of staff on site, the buildings should have alarm systems, possibly CCTV and environmental monitoring systems. These should be transmitted to be received by nominated people who can act should an issue arise. Where possible random checks of the exterior of buildings or open sites are recommended.
- Visit at least once in each seven-day period to check systems and refresh environmental measures; some insurance policies may require more regular visits. As the lock-down proceeds, staff and volunteers undertaking security and collections checks may need evidence that their trip is essential. Ask the Director or Chair to provide you with a letter outlining the essential nature of your travel.
- Record checks and visits by who, when and where are made and any action required/ taken to ensure the wellbeing and security of objects. Where it has not been possible to visit a site due to current restrictions, this should also be recorded. These may be required in the event of any later claim.
- Emphasise to museum staff and volunteers the need to use social media carefully, with no reference to closed/empty buildings (buildings perceived as being empty are already being targeted)
- Ensure fire alarms and systems functioning and being maintained
- Equipment powered down where possible
Buildings and Equipment Maintenance
- Instigate or enhance daily, weekly, monthly checking systems. (Museum Development Officers can provide example checklists for adaptation).
- Keep the list of actions for site visits simple and prioritise. Use limited time in the building most effectively.
Collections Care and Access during Lockdown
The UK Heads of Conservation Group has produced the following guidance for museums.
With restricted access, it is important to identify the highest areas of risk across your collections to enable you to focus the time and resources you can deploy.
The primary risks to collections in the current lockdown scenario include:
- Pest infestation: collections with known pest issues or which are particularly vulnerable to pests
- Poor environment: collections susceptible to fluctuations and extremes of humidity located in areas with poor or limited environmental control
- Dust: organic material on open display or open in storage
- Light: collections exposed to UV or extreme light levels at risk of fading or degrading from light exposure
- Building fabric/features: known building issues including areas prone to water ingress, leaky radiators or historic fireplaces that may introduce water, dust and debris to collection areas.
Also consider equipment onsite linked to the care of collections that requires ongoing maintenance (e.g. standalone dehumidifiers/humidifiers and freezers holding collections). These may be high-risk if equipment maintenance is reduced during this period.
Manage and Reduce Risks
When you have identified your high and medium risk collections, focus on identifying methods to manage and reduce the risks.
- Turning off all lights except for security lighting
- Ensuring food is either removed from site or held in air-tight containers
- Where possible, monitoring collection environments remotely via Building Maintenance Systems (BMS) or other environmental monitoring systems, making changes to air handling unit set points/functions via remote controls if temperature and humidity move outside preferred parameters
- Turning off environmental control systems, either because they are prone to malfunctioning, cannot be maintained, or because with no visitors in the building, adequate conditions can be maintained without using the plant.
Where possible, a regular check of those collections assessed as high and medium risk is desirable. These checks are ideally undertaken by colleagues trained in collections care. For some organisations, it may be onsite security or other colleagues not trained in collections care who undertake checks. In these instances, an overview of the high and medium risk collections should be provided with details of where to focus checks, what to look for and contact details of trained colleagues offsite to report concerns to or discuss potential issues with.
Collections Trust suggest creating a picture check list of the objects or areas that you want non collections staff to check (using smart phones and torches to light the area photographed). The person who checks the objects or area can then take a picture to send back to the collections care person to assess.
In all instances, it is important establish a means to record and share the results of collection checks across relevant colleagues. This will enable you to identify changes in collections and reassess risk areas throughout this period to ensure your resources are always effectively deployed.
The person who leads on collection emergency planning should consider whether response plans need updating for this unique period.
- Will the plan work if some colleagues are unable to attend site due to the corona virus isolation orders and, if not, can other colleagues be identified as reserves?
- If the plan relies on the use of an external contractor or assistance from a partner organisation, is that service or support still available?
- If the plan assumes that equipment, materials and PPE will be purchased or hired at the point of need, is that still achievable, or do alternative arrangements need to be put in place?
Exhibition loan material
Where museums have loans-in, extend the insurance period if necessary. If the loan material is covered by the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS), follow ACE’s GIS advice on security and environmental controls.
Key sources of information about building and collections safety
Museum Development Officers can access conservation and collections care advice for your museum. MDOs are listed by county on the South East Museum Development website.
Arts Council England offers succinct advice on museum security and environmental checks for Government Indemnity Scheme (but useful more generally).
Safeguarding Museums and Collections, Daryl Holter, Heritage Crime Officer for Sussex Police, March 2020. Comprehensive guidance on securing museums and collections – aimed at smaller museums. Download PDF
Collections Care Guidance during the Covid-19 Crisis, Spencer & Fry, March 2020. Comprehensive guide to resources and ‘best practice’ advice. Download PDF
Museum of London Pocket Salvage Guide provides guidance in the case of an emergency. Download PDF.
English Heritage Insect Pests found in Historic Houses and Museums poster Download PDF
Historic England offers advice on preventing heritage crime includes links to Heritage Watch groups.
Heritage Watch – Alert from Kent Police Security Checklist
Museums rely on their visitors to generate a large part of their income to cover their operating costs, but what if a museum is closed for a long period of time?
Fortunately there are still some ways to look at generating an income. This document is designed to raise awareness of some of those options and share some of the actions museums in the region are taking including online donations, quizzes, and retail.
- SEMDP has prepared some simple instructions to help you use different online tools, Zoom, and Microsoft Team.
- Digital Culture Network has created notes about the different tools to help you work remotely and collaborate with your colleagues.
- Digital Culture Network explains some digital platforms that can help you deliver webinars, online training and virtual conferencing.
We are aware that the Covid-19 lockdown measures have put financial strains on every museum. For some, the loss of income during the busy Spring and Summer seasons threaten the museum’s ability to continue operating in the long-term.
SEMDP are offering free, private surgeries to help you review your museum’s position, talk through the options available to you and help identify the actions you need to take.
The surgeries are delivered as confidential, structured conversations with your Museum Development Officer and/or other members of the SEMDP team. We have secured pro bono advice on the legal and governance issues you may be facing.
To book a surgery, please contact your Museum Development Officer.
Helpful resources if you believe your museum is within 4 to 8 weeks of closure:
- AIM’s Covid-19 Action Checklist – a user-friendly, 10-point guide to identify actions you need to take
- The Museum Association’s, “Museums Facing Closure: Legal and Ethical Issues”, produced with funding from Arts Council England, 2017
- ACE’s Managing Financial Difficulties Guide and Toolkit
Is my Museum at risk of closure?
If you believe your museum is within 4 to 8 weeks of closure:
- contact your Museum Development Officer at SEMDP and the team from AIM to discuss your options
- review the Accessing Emergency Funding Flowchart created by West Midlands Museum Development
- book a confidential, structured conversation with your Museum Development Officer to review your museum’s position, talk through the option available to you and help identify the actions you need to take. SEMDP have secured pro bono advice on the legal and governance issues you may be facing.
- refer to AIM’s Covid-19 Action Checklist – a user-friendly, 10-point guide to identify actions you need to take.
- read the Museum Association’s document, “Museums Facing Closure: Legal and Ethical Issues”, produced with funding from Arts Council England, 2017
- work through ACE’s Managing Financial Difficulties Guide and Toolkit
Legionella risks during the coronavirus outbreak
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia which can cause serious illness in persons who are susceptible such as those over 50 years, smokers, and those with underlying health conditions.
The disease is caused by the growth of Legionella in building water systems which are not adequately managed. Closure of buildings, parts of buildings or their restricted use, can increase the risk for Legionella growth in water systems and associated equipment including evaporative air conditioning systems and other equipment if they are not managed adequately. 
If your building was closed or has reduced occupancy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.
You should review your risk assessment and manage the legionella risks when you:
- reinstate a water system or start using it again
- restart some types of air conditioning units
If the water system is still used regularly, maintain the appropriate measures to prevent legionella growth.
Where to start
- Review and update your risk assessment and document how you will protect staff, visitors and others from Legionella growth who remain on your property and when it is re-opened.
- Get advice from an experienced water treatment advisor, public health or environmental health authorities.
- Check your local Council’s advice on Legionella
- Where national guidelines or legislation are in place then you must follow those.
Flushing and Restarting Systems
- Be aware that the procedures you will need to follow to safely flush and restart your water system varies depending on how your water systems were managed during closure.
- For information on safely flushing and restarting your water system, please download the full guidance on managing Legionella in building water systems created by the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infections Diseases (ESGLI).
- European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESGLI) guidance for managing Legionella in building water systems during the Covid-19 pandemic
- UK government guidance on Legionnaires’ Disease
- Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) advice on Legionella Risks during Coronavirus Outbreak
- Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidance on assessing the risk of Legionella and steps to take