Updated 26/05/21

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

Covid Kitemark

‘Know Before you Go’ is a public information campaign by Visit Britain to support tourism in England as businesses start to re-open, reassuring visitors as restrictions are lifted by checking about what it is safe to do and when and sign-posting to information about destinations and available services before travelling.

Museums can join this free national domestic marketing campaign organised by Visit Britain/England.

Museums get:

  • Free publicity by being part of Visit Britain/England’s national domestic marketing campaign
  • Marketing assets to download
  • Tips and advice

‘We’re Good to Go’ is the official UK mark to signal that a tourism and hospitality business has worked hard to follow Government and industry COVID-19 guidelines and has a process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.

If successful, you will be sent a secure link to download a ‘certificate, mark and toolkit and comms advice.  They aim to assess and alert within 48 hours of submission. You will also be sent regular alerts to changes to the guidance and you are expected to keep up with changes to the official guidance and you are expected to amend your measures accordingly.


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.

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 (NCVO)

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

‘Know Before you Go’ and ‘We’re Good to Go’

How to practise responsible tourism during COVID-19

‘We offer testing to our staff’ scheme


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