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Troubleshooting Museum Events


Unsuccessful events are a drain on resources – not only in cash, but in staff morale too.

If something you’ve planned at your museum is a flop, here are some troubleshooting tips to help you figure out what went wrong. Print this article and bring it to your wrap-up meeting to spark discussion.

1. Timing. Examine the date and time of your event. Was it too early in the day? Was it too late? Would the weekend have worked better than during the week? Or vice-versa? Were there other events going on at the same time in town? If so, were the others one-time events or annual events? If they aren’t recurring, you might be more successful with the same time slot next year. But there is no point in competing against an established annual event.

2. Cost. Did you charge too much? Or too little? Believe it or not, sometimes “free” events don’t seem worth attending. Cost adds value, even if it is a nominal charge. While traveling, I am always leery of small museums with no admission charge. Are they really worth my time?

3. Reservations. Even if there is no charge for your event, making a reservation encourages commitment. If people have to make a phone call or stop in to register, they are more likely to come. If your event is “drop in” only, people might be tempted to do something else at the last minute, like meet a friend for lunch of hit a sale at the mall.

4. Subject/Topic. Examine your program. Was it just not appealing to your usual audience? Was it too academic? Was it aimed at families who are already too busy? Did it come across as boring? Have you done it too many times in the recent past? Maybe you’ve already reached a saturation point with your audience and you need to try something new. Poll your regular supporters who weren’t there and ask them why they didn’t come.

5. Format. Sometimes the format of an event makes all the difference. Maybe a full day of speakers or programs was too long. Maybe a roundtable discussion would work better than a lecture. Adding a meal to the event might make it more attractive than “light refreshments” afterwards. Some form of entertainment might draw people in. (For example, if you book a local high school choir to perform after your program, you’ll get all the parents in the audience!)

6. Publicity. Did you do everything you could to get the word out? Evaluate your efforts vs. your returns. If you spent hours and hours delivering flyers all over town, but still had low attendance, were your flyers really effective? Did you send press releases that never appeared in print or on the air? Call your newspaper or radio station and ask what would make your press release more attractive to the editor. Perhaps they would rather receive it electronically so they can simply cut and paste the information. Maybe you are sending it to the wrong person or department. Maybe they aren’t written in the correct format for a Public Service Announcement.

7. Spin. Take a look at how you promoted your event. Did you put a fun/educational/whimsical spin on it? Did you do your best to make it sound like the most interesting event your audience could possibly attend? If you have money in your budget, schedule some time with a marketing firm to discuss how you could spin your events better. If you don’t have the funding, try to find a sponsor to pay the fee for you. Your Board members are a good place to start. They might already have a professional relationship with a marketing firm and can facilitate some free or reduced cost assistance for you.

8. Build on what WORKS! Take a look at your successful events and figure out what makes them popular. Identify the positive elements of your events and build on them. In the wake of a failed event, it also helps boost morale to remind the staff and volunteers of things you’ve done that you are all proud of!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Kim Kenney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.

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