17 Sep Get Off the Rollercoaster – Smoothing Out the Attendance Ride
One of the biggest complaints we hear about in relation to touring exhibitions is the peak and trough attendance phenomenon. If for some reason you are unfamiliar with this concept, it is the extreme peaks and valleys in visitor attendance that can be caused by hosting touring exhibitions. When a touring exhibition is on display, your attendance rises much higher than average attendance, only to fall abruptly once the host period ends. Many believe this is due to creating an environment where visitors only attend your museum or science center when the next touring exhibition arrives.
It is true, this does happen. Many venues dramatically increase their marketing efforts in the months preceding a new, exciting touring exhibition arrival. It is to be expected then that because of these significantly increased marketing efforts, that visitation increases dramatically. However, an unintended side-effect can be that a visitor’s focus shifts away from your venue until the next marketing surge, letting the cycle of attendance waves repeat itself.
There are many ways to counteract this effect, a few of which we will discuss here. Three of the most effective methods are: 1) Running additional events to smooth visitation; 2) Marketing your venues’ strengths; and 3) Bringing in a variety of touring exhibitions, rather than just one or two ‘blockbusters’ every year.
Rather than only giving visitors one or two major events to get excited for each year, give them a consistent stream of reasons to visit. Whether it is a keynote speaker discussing a permanent exhibition or mission-centered topic, or a new, innovative event that you haven’t programmed previously, you should be building reasons for visitors to continue returning to your institution. Some widely appealing events to help keep visitors returning can include adult-only evening events, makers’ fairs, hosting local community club events, or organizing academic speakers. These can all be relatively low cost and extremely effective in giving your community reasons to return consistently to your institution.
In addition to the increased efforts in marketing your next touring exhibition, market yourselves more often, and more intelligently. With all of the content clutter in today’s world, consumers can be overwhelmed by all of the choices. After all, you are not just competing with other science or cultural venues in your vicinity, you’re competing for each entertainment dollar. One key advantage over many of your competitors is your ability to offer edutainment, something very valuable to your community. Find ways to co-brand with other venues or companies; find free or low-cost ways to advertise; and ensure your advertisements are changing regularly with new events and reasons to visit, reminding visitors that you’re still there, doing your thing, and doing it well.
Lastly, consistently show your visitors that there are always new things to see in your exhibit halls. “But I only have enough in my budget for two big touring exhibitions a year!” We say, spread the love. Look to develop a program that fills those gaps with other touring exhibitions. Maybe you can find smaller exhibitions that won’t break your budget but will give visitors a reason to return. You’re likely not going to be able to hold attendance at the peak of a large, touring exhibition. However, bringing in smaller exhibitions, or developing a small one in-house will help to even out the troughs. After all, giving your visitors and members reasons to make your institution a regular outing, will only pay dividends to your reputation, your visitor experience and ultimately your bottom line.
Dealing with the ebbs and flows of attendance can be frustrating, especially if your programming consists strictly of blockbuster exhibitions. You can mitigate this roller coaster effect by hosting a variety of exhibitions regularly, programming interesting events, and increasing your marketing efforts. If you’d like to have a discussion about touring exhibitions with Flying Fish, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or come see us on the trade show floor at the ASTC conference in Toronto 2019.