Marketing 101 on a Budget
|San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau||San Diego Convention Center|
|San Diego Unified Port District||California Travel & Tourism Commission|
|California Association of Museums||Western Association of Museums|
|American Association of Museums|
An example of how this can benefit: Our surveys tell us that about 11% of our visitors are Hispanic. But we know from the Convention & Visitors Bureau that 38% of San Diego's 24 million visitors are Hispanic. And we know Hispanics comprise about the same percentage of San Diego's local population. So today we are grappling with how we can do a better job of reaching and relating to the Hispanic community.
We believe tapping other sources of information is our most cost-effective approach to understanding our guests. That, coupled with an easy, museum-specific survey program gives us far more confidence in developing our marketing plans.
A cornerstone of affordable marketing is media relations (they used to call it "publicity" or "free advertising.") There are several aspects we keep in mind, given the revolution that is taking place in the news media.
A front page story in your local newspaper likely will be seen by only 33% of local residents! That's because daily newspaper circulation is plummeting. A lead story on the 6 p.m. television news? Typically only about 20% of local residents might be watching. The lesson is that media relations is a marathon. No single story will generate widespread and lasting awareness, much less an influx of sustained visits. We'll take 5 smaller items in the newspaper during the course of a month over a front page story anytime.
How can you generate publicity with little or no internal expertise? We have found local PR firms often embrace fixed, short-term pro-bono projects for museums like Midway. In our case a PR firm agreed to develop a local media contact list (names, areas of assignment, phone number and email address) for us. Our list included reporters, photographers, videographers, fledgling online news sites, etc. That saved us tons of time, and the PR firm had a clearly defined, pro bono engagement that didn't get out of control.
In addition, our experience tells us not to bother with traditional "news releases" with all the standard boilerplate language. It's a waste of time. Reporters today want fast, quick story ideas. Email is a godsend. Here's a recent example to a columnist that resulted in publicity:
I thought I'd give you a heads up that the USS Midway Museum will be welcoming aboard our 5 millionth visitor this Thursday. (No one else has this in advance of Thursday.)
The milestone comes only three weeks short of Midway's sixth anniversary (June 7, 2004). In that time, Midway has grown to hosting nearly 40,000 school students annually, 5,000 youngsters a year on sleepovers, and have hosted more than 1,500 private events since opening. The lucky guest today (Thursday) will receive a number of Midway-related gifts and a private docent tour of what has become the most-visited floating ship museum in the country. Thanks for your consideration.
Anyone can be a publicist with this approach, which leads to an important consideration. We don't look for publicity ideas from the museum's perspective. We look for ideas from the reporters' perspectives. There is someone at The San Diego Union-Tribune involved in each of the following:
|Volunteer opportunities||Military/veterans reporter|
So we think about what's going on aboard Midway of interest to business? To a photo editor? For seniors? Then a quick email to the appropriate person, based on the list the PR firm (or volunteer) developed. It can be virtually no-cost publicity, if you stay organized and approach it from the news media's perspective.
We also make use of "invisible" media relations: a variety of publications that are looking for local stories but aren't typical newspapers and magazines. Newsletter editors typically are desperate for story ideas and content. We often pitch stories and get coverage in:
|Chamber of commerce newsletter||Convention & Visitors Bureau newsletter|
|Nearby condo/homeowner assn. newsletters||San Diego-based websites|
|Nearby merchant association newsletters||Navy League newsletter|
|Large veterans organizations|
Finally, we "make" as much news as possible. The ex-journalist in me is always thinking about how we can tap into existing activities in the community.
A kindred spirit to traditional media relations is social media. I became a convert when we started a Facebook page without any publicity and within 30 days more than 1,500 "fans" had signed up for updates. With very limited staff, we found a volunteer who "gets" social media and who created and now maintains our Facebook page. This is one of the few areas of marketing that I personally know little about, but I accept its importance, and have turned it over to a volunteer who is fully immersed it in. It's worked out beautifully.
I've learned I can't be an expert in everything, so it's best to stay focused on what I do best. Then I create opportunities for others to contribute their passion and expertise to the overall marketing communications effort for the USS Midway Museum. Success almost always is a team effort.
Our Website Approach
Just as we listen to those who visit the museum, we want to know what our website visitors think. To us, the website is the front door the USS Midway Museum. So we use a free service, Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics), which provides free reports on visitors to our website, most-visited pages, length of stay, search engine preference, etc. It's an amazing amount of no-cost data that we review every 60 days.
For example, Appendix B shows one aspect of website traffic for July 2010. It tells us that the most-visited pages clearly are by people interested in visiting the museum. That directs us to spend the most time in updating those portions of the website with new material. Today, we are moving into posting short videos (produced by a volunteer) about the museum on YouTube and linking them back to our website. It costs us nothing.
In fact, our philosophy is to convert as much (costly) printed material into website info as possible. Our media kit for reporters is not printed. We send the reporters a website link. When people ask for photos, we send them to downloadable pictures on the website. We also provide drawings of the space available for private events aboard the USS Midway Museum on the website. This can be done at virtually no cost to the museum, and we routinely find people appreciate the instant access of a website.
No one has a big enough advertising budget! One effective approach we've found is to advertise in association and organization newsletters. They often welcome the revenue and it's an easy way to maintain awareness among Chamber of Commerce members, for example.
When it comes to radio/television advertising, I don't have the budget to produce catchy, :30- and :60-second commercials. So I spend my limited budget on sponsoring radio/TV traffic reports. It's quick awareness building with enough time to promote an upcoming event or program, and referring the audience to our website for more information. You can provide a lot of information in only a :10- or :15-second tag.
We're also big believers in on-air radio station promotions. I'm more than happy to donate many "family four-packs" of tickets to Midway as part of an on-air promotion by a popular local radio personality. Tickets don't really cost us much, the station gets something valuable to offer its audience, and we generate the exposure we otherwise couldn't afford.
We spend as much time "ashore" as possible. Even a handful of volunteers can be a big help by staffing a table at a Chamber mixer, art fair, farmer's market, etc. We also donate tickets as fundraising tools to organizations ranging from PTA chapters to the Blood Bank. We limit it to nonprofit organizations in San Diego County, but even at that we donate to more than 300 worthy organizations a year. Again, it's promotional exposure for Midway at a "cost" of some tickets that may or may not be used!
More recently, we have been offering to host various civic and business organization meetings aboard Midway. While that may not be feasible for everyone, we think enabling the Chamber of Commerce's board of directors to hold an early-morning meeting at a "fun location" is a no-cost way of generating exposure and word-of-mouth advertising. When they hold a meeting aboard, each participant receives a free ticket to return and explore the museum. They almost always return with paying guests and even if they don't visit, they have something nice to say about the museum.
We place a high priority on local referrals, knowing that 50% of San Diego's 24 million annual visitors stay in private residences.
This is a huge priority for Midway: finding organizations with a shared interest that offer a pipeline of exposure to groups we otherwise could not afford to reach. Some examples:
Again, this rarely costs us anything beyond some free or discounted admissions. We have found the key is to plan ahead--as much as a year--to get the most value from a partnership. (Last week we contacted the County about having one of its summer "Movie Nights in the Park" in 2011 on our flight deck. The Parks & Recreation Director jumped at the opportunity, suggested more than one date, and offered to help find sponsors. What a great way to promote Midway to hundreds of San Diego families, simply by making ourselves available to an existing program!
Other Low-Cost Resources We Have Tapped
Over the past six years, we've either created some worthy, low-cost marketing opportunities and sometimes have seen them drop in our lap. You may be able to implement something similar in your market:
Time Management is Crucial
We have found almost everything implemented at the last minute costs more than if it's thought out well in advance. Daily to-do lists can be a trap that keeps us from creating and taking advantage of marketing opportunities in a way that are cost-effective.
So our approach aboard Midway is to meet twice a month and focus on three things: what's coming up in 30 days, what is sitting on the 60-day horizon, and what should we be considering or creating 6 months from now. This is easier said than done, but our experience clearly shows us we've been able to create less-expensive events, promotions, advertising, and other projects when we started earlier rather than later. I literally have "over the horizon" meetings posted on my calendar, twice a month.
A Final Thought
Low-cost marketing is valuable only if it is effective. Aboard the USS Midway Museum, we are always looking for ways to extend our marketing resources, but we do so based on four cornerstones:
Marketing on a modest budget requires focus, attention to detail, and advance planning. While everyone would like to have additional resources, an organized approach coupled with creativity can produce significant returns on even a modest investment.
Appendix A: Museum Survey
1. What is today's date: CIRCLE ONE EACH:
Jun / Jul / Aug / Sept / Oct / Nov Weekday / Weekend
Dec / Jan / Feb / Mar / Apr / May
2. Is this your first visit to Midway?
__ 1. Visited before
__ 2. First visit
3. If you have visited Midway before, please check the previous number of visits.
|1||2||3||4||5 or More|
4. How long were you aboard Midway today?
5. Overall, how would you rate your visit to Midway?
|__ 1. Excellent||__ 3. Fair|
|__ 2. Good||__ 4. Poor|
6. Please rate the following aspects of your visit.
|1. Self-guided audio tour||__||__||__||__||__|
|2. Flight deck / aircraft||__||__||__||__||__|
|3. Island exhibits (bridge, Pri-fly)||__||__||__||__||__|
|4. Admiral/captain exhibit||__||__||__||__||__|
|6. Hangar Deck||__||__||__||__||__|
|7. Below deck/ galley, etc.||__||__||__||__||__|
|8. Engine Room||__||__||__||__||__|
|9. Aviators' ready rooms||__||__||__||__||__|
|10. Gift shop||__||__||__||__||__|
|11. Stationary simulator||__||__||__||__||__|
|12. 2-person ride||__||__||__||__||__|
|13. Group ride||__||__||__||__||__|
|14. Souvenir photo||__||__||__||__||__|
|15. Museum staff||__||__||__||__||__|
7. Please rate the following.
|1. Overall cleanliness||__||__||__||__||__|
|2. Restroom cleanliness||__||__||__||__||__|
|3. Gift Shop price/value||__||__||__||__||__|
|4. Cafe price/value||__||__||__||__||__|
|5. Simulator price/value||__||__||__||__||__|
|6. Photo price/value||__||__||__||__||__|
8. What did you like best about your Midway experience?
9. What did you like least about your Midway experience?
10. How did you hear or learn about Midway? (CHECK ALL THAT APPLY)
|__1.||Word of mouth from friends or relatives|
|__2.||Saw or drove by the Midway|
|__3.||Advertising or news stories|
|__6.||Other Internet websites|
|__7.||Travel guide publication|
|__8.||Concierge/hotel information desk|
|__9.||Visitor information center|
|__11.||Billboards or bus shelter posters|
11. When did you decide to visit Midway?
|__1. Day of visit||__4. 1-4 weeks before visit|
|__2. Day before visit||__5. 4+ weeks prior|
|__3. Within a week|
12. If you live in the U.S., where are you from?
|__ 1. San Diego area||__ 5. Arizona|
|__2. Orange County||__6. Illinois|
|__3. Los Angeles area||__ 7. Texas|
|__4. Northern California||__ 8. Florida|
|__ 9. Other state or region|
13. If you are an international visitor, what is your home country?
14. Did anyone in your group listen to family-oriented "Airman Sammy Rodriguez" self-guided audio tour? (CHECK ONE)
__ 1. Yes
__ 2. No
15. If "Yes," please rate 1-5 (1=outstanding, 5=poor)
__ 1. Outstanding
__ 2. Good
__ 3. Average
__ 3. Disappointing
__ 5. Poor
15. What is your military affiliation, if any?
|__ 1. None||__ 4. Retired|
|__ 2. Active||__ 5. Veteran|
|__ 3. Reserve||__ 6. Immediate family member|
16. What other area attractions have you or will you visit on this trip to San Diego?
|__ 1.||San Diego Zoo|
|__ 2.||San Diego Aerospace Museum|
|__ 3.||San Diego Wild Animal Park|
|__ 5.||San Diego Maritime Museum|
|__ 6.||Reuben H. Fleet Science Center|
|__ 8.||Balboa Park / Museums|
|__ 9.||Old Town|
|__ 10.||Other: __________________________________|
17. Are there youngsters in your group today under the age of XXXXX?
18. What best describes your occupation?
|__1.||Education / Training|
|__2.||Executive / Senior management|
|__3.||General administrative / supervisory|
|__8.||Professional (medical, legal, etc.)|
|__12.||Tradesman / Craftsman / Manufacturing|
|__13.||Unemployed / Between Jobs|
19. What is the average level of education among the adults in your group aboard Midway today?
__1. Less than high school
__2. High school graduate
__3. Trade or technical school
__4. Some college
__5. College graduate
__6. Graduate or professional school
20. Please check the grouping in which your total family income falls.
__1. Under $20,000
__2. $21,000 but less than $40,999
__3. $41,000 but less than $80,999
__4. $81,000 but less than $99,999
__5. $100,000 or more
21. What is the primary ethnicity of your group visiting Midway?
__3. African American
__5. Other: _________________________________
That's the end of the survey. Please hand it to our guest services representative for your free Midway Magic bookmark or postcard. Thank you for participating!
Appendix B: Partial Website Traffic Report
USS Midway Museum Website
Month of July, 2010
Most-visited website pages:
|10.||/Pre-Paid Discount Tickets||4,937||4,201||00:00:38||38.10%|