Communications specialist Sue Balsom

Museums need compelling stories to attract media

Rebecca Atkinson, 09.10.2014
Engaging journalists from outside the M25
Creating compelling stories and content are key to getting the journalists to look at organisations outside of the M25, according to a panel of media experts at the Museums Association conference.

Peter Wakelin, director of collections and research at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, chaired the Press Gang discussion with Robin Simon, an editor and art critic at the British Art Journal and the Daily Mail, and Martin Shipton, a chief reporter at Media Wales.

They were joined by Matt Dicks, presiding officer for Wales’ media manager at the National Assembly for Wales, and communications specialist Sue Balsom.

The panel shared their gripes about the London-centric media and the struggles that organisations outside central London face when trying to get publicity.

Balsom said that museums need to “sell stories hard and go to them [journalists] with the stories”. She also said that organisations should work together and pool resources to maximise their chances of getting publicity.

Delegates attending the session shared their own experiences. Many museums reported the effectiveness of investing in media managers or paying for PR agencies, and creating compelling narratives that met journalists’ needs.

Nick Hewitt, the strategic development executive at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, asked: “Do you think the problem is that we expect the media to give us free publicity rather than feeding them what they want?”

Others warned against viewing national press coverage as the “holy grail” when word-of-mouth and hyperlocal journalism may actually have more influence on visitor numbers.

Stephen Allen, head of programmes and learning at National Museums Scotland, said that the tide might be turning against traditional media, pointing out that in Scotland public trust in the media had collapsed in light of its coverage of the independence referendum.

Nat Edwards, the director of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at National Trust for Scotland, said that its approach in working with Scottish television to find stories and themes together had been more successful than trying to “sell” stories.

“We are rich as museums and should be bold about engaging with [journalists] rather than just trying to sell exhibitions and being unhappy when you are ignored,” he said.