Musicians perform at the National Museum of Scotland

Experts give tips on how to run a great late-night event

Geraldine Kendall, 19.12.2012
MP Q&A session offers some helpful advice
The latest Museum Practice (MP) looks at the key ingredients for running a successful late-night event. This week it ran a live webchat with a panel of experts - events, learning and project managers from museums around the UK who have all been involved in running after-hours openings.

You can read the full Q&A here, or see below for some of the panel's top tips:

Should museums charge for late-night events?

The panel agreed that it depends on why you are running the event and the type of audience you are looking to attract.

Freelance consultant Laura Crossley said: “I think you just need to keep your audience goals in mind. If you are looking to develop new audiences for whom paying for events is a barrier, you might want to offer free entry.”

Claire Kirk at the Museum of London said: “In my experience social/cultural barriers are far more difficult to overcome and simply removing an entrance fee doesn't necessarily affect the type of audiences who attend.”

She added: "Ticketing allows us to know at least slightly far in advance how many people to expect and allows us to continue producing high-quality events."

Nick Hewitt from Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust said the trust had been forced increase fees for its Museums at Night sleepover from £3 to £12 this year after losing sponsorship.

“We crossed our fingers big time but much to our surprise this had absolutely no effect on our numbers at all, and this is not an affluent area,” he said.

What’s the best night to hold a late night event?

Again, the panel agreed that it depended on who would be attending. For obvious reasons, Friday nights were identified as the best for holding sleepovers for children.

Claire Kirk said: “We do our adult lates on a Wednesday as there is nothing else like it on a Wednesday in London.”

She added: “Friday and Saturday nights are a little more competitive in terms of things going on elsewhere but then this is counter-balanced by the fact that these are the nights that adults are most likely to go out.”

Should the museum offer something more than just extended opening hours?

The panel was almost unanimous that late-night events should be about more than extending access to the museum’s regular exhibitions, with performances, themed evenings or special access to collections or behind-the-scenes work all popular draws.

Alex Henshaw at the RAF Museum Cosford said: "I believe the success is down to people getting a bit extra from it and it’s not just 'come to the museum at night’.”

Laura Crossley said: “I've always found late events to be great audience development exercises as people are enticed to a museum because of the event, and then often return for a 'regular' visit to the museum.”

Craig Fletcher of National Museums Scotland said a Night of the Mummy themed evening, linked to a temporary exhibition, had proven extremely popular. “Much of the audience came with elements of dress or styling linked to the Ancient Egypt theme,” he said.

How should museums manage security?

Security needs differ depending on the size of the event and whether alcohol is being served.

Scott Mackenzie-Cook at the Science Museum said: “We have the same level [of security] as during the day and do not operate bag searching. Visitors are very considerate at lates and we have not had any issues with bad behaviour.”

Craig Fletcher said: “We use a combination of our in-house visitor services team… and hire in professional security staff to provide extra cover.

“We are also very clear with our responsible drinking policy and operate an ID required if you look under 25 policy.”

Alex Henshaw had greater reservations, saying late nights at a previous museum he worked in had “consisted of no new visitors coming in and it becoming more of a large drinking and dancing session for those already there, with extra security”.

He said was unsure of the benefits of such evenings when weighed against the “potentially serious issues” they may have brought.

Is social media better than traditional listings for marketing events?

Most of the panel found social media to be an effective way of reaching audiences and creating a buzz around events, but agreed it should be used alongside rather than instead of traditional media.

Claire Kirk said: “I would say that, to get the best results, you probably need to do both as part of an integrated strategy.”

Craig Fletcher said: “In our experience social media is key to marketing Lates and a great way of spreading the word. It can also be a great way to engage people with the event and generate excitement in the run-up through competitions (our cocktail naming competition based around the theme of each event is extremely popular).”

Laura Crossley said: “I think that it's best to use as many media channels as possible - go for traditional listings in local newspapers etc, as well as press releases and info on websites.”

She added that she loved the “community” feel of social media and how it could create conversations about the event.

Read this month's issue of Museum Practice for more on running successful late-night events