The Guardian reports that 60,000 timed tickets have been sold so far to see the The Chinese First Emperor exhibition (ie Terracotta Army artifacts) at the British Museum in London (from 13 September to 6 April).
My brother and I were taken by our parents to see the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Museum in 1971 – we were among the 1.7 million visitors. I also saw the Terracotta Army when I visited China in the early 1990s – another strong memory.
Such glimpses of the ancient world remain a real world, “must see” despite all the opportunities to experience them virtually through television or online.
These highly popular “blockbuster” exhibitions are a massive opportunity for museums and art galleries to engage with those who do not normally venture into such places. As such they are essential in terms of public relations with all stakeholder groups.
The Museum’s media relations strategy probably started in 2005, when initial interest was expressed in an exhibition coming to the UK. The relationship also saw a travelling exhibition from the British Museum to China last year featuring the Rosetta Stone and Renaissance paintings.
Now the Army has arrived and the British media have been given access to witness the unpacking – whilst the world’s media report the news, undoubtedly helping attract visitors.
I’m sure a tight schedule of stories has been developed to maximise the media coverage – stimulating buzz around the exhibition is a major job.
This is an example of a product-led communications strategy – of course, the audience interest is there, but it is the art works themselves that are the big draw. Public Relations helps serve a marketing purpose here in stimulating interest in the exhibition.
But, it also provides an opportunity to achieve other aims. Internal communications will be vital to the success of the exhibition. VIPs will be invited to attend exclusive events – future funds, such as sponsorship deals, will be secured.
Educational outreach is an essential element of the “blockbuster” and in this case, relationships can be developed to extend interest in other works at the Museum.
When you have something that in itself if of such news value, public relations is one part of an integrated strategy that encompasses the entire organisation.
The exhibition returns back to China via the US next year with stops at the High in Atlanta, the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, California, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas.