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Friday, 27 October 2017

10 steps to your first museum Lates

How do you plan a good museum event? And crucially- how do you get people to show up for one? A few years ago, museum Lates were a big talking point. What were all those young people doing hanging out in museums?! These days, London museums holding hip and well attended evening events is just standard, with big hitter institutions competing for a culture vulture crowd. So how do you wade into these competitive market of Lates events? We recently gave it a shot and came out shell shocked but wiser…
No I don't work at the V&A, but let's face it- this is what you thought of when I said Lates.

You are probably used to hearing about the Ministry doing the attending of events, not the organizing. The blog tends to be pretty collections focused – a reflection of our professional roles. So, a caveat then – this is a bit of a first time. There are plenty of people who are 100% dedicated to engagement and public programming who plan fantastic events regularly. But for those of us who work at smaller institutions where its all hands on deck, its not as easy as separating staff into their specialties. Even at larger museums, you might be expected to give ideas for public events associated with your work. So, with the understanding that we are not pro-organisers, here are 10 things we learned recently from a first attempt at conceiving and executing a museum lates event *(which may be totally wrong and please do leave corrections and advice in the comments!)

1. Have an idea that fits your museum – Sounds simple right?
 With the V&A throwing their awesome monthly art parties, its not good enough to simply open your galleries later. Nor is it really enough to have a talk. Lots of museums hold lectures all the time – and unless you are having in someone super famous, it’s unlikely to be a big draw. So think about what your can do that other people can’t – what themes make your museum unique? Or is there something in the news/culture that could be particularly relevant or interesting for your organization? Have a hook that relates to your museum as a starting point, rather than something general which could be done anywhere.

Images from a recent Lates event at the Royal College of Physicians featuring multisensory installations by AAVM Curiosities. 

Connect with the seasons 

     So it's October- you’ll have already been seeing loads of Halloween events for the past few weeks. Soon we will be turning to Christmas. It’s difficult to fight the flow of traffic as it were. If there’s a seasonal holiday and you aren’t ‘on theme’ as it were, your event is likely to get lost from all the ‘top 10 festive things to do’ lists and therefore from people’s attention. This isn’t always the case depending on the time of year, but be aware of what’s going on generally in the city and try and draw on it. Keeping in mind tip one above.

3. Include an interesting activity
The reason why Lates events are so popular with millennials is that younger audiences are interested in having unique experiences. People want to do do something with their friends that’s memorable and instagrammable. The big museum lates are always packed with artistic workshops where you can take home your handiwork, silent discos, photobooths, dance performances etc. The evening should offer a unique activity as a ‘pull’ alongside exhibitions, talks or whatever else you have on.

Fun people do fun things like the ever popular silent disco at the Science and Media Museum.

4. Drinks, drinks, drinks

      Yes it seems obvious, but there must be a bar and, ideally, cocktails! At the event I organized recently, I’m fairly sure the historical cocktail we were offering as a part of the ticket price was one of the main reasons people came. A combination of post-work revelry and the unique experience angle. Why not ( just be sure to offer soft drinks as well!)

Why yes I did hear about this event on facebook...

Pick a date!

      So you’ve got your idea, great. It’s season and relevant? Perfect. Includes an interesting activity? Great. And there will be booze? Nice. So, it’s time to pick a date. I mean literally a day of the week. I got so much conflicting advice about this when I was planning. Some people say Mondays and Fridays are right out. But Tuesdays are too early in the week for people to want to come – and so many people do Lates events on Wednesdays and Fridays! Honestly, I’m not sure there is a good answer for this one. Just from personal observation I’d steer clear of Mondays, but really its all fair game. Just be sure you watch out for what the big nationals are doing – you can’t fight a Science Museum Late if you are doing a science themed event, or the V&A for an art themed evening. Even the Horniman pulls a big crowd of museum go-ers – so check rival calendars first before deciding.

Why fight it? Get into the season if you want to make it on a 'must do' list like the Londonist.
      6. Make a Facebook event
      Facebook is the perfect way to share your amazing event creation. It’s free, easy to use and has great links to the city’s museum crowds. Almost all big museum Lates are promoted this way and its easy for people to like and share (plus it reminds them as the date approaches). Can’t go wrong!  
     7.  Get some promotional images
      Facebook might be quick and easy to make, but if you want to get serious about pulling people to an event, you’ll want some eye candy too. Promotional images give people a sense of what they’ll be getting on the evening and help to pad out otherwise wordy notices. Images of your galleries with people in, of people enjoying themselves, of people drinks all work well! If you are running an activity with a facilitator they will hopefully be able to provide you with promotional pictures too. Just check the copyright before you go splashing it everywhere. (And on a related note, but sure you have a professional photographer at your event to take pictures for the next one!)

Doesn't this crowd of museum lovers make you want to go to the NHM?

    8. Push it good
    Werk it girl- Whether you are big or small, well-funded or on a shoe string, there are many ways to push your Lates event (and you should be using them all!). If you do have the money to list an event, it's a good idea. If you have a PR person they are probably the best to speak to about this - but the gold standard for Lates in London anyway are Time Out and the Londonist. You of course can never know if you'll be selected, but hopefully your clever, topical idea complete with drinks and activities will catch the eye of an editor! Don't forget about your own social networks though! London museums are a small world and we all need to look out for each other. Promote on twitter, Facebook, annoy your friends, text your relatives- get the word out! And make sure anyone you are working with (speakers, artists, facilitators) do the same. Partnering up with other organisations to put on an event helps here as well. And one tip for when you're there, don't sit back use this as an opportunity to tweet, Instagram and live stream the shit out the event - for those who couldn't make it make sure they see how awesome it is and book onto the next one!

        9 Invite bloggers
      Obviously museum bloggers are the best! Having bloggers at an event is a great investment in the future. Having people who write about museums for people who love museums is a great way to make it known you are running public programmes, especially as a small museum. Bloggers will be expecting free tickets though, so maybe set some aside.

      10. Check your A/V
      Oh my friends, my last tip and the pointy end of the problem - after all this planning, you've got to actually put on the event! So much to do on the days before and the day itself. Making sure everything is in place, going over catering, setting up furniture etc. Just never ever forget to check your A/V - a broken speaker system, no lighting, no music and squealing microphones can ruin your amazing event in a heartbeat. 

     You've done it! You've organised your first museum event! I hope people come and enjoy it, that you are able to share your museum with new audiences. Organizers very rarely get to have fun at their own events, but try to breath and take it all in. Remember, good or bad, it will be a lesson learned for next time! 
Images from a recent Lates event at the Royal College of Physicians featuring multisensory installations by AVM Curiosities. 

Bonus Tip - Plan an accurate budget!! Events don’t come cheap and are full of surprise costs. Listing the event, paying for A/V, speaker fees and travel, furniture hire, room hire, cleaning costs, security costs, catering can all rack up! Add some contingency in your budget and if it’s the first time you are doing it be sure to get lots of estimates before committing to anything. Don’t forget all planning is risky and be prepared for not being able to earn it all back through ticket sales. The goal of museum Lates is audience engagement not profit, so just be sure you have it in the budget or have a realistic idea of what you can pull in sales (and watch out for Eventbrite fees!).

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