Museum gallery sexes up medieval Britons

The Museum of London averages around 360,000 visitors a year, making it much smaller than, say, the British Museum (4.5 million visitors a year). Visitor numbers also fell by 30 per cent following the 7 July bombings.

Campaign Museum of London’s medieval gallery launch
Client  Museum of London
PR team In-house
Timescale October 2005-January 2006
Budget Less than £10,000

Its new medieval gallery was a revamp of a ‘tired’ exhibition space, but it had to compete with blockbuster exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the British Museum.

To raise awareness of the museum and its new gallery. To attract more visitors, and challenge people’s perceptions
of the medieval period as ‘dark and boring’.

Strategy and Plan
The in-house team decided that the best way to grab the attention of journalists was to use the visual element of the story and ‘sex-up the middle ages’.

To this end, the standout object in the gallery was its Saxon whip. This was clearly designed to inflict pain, but
curators were not sure whether it had been used for religious flagellation, sadomasochism or to cow slaves into submission. The speculative and salacious appeal of this story attracted the attention of the quality nationals. But securing coverage in the tabloids was essential if the museum was to attract people from lower income groups, who were not traditional visitors.

With new licensing laws coming into effect just before the gallery opened, a press release was issued on how England’s medieval water had been so unhygienic that people, including children, were compelled to drink beer instead. This ‘binge-drinking’ angle captured the tabloids.

Evaluation and Measurement
BBC News Online logged over 100,000 hits on the story page, while museum experts were interviewed on various radio stations, and even appeared in interviews for Brazilian TV. Home coverage included Radio 4’s Today, and the BBC’s Have I got News for You? and What the Papers Say.

The Sun ran the headline: ‘History: we love it. Boozy Brits on 700-year binge.’ Articles in travel history and
archeological press, meanwhile, were more austere.

Since the exhibition opened in October 2005, visitor numbers to the Museum of London have risen by five per cent, with the Christmas and February half-term periods in particular contributing to increases.

John Kay, chief reporter at The Sun, recalls: ‘Medieval binge drinking was a good story. If I walked into a pub and wanted to engage a stranger, this is the kind of story I could use. It was the sort of report where people would ask: “Did you see this story...?” If it interests me, it will interest readers, too.’

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