Summertime, for many people, is synonymous with travel. So for most museums and attractions, it makes a lot of sense to market summer events and promos passionately.
But — here’s the conundrum — most museums and attractions are too busy in the summer to have much time for seasonal marketing. The further you plan ahead, the easier it goes — but we all know this story well, don’t we? Things come up, and museum marketers often live in a triage state, turning their focus to the next big emergency first. This is a paradox many museum promoters find themselves stuck in every year.
Whether you’re trying to get a healthy head start on next summer’s seasonal marketing strategy or feel anxious about some last-minute ideas for this one, here are our top five museum marketing ideas for summer.
1. Plant a garden
Photo credit: Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire
In a time when climate awareness and environmental sustainability are incredibly important to all businesses, but especially to culture-holders like museums, planting a single tree is a gesture. But a whole garden can make a statement — and simultaneously create a gorgeous, peaceful experience for your visitors.
Some museums naturally incorporate beautiful gardens. The Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire in France hosts an annual International Garden Festival along with Nocturnes in the Garden, a series of poetic musical walks in a dreamlike botanical setting. Winterthur Museum, the Delaware-based museum of American decorative arts, boasts 60 acres of gardens along with an impressive catalogue of decorative arts objects and rare imprints — plus 1,000 acres of protected meadows, woodlands, ponds, and waterways.
Your museum or attraction might not have the acreage or the resources to build out a true botanical wonder, but there are ways to get creative with your gardening as part of your museum marketing strategy. Rooftop gardens, walled gardens, indoor greenhouses, and hydroponic gardens are all options for urban spaces.
The roof garden (and the bar) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a famous seasonal spot for museum-related events and is also available to any ticket holder to the museum. Not just a pleasant botanical space, the Met’s roof garden has been written up in many publications, and New York Magazine calls it “one of the best pickup spots in Manhattan.” While being a hotspot for dating may not be your museum’s goal, good PR most certainly is, and a high-profile garden can bring that type of exposure.
Gardens take cultivation — and not just literally. You’ll want to create a strategy, set a budget, poll your staff for interest, and potentially hire additional staff or bring in outside resources to help with the physical work. Step one is to create a garden plan that suits your museum or attraction’s theme and culture.
2. Hire an ice cream truck
Photo credit: Resul Muslu via Shutterstock
For children, the ice cream truck is a quintessential, age-old sign of summer. For grownups and event marketers, it’s also a fun way to draw attention to a business. In New York City, the Big Gay Ice Cream truck was spotted celebrating Pride Month in June. And Brooklyn Creamery Van Leeuwen partnered with iconic American brand Kraft to release a special Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Ice Cream. New Yorkers got free samples when they stopped by the colorful truck in Union Square.
Other brands far from the dairy sphere have been getting in on the ice cream truck action, too as a part of their marketing strategy. In 2022, an artist collaboration with the Museum of Ice Cream’s own roving truck resulted in the “Ice Cream Truck of Rights.” “At the Museum of Ice Cream, we believe in the power of connection through ice cream,” quipped Manish Vora, co-founder of the museum.
Whether you rent an ice cream truck, buy a jalopy and paint it yourself, or team up with a professional ice cream trucker to co-brand an event, an onsite or traveling ice cream truck can be a whimsical and eye-catching way to attract crowds with a sweet tooth.
3. Throw an al fresco party
Photo credit: Night Forms: Infinite Wave
If you have any kind of outdoor space at your disposal — whether it’s a garden, a back alley, an empty lot, or manicured grounds, close your eyes and imagine what sort of magic you could make there. Now, add it to your list of museum marketing ideas.
During the pandemic, the historic castle Rijksmuseum Muiderslot, located just outside of Amsterdam, hosted a series of romantic camping sleepovers in its gardens. Small groups of guests were invited to camp in the museum’s Plum Garden and enjoy a picnic basket full of treats, sip sparkly drinks, and sit around a campfire in the evening. This intimate, bespoke experience was particularly meaningful during pandemic shutdowns when the museum itself was closed, but this type of special event doesn’t have to be limited to weird times.
Evening parties work well in the summer, and even better if they include multisensory exhibits — lights, music, and artwork. As just one example, the New Jersey contemporary art museum Ground For Sculpture launched a two-year series of rotating outdoor exhibits. The first, Night Forms, included interactive art scattered among the existing sculptures in the museum gardens, along with stunning displays of light: “a reimagined after-hours, multi-sensory light and sound experience designed to engage with the Ground For Sculpture art and horticulture collection.”
Key to the Ground for Sculpture outdoor exhibit series was a partnership with outside artists and other organizations. These types of collaborations make outdoor events both more economically viable and more exciting. Having multiple entities involved is also helpful when it comes to museum marketing ideas. The more organizations are involved in marketing an event, the bigger the reach.
Consider what kind of outdoor activities would sync with your museum or attraction’s vibe. If your attraction is already outside — for instance, if it’s an amusement park — think beyond what you already know. Where might there be opportunities to add to your current experience and bring in a new set of summer visitors by hosting a particular type of event?
4. Dream up a festival
Museumsufer Festival, Frankfurt. Photo credit: Intrepix via Shutterstock
Intimate outdoor gatherings can be wonderful, but nothing says summer like a giant, over-the-top party. If you have the time and want to go big, there can never be too many summer festivals.
Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, is equally famous for its live music shows as its incredible collection of contemporary art. Summer begins each year with the launch of the Solid Sound alternative music festival and ends with FreshGrass, a bluegrass festival that draws huge crowds from miles around.
In Frankfurt, the Museumsufer Festival takes place every August, when Europeans tend to be on holiday. A collaboration of the German city’s esteemed cultural institutions, this festival, known in English as the Museum Riverbank Festival, combines arts, culture, and music along the riverbank of the Main, and attracts around 2.5 million people each summer.
One of the challenges of launching a festival is that it requires the effort and contributions of a lot of different outside partners — musicians, technicians, food vendors, sanitation companies, and much more. This is also the advantage of launching a festival, though — you can recruit a lot of support and a huge marketing net.
5. Team up with an OTA or another marketing partner
Summer is indeed a peak time for planning events and launching promotions at museums and attractions, and having the right partner can be paramount to that effort. An online travel agency, or OTA, often brings a fresh spin to museum marketing. They also often have a large built-in audience to deliver promotional ideas to in the first place.
A bigger OTA typically has a destination website known to travelers as a good place to get information about museums and attractions. For instance, this summer, Tiqets posted on such topics as 12 Famous Hispanic and Latinx Artworks You Need To See and Iconic Sydney Landmarks: Exploring the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and Beyond. Embedded within those posts are links to purchase tickets, making the customer journey from “research” to “buy” as smooth as possible — thus giving mentioned museums an advantage.
OTA’s don’t just help you promote, of course. They can also streamline the online ticketing experience for your visitors and enable you to participate in ticketing packages with other nearby events. Partnering with an OTA is often a crucial business decision for museums and attractions.