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Lights! Camera Action! 14 Tips To Script A Hit For Your Blockbuster Exhibition


Quick question: What do King Tut, Picasso, Titanic and Princess Di have in common? These seemingly diverse icons are examples of some recent popular blockbuster exhibitions. So, what is a blockbuster exhibition? Art historian Albert Elsen quite eloquently (and maybe with a hint of smile) defined a blockbuster as a “large-scale loan exhibition which people who normally don't go to museums will stand in line for hours to see.” An insightful comment as it highlights the opportunities and challenges of adding a blockbuster exhibit to your calendar.
Blockbuster exhibits place a substantial demand on financial and operational resources so we assembled a set of tips to help your team maximize this investment.

Integrated Approach:  Just as blockbuster movies have tie-ins across diverse channels (merchandise, toys, fast food and sometimes even cars), your organization should have the same approach with the exhibit – with one important difference: Rather than grasping at some marketing threads, your team should look at this as an integrated business operation. Make sure that key members of all your different operations are included in one comprehensive team to prepare for the exhibit.  Team members should share a common set of goals:
  • Provide a positive experience for exhibit visitors and the extended community
  • Maximize this opportunity for their business operations, key audience and stakeholders
  • Deliver a coordinated effort across all operations
Let us have a closer look at some of the key areas of programming, visitor services, group sales, membership and development.
  1. Programming - Programs:  it is not unusual in an effort to manage crowd (over)flow, for organizations to move from a conventional daily admission program for ticketing to a scheduled program with specific event times to control access to the exhibit.  Along with time intervals for these “events”, it is also helpful to make sure that the capacity of these “events” is restricted to allow for a quality experience and patrons do not feel too crowded.
  2. Programming – Reporting: Exhibit attendance and revenue may be directly tied to exhibit provider fees or funding requirements. So It is important that your team is comfortable pulling the necessary attendance and revenue data for admissions to this exhibition.
  3. Programming – Discounts:  It is not unusual for discounts to change or even be eliminated for a blockbuster exhibit.  So it important to review the discount plans for the blockbuster exhibit and evaluate its impact on your constituencies and to also test them out to confirm they are working properly.
  4. Programming – Ticket Operations: If your organization has adopted a different ticketing configuration for the blockbuster exhibit than it is important that staff (both front desk and administrative that answer calls) are familiar with the details so that all patrons are getting the same message and assistance irrespective of their channel of contact (walk-on, phone, online). Staff training is important for a quality/uniform experience.
  5. Programming – Marketing: Advise prospective patrons how early they should arrive before their scheduled entry time. Inform them also on what times are likely to be less busy.  You may also choose to discount tickets at less popular time slots/days – this can help spread out your traffic.
  6. Programming – Additional Activities:  Evaluate organizing additional activities beyond tours (talks, workshops etc.). Whether these events are free or have a price, you may choose to include registration so you are collecting information and expanding your audience base.
  7. Programming – Member-Only Events: One of the great ways to promote the benefits of membership is to host member only events. While these can take the form of an opening reception, one can also consider reserving some of the early, more convenient time slots as member only. This can be promoted as a benefit in lieu of a discount!
  8. Membership – Marketing: Be sure to include any associated discounts or membership only events in all of your marketing communications (renewal reminders, thank you letters, membership newsletter).  This will reiterate benefits of membership and boost attendance and revenue.
  9. Membership – Targeting Rejoins and New Members: Tap your house list of non-members or lapsed/expired memberships.  This is a great way to open communication, promote the benefits of membership and set up an opportunity for them to sign up or rejoin.
  10. Group Sales – Planning: Accommodate for a potential surge in school or community group visits. Evaluate your calendar and connect with your regular group visit patrons in advance to see if you can host their visits during the less busy time slots of the day and therefore reduce the impact on individual patron capacity.
  11. Group Sales – Student Activities: Evaluate the benefits of setting up some special activities for schools beyond tours. Along with the added benefit of a unique experience for students, they will also share this experience with parents/guardians who will in turn plan their own visits.
  12. Development - Appeals and Acknowledgements: Ensure that any appeals or contribution acknowledgements that are directly or indirectly related to funding the exhibit include a mention on the community wide benefits of hosting the exhibit and how their support helps subsidize these efforts and support the institutional mission.
  13. Development – Post-exhibit communication: Extend your relationship with contributors by sending a post-exhibit thank you letter to all those that directly supported the exhibit funding. Including statics on attendance and the diversity of audiences (one can also include student groups and workshop attendees in this group) can reiterate the benefits of hosting blockbuster exhibits and encourage supporters for the next exhibit.
  14. Marketing – Viral Channels:  While this can be a blog post in itself, do not overlook the benefits of sharing sneak peeks (videos and photos) across the variety of social media channels from Facebook to Snapchat. Creating a connection to inform your community of additional activities, member only events will help direct traffic to the opportunities you want to highlight.
So where are you in scripting your next blockbuster? If you just have the title but have run into writer’s block or got the basics of the plot and need to give it some shape – fear not! Our team will be glad to partner with you on your next blockbuster opportunity and script a hit for your team!  We are just a click away at
Posted by Devendra Shrikhande on Feb 6, 2017 2:31 PM America/New_York

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Valuable ideas and plans, thank you!
  • Posted Tue 07 Feb 2017 03:01 PM EST
Although as a children's museum we generally don't have blockbuster exhibits, we can definitely apply some of these ideas to our special events and maybe even to the temporary interactive exhibit we will have installed soon. I love the emphasis on a coordinate effort. 
  • Posted Tue 07 Feb 2017 04:50 PM EST
Very useful checklist. Thanks!
  • Posted Wed 08 Feb 2017 11:27 AM EST
Great post. Thank you!!! I'll pass this link on!
  • Posted Thu 09 Feb 2017 11:37 AM EST
We don't really have "blockbuster" exhibits, but we are preparing to open up 8 new acres of garden space and facilities. These are great ideas to consider for that situation, too. Thanks!
  • Posted Wed 22 Feb 2017 10:29 AM EST