Checking Out Me History: Communicating the Arts

From dusty relics to post-modern pieces, our next guest works at the intersection where past meets present and future. Lisa Middleton is Head of Marketing and Brand at National Museums Liverpool, having joined the organisation in 2015.

With a wealth of experience in marketing, brand and communications roles, Lisa has mostly worked in public sector roles and is passionate about arts and culture being accessible to all. An experienced leader with skills in marketing, brand management, social media strategy and management; stakeholder engagement; internal, external and digital communications, publications production; and PR/media liaison, she oversees marketing and brand activities for NML and led an organisational rebrand in 2021.

In this episode, Lisa explores what it is like to be in arts marketing. Museum comms is more than exhibitions, and encompasses vast collections, amazing venues, and commercial offers such as shops and cafés. Don’t be surprised to see a Bridezilla on your next visit; museums also hold events, including weddings! Learning and participation activities are also a huge part of the museum proposition, which means knowing your audience and being agile is an essential part of the role.

Lisa Middleton

Head of Marketing and Brand at National Museums Liverpool

Key topics

Lisa is Head of Marketing and Branding across National Museums Liverpool (NML), which encompasses seven venues, around 3 million visitors and just a little bit of pressure! Says Lisa: “I’ve worked for NML for seven years now, starting out as a marketing and publications manager, so I got to look after our commercial books which was really interesting.

“We have lots and lots of exhibitions and we’re entrusted with some fascinating permanent collections.

“There’s so much it’s a wide varying role which has evolved over time. It’s such a privilege to work with a group of talented people who are just creative and enthusiastic and give 100% all of the time.

“I think that is part of our role to make sure that we’re making museums and galleries accessible to all and highlighting the benefits and the opportunities that you can get from coming to a museum or gallery – not just in an educational setting but also for enjoyment.

“My entire career was based on a visit to one of our museums and I wanted to tell people stories because I was inspired to stay in the museum.”

“Knowing your audience. We’ve got seven different venues and we have lots of campaigns – an exhibition has a campaign, a venue has a campaign, any projects that we do and any new galleries all have campaigns linked to them, which cover marketing and digital communications and all other elements as well.

“We always see differences in the audiences who go to one exhibition versus another so it’s exciting every time you’re doing a new campaign to review insight and work out:

what’s going to be the best tactics to meet that audience? I think that keeps us being creative every time – you know you can try new things.

“It gives you a new opportunity to try new tactics in marketing as well, changing tack or moving things around, always evaluating. Making sure that you know what works and why it works, and if it didn’t work, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t work because it was a bad idea.

“Sometimes it means that it might just not have been the right time; it might not have been the right audience.”

Is there a danger in getting all wrapped up in the arts element and forgetting the commercial bit? Lisa says: “Everything that we do is completely integrated. The elements of being commercial are important.”

“We’ve moved on a little bit in terms of our ambition and where our vision was at and, so the brands really needed to match that. We wanted something that was going to be really reflective of where NML work is now and where we see ourselves in the future.

“Then we went through the usual process around all of our research and engagement with stakeholders across the organisation and it was really remarkable, actually, because everyone was gathering in the same direction, even down to choosing brand keywords and key images and things like that. It was really quite refreshing, but also a little bit unusual for us because sometimes you can get a small number of people in a room and you get five different opinions.

“That was the easy and enjoyable part. I guess the hard part was the rolling out!”

Does Lisa have any stand out exhibitions and subsequent campaigns? She says: “Terracotta Warriors was probably one of the busiest, most exciting ones to work on.

“There’s so much to it – the history, the story – and the actual warriors themselves are just unbelievable.

“We were starting to see comments coming through from visitors around not just the experience but the set design and some things like that which are not normally mentioned. Our in-house teams did such a stunning job at the set design. It was absolutely beautiful.

“On the campaign itself, you know it was really great. It got to the point where people were very excited and you could feel the buzz not just in Liverpool. We had really great visitor numbers.

The contribution to the local economy was amazing.

“We’ve got to work on some other major exhibitions such as the Double Fantasy exhibition, John and Yoko. That was amazing; a real privilege. Sometimes there are things that you work on which just connect with you personally.”


A final thought

Lisa says there’s a huge benefit to be had from being part of the #CommsHero community: “I think for comms and marketing people, I always feel like you thrive when you’re able to connect with other creative people who work in your industry.

“Sometimes the days can be tricky and sometimes on the surface it will feel like it wasn’t that big an issue, but it’s taken about seven hours worth of activity to come up with a solution. Sometimes when you do engage with other colleagues in the industry, it’s a great opportunity to just think about new ideas to be inspired as well and to compound that what you’re doing is good.

“And I think, especially with the pandemic as well, being able to engage with people and have open conversations about things – challenging things – what the expectation is and what should that look like in our industry.”

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.

This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.