Innovation Marketing and why this sits at the heart of Imperial War Museums strategy with Pete Austin

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode I speak with Pete Austin, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communication at Imperial War Museums.

Pete Austin is Assistant Director for Marketing & Communications at Imperial War Museums (IWM). He is responsible for audience, marketing, brand, comms and PR strategy across all five branches of the museum; IWM London, IWM North, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast and IWM Duxford.

Before IWM, Pete worked in Higher Education; running External Relations for UAL (University of the Arts London) and Goldsmiths, University of London where he helped to launch the Goldsmiths Prize for literature. He trained as a news journalist and was a Deputy Editor of a regional newspaper before his move into comms and PR.

“One of the main drivers for the innovation strategy is that we have a really strong core audience, but we want to develop new audiences. And to develop new audiences, you have to look at how you’re doing things and potentially do things slightly differently.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • The emotive marketing campaign developed for the opening of the new Second World War and Holocaust Galleries
  • The ‘innovation marketing’ strategy IWM has adopted
  • What innovation actually means

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

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The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Pete Austin



Kelly Molson: Pete, it is a pleasure to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining me.

Pete Austin: No worries. Happy to be here.

Kelly Molson: Maybe you won’t be after the icebreakers. Although I thought I have been quite kind. Right. I want to know, what was the last song that you played on your Spotify account or other music streaming account?

Pete Austin: That would be a song by Tom Odell called Heal, which makes me sound quite indie alternative, but it’s actually because I just finished watching Giri/Haji, I don’t know if you pronounce it like that, but there was a show a couple of years ago, Japanese show in London and Tokyo.

It’s on the BBC. But there was this song that kept popping up in it, so I had to find out what it was, it was Tom Odell, Heal. So that’s the last song I listened to.

Kelly Molson: Is that not your normal kind of music taste then?

Pete Austin: It’s not far off. I quite like the indie music, but I also like a lot of different music. So it depends on your mood, and I know that’s a bit of a cop out, but genuinely anything. You could have asked me a few days ago, it could have been Bon Jovi while I was cleaning the bathroom.

Kelly Molson: Because that is what you listen to when you clean the bathroom.

Pete Austin: Exactly. Yeah. So you asked me on a day where I could appear cool, although now I’ve undone all that by mentioning Bon Jovi and the bathroom.

Kelly Molson: I think that’s fine. I used to have a running playlist, back in the day when I used to run, that doesn’t happen anymore. And I had Eye of the Tiger on there because it was my eight mile track and that was like I really need to get through this eight mile, I need some motivation. Maybe Bon Jovi would have done that for me as well.

Pete Austin: Maybe. Depends on the song, depends on the song.

Kelly Molson: All right. If you could have an extra hour of free time every single day, what would you use that free time for?

Pete Austin: I’d like to say something like playing guitar or writing or doing something I feel like I should be doing, but probably would just end up just sitting and having a coffee. I love that time in the morning when you can just chill out and have a chat before the day starts. So I’d like a bit more of that time before I get into it probably. But yeah.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s nice, isn’t it? A coffee and a magazine, or a coffee and a book just an hour of complete indulgence in something that you don’t have to be productive for, you just enjoy.

Pete Austin: Yeah. 100%. And I think I’m one of those people quite hard on myself about how I use my time as well. So even that question kind of brings me out in kind of sweats as well. It’s like what would I do with that time? How would I make sure it’s as productive as possible.

Kelly Molson: You don’t always have to be hustling, Pete, every day.

Pete Austin: I know. I know.

Kelly Molson: All right, what is the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Pete Austin: The worst advice I’ve ever been given. I’ve been given probably some awful advice. I think a bit of a cop out but I kind of went through school and sit and didn’t really have any advice on what to do next. I’m probably of an age when a kind of careers advisor was probably quite a new thing, and I definitely didn’t have any of that.

So I suppose it’s not the worst advice, but I got a lot of people telling me don’t worry about this, don’t worry about that, don’t worry about university, do worry about university, it was all very mixed. I know everyone kind of carves their own path, but when

I look back now and especially with friends and children of friends, they’re just kind of getting to that age, I’m like just help them through it, help them decide what they want to do. So it’s not necessarily worst advice, but definitely kind of absence of advice.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absence of advice is probably worse than bad advice, right?

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Not having a clue what to do. 

Pete Austin: I’ve had some awful advice just generally in life about go to this pub, don’t go to that pub. You go into that pub you’re like why did I listen to this person? So it’s often when you take that advice you realise through the lens of which it’s given, so you’re standing in the world’s stodgiest pub going oh this is why that person told me to go here, because they would fit in here.

Kelly Molson: We will put the name of this pub in the show notes after for everyone.

Pete Austin: Probably not just one.

Kelly Molson: All right, Pete, what is your unpopular opinion? What have you got lined up for us?

Pete Austin: My unpopular opinion, it came to me quite quickly and then I thought I can’t really say it. My unpopular opinion, and I’m not sure if I’m going to get disowned by the entire nation, but is that Sunday roasts are a bit of a scam.

Kelly Molson: What on earth? Honestly, this is the second time this has happened.

Pete Austin: Is it?

Kelly Molson: I cannot believe this.

Pete Austin: Well firstly I think, to defend my position, I am coming at it mainly from the point of view when you go through a pub and have a Sunday roast. So, especially in London where I live, it’s nearly 18 quid for two slices of meat and some vegetables. So that’s a joke in itself, although that could be extended to a lot of pub and restaurant food. I just don’t understand it.

Yeah, my wife she’s Greek Australian, she came over from Australia, she’s got Greek parents. She is baffled by the notion that the roast as a concept doesn’t make any sense, and when you really start to think about some of the stuff we do as a country, you start to question it.

So yeah, that’s my unpopular opinion. I’ve even tried defiantly to ignore it, I’ve cooked roasts, I’ve made roasts, big beef joints, big lamb joints and stuff, but I don’t understand it. It’s a lot of effort and I’m not sure what you get out of it at the end of the day.

Kelly Molson: Oh god. I’m not even going to try and start thinking about it because everyone’s going to ruin it, it genuinely is one of my favourite things is to go for, I think it’s because my partner is a wedding photographer, so he works a lot on Fridays and Saturdays and so sometimes we’ll go out and do something and we love going to the pub, a few beers, and a Sunday roast.

Pete Austin: The pub bit.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. The pub bit is okay, but cut out the roast for you. I’m not going to think about this too deeply because it will ruin my favourite day of the week, Pete.

Pete Austin: Okay. I’m sorry.

Kelly Molson: You should speak to Neil Dolan from Madame Tussauds, because he had exactly the same unpopular opinion, and he’d rather have a pizza.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So there’s plenty weird out there, that’s all I’m saying.

Pete Austin: But just for the record and for clarity, one of my favourite things is a British pub. One of my favourite things is the pub. Everything about it. The older, the better. The cozier, the dingier, the better. So it’s just the roast bit.

Kelly Molson: Okay. So we can go for a beer.

Pete Austin: Yeah. You can have your roast.

Kelly Molson: We go for the roast, it’s fine. We’re all friends here, Pete. Okay. So we want to talk about marketing today and innovation in marketing.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I want to set the scene about why we’re talking today. So back in October 2021, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, Imperial War Museums opened new Second World War and Holocaust galleries.

Now, the marketing campaign for this launch was incredibly emotive and I think it’s fair to say that neither of us expected to be speaking about this topic whilst there is an unjust war raging in Ukraine. So it’s very important and we acknowledge that.

But last week I actually saw a connection share one of these images on LinkedIn, and it felt scarily relatable for what those people are actually going through right at this moment in time. Can you just kind of talk us through those images to set the scene of what we’re talking about, Pete?

Pete Austin: Yeah, of course. So for anyone who hasn’t seen it, and we can obviously share it as well, but we kind of took the decision, as you say, we were opening the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries Imperial War Museum London, and massive investment, massive moment for the museum, and the idea was that we wanted to kind of break away from the traditional museum marketing, which as we all know is kind of spotlight object and put the poster up.

It’s challenging with our subject matter to do that anyway, because lots of our objects even themselves require so much context. So we’re always in a bit of a tricky boat on that front anyway. But we also wanted to innovate and we’ll come onto that in a minute I’m sure, but the images that we used to kind of juxtapose against each other was a 1941 image of Londoners sheltering in a tube station during the Blitz, and we recreated that photograph as closely as we possibly could and bring it up to date.

So for example, people were sat looking at their phones, had their laptop cases, sat there with puddies on, whatever they would have probably had to do if they had to go and shelter if there were an air raid siren. So we recreated that image, and we didn’t recreate it with any kind of drama added, or any kind of artistic license.

It was really just to try and bring up to date and make relevant what normal people went through during that time, and this idea of it happened to people like you on a day like today was the tag, and that’s very much what we tried to do with the image. It was shot by an amazing conflict photographer called Hazel Thompson. So we actually even got that kind of level of authenticity about how it would have been approached, and it formed the hero image for the campaign.

We did some other assets as well, but that’s the main image, and that was really what we were trying to do was try and put people into feeling how it would have felt then, and that’s a really challenging thing to do with that subject, for obvious reasons.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. I mean it’s incredibly emotive, as I said, to look at this picture, because you can see yourself in it. You can see somebody that looks like you, you can see that they would have been on their way to work, or on their way home at that point in time.

They’ve got the things that you would be carrying, they’re wearing the clothes that you would be wearing, and it is quite frightening to be able to visualise yourself in that situation. Is that what you were trying to achieve with it? To kind of make people feel like this literally could happen to them like this?

Pete Austin:: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a hard one. With ours, we’re never trying to make people feel how it feels to be in any situation across our entire remit, and our remit is First World War to contemporary conflict, right up to the present day, because one, that’s impossible to do.

And two, it would be incredibly distasteful to try and replicate that kind of stuff. So we’ve got a very fine line to tread editorially anyway. What we’re always trying to do, however, is to make things relevant and create resonance with the audience that just makes them think about what it would have been like then, and the easiest way to do that is to try and put it into people’s worlds.

So it is very challenging, we went through an extensive editorial processes on this because there are some images that you simply couldn’t recreate or bring up to date or put into the 21st century, put into 2022 or 2021 without it just being a leap too far. This idea of the mundane, the mundanity of war in a way, like how it affects your every day, we’ve all seen those striking images from the front line and they’re incredibly harrowing, incredibly emotional. But what we’re trying to do with this is try and say this affected everyone.

It was a global war, it would have affected you, it would have affected you differently to someone in a different country or down the road even, but it would have affected you, and it’s trying to get that relevance across because the Second World War is falling out of living memory now, the Holocaust and the Second World War, it’s becoming the only way to tell those stories will soon be through museums and through kind of archives and through objects. So we just needed to make it resonate really.

Kelly Molson: Which it certainly did. I mean the launch campaign was an incredible success in terms of the press coverage and obviously what it did for the launch of the galleries itself. Was this part of, and we touched on innovation earlier, was this the start of your kind of innovation marketing strategy? Because that’s something that you’ve tried to do a lot more of in your organisation.

Pete Austin: It wasn’t actually the start. So the strategy was signed off in 2018, I think. The first major campaign we did which had innovation at the heart of the strategy, and by the way, innovation is quite literally written into the strategy, so that’s a brilliant place to start and a great thing to have for that kind of endorsement and mandate.

The first campaign we did was a campaign for an exhibition at IWM North, which is in Stretford, about Yemen. And that was a different one as well and it comes back to that idea of how we can really bring it into people’s lives, how you can make it resonate, how you can talk in the language of people that are going to visit the exhibition.

And for that we did a public marketing stunt where we put a vending machine in the middle of Manchester Piccadilly Station, and the vending machine had all of the objects you expect to find in a vending machine, but they were all priced at the kind of multiplication of the inflation of the price of food that was currently in supermarkets in Yemen.

One of the big issues with the Yemen conflict, especially at that time, was that it was in economic famine. So there was food on the shelves, but no one could afford it. So we were trying to bring that idea to people who were just getting off of their train in the morning coming to Manchester, Piccadilly, rushing up to our vending machine trying to buy a bottle of water for like 15 pounds.

And then talking to them and going, obviously there’s an exhibition where you can find out lots more information about this, but not just that, this kind of public service remit explaining what was behind it.

We did that, in fact our campaign for that, outdoor campaign, the assets and the creative was all around a kind of fake supermarket price reduction campaign. So we had a box of eggs that were reduced from 32 pounds to 28 pounds, or something like that, and people would look at it and go what the hell is that?

We started with that, and we’ve done a couple of others, but then yeah, it was a big move to go from a relatively small exhibition at IWM North to one of the opening of our new permanent galleries at IWM London, but we just believe in this approach and we’ve seen the results of this approach. For the Second World War and Holocaust galleries, we were like, this was just over the first two weeks, we were like 19% up on what we were supposed to get. So we got out there and we got into people’s psyches I think.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. So it had a really positive effect, you achieved the remit that you set for it.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: How do you, this is probably a massive question, but you don’t wake up one morning and go right, we’re going to be more innovative, and everyone’s going to give us the budget to do this as well. How do you embed that culture of innovation into your strategies and into the marketing teams?

Pete Austin: Yeah. It’s a process for sure. I think the first thing to say is that when I joined IWM, IWM was doing brilliantly. This wasn’t innovation through need of just changing everything or overhauling everything. I came in 2017, towards the end of the First World War centenary.

Obviously massive program of activity. But one of the things and one of the main drivers for the innovation strategy is that we have a really strong core audience, but we want to develop new audiences. And to develop new audiences, you have to look at how you’re doing things and potentially do things slightly differently.

So the first step was taking on board that which kind of, I’m the senior [inaudible 00:16:24] kind of audience growth strategy, so having a look at those audiences in which we want to grow, who they are and how to reach them, because obviously innovation is great, but innovation isn’t just about having loads of fun and trying things. You have to have a strategy behind it as well.

So step one was really looking at that audience growth strategy and saying these are the audiences we want to reach and we’ve got to innovate. And it’s interesting you mention budgets there because part of the innovation is really to try and do it within the existing budget, because actually the opposite of innovation would just be investment. Because we could just say, “Look, I’m a marketeer. You want to reach these audiences? Give me a massive pile of cash and I’m sure I can reach them.” But that wasn’t an option, obviously. So it was a case of how we innovate within what we currently do, and that was a massive, massive driver.

To use the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries example, we got double our spend almost by creating something that was a moment that also got media coverage, that also became something within itself that people were talking about.  There’s the marketing spend, the marketing application, so the marketing mix, out of home, digital, plus the press we got.

It’s really bringing that markings together. But step one was going to the exec board and to the trustees and saying I want to put innovation at the heart of our marketing strategy and here’s why, evidence with data that says that innovating in these ways would be reaching new audiences, and that’s definitely something that started to happen.

Kelly Molson: Where did the data come from? Was that just researching the target audience that you were trying to get more of?

Pete Austin: Yeah. We do a lot of data research, market based data. So we had our market based data. We had some existing segments. We had to rationalise them, we had to really examine whether they were the right ones we were going after. One of the jobs I did when I came in was to really look at how well we penetrated those segments because to be honest, some of them we were over investing in and getting under return. So it was really about rationalising those, and getting the organisation on board with them as well.

So part of the issue I had with the first round of the audience strategy was there was a lot of different audiences, and now we’ve got a core audience and it’s across all five branches of the Imperial War Museums, and we’ve also got these development audiences as well which we know a lot about, we know how they behave.

We’ve also gone through enough cycles now to plug that back into how they behave when they come to the museum. They’re no longer just a hypothetical audience on a pen potrait, they’re out there in the world, they’re coming through the museum now, and we can say more about what our version of those development audiences look like and what they want to see in marketing, what they want to resonate with, what they most engage with, when they come into the branch, what do they most want to go and see? So building up this picture is kind of alongside this innovation strategy, so we can then plug it into that and amplify the results.

Kelly Molson: So how do you empower your team to be more innovative? Where do the ideas come from? How do you kind of create that? You mentioned the campaign that you had with the vending machine, I think that’s incredibly innovative and I can see the power of that. I can see myself walking up to it and being really interested in it. So where did the ideas come from? Is it like a team collaborative effort? 

Pete Austin: 100%, yeah, it’s definitely within the team. So marketing communications and the digital team as well, and actually an idea can come from anywhere in the organisation. It genuinely is democratic when it comes to where the ideas come from, and often it’s a collaborative process, so the vending machine idea started life within the team, but it didn’t start life as a vending machine.

It started life with that was the idea, what if there was a whole shop that you went into where you couldn’t afford anything. Which wasn’t a massive kind of cerebral leap, because that is what we were seeing in Yemen. But then we were like we can’t do that. The branch of test is quite expensive marketing campaign.

So then the vending machine idea came through. Then the really amazing people in the team, the marketing team, who had to deal with the very interesting ins and outs of, I don’t know, there was even stuff around obviously there was really basic stuff like where do we buy the food from? What do we put in it? What should the actual calculations be? Because obviously the inflation is a figure, but it’s not necessarily a universally defined figure, so we had to kind of make it roughly accurate.

What do you do with the food afterwards? There was so much stuff we had to think about. But the ideas come from anywhere, and they come from largely within the marketing communications digital team, but they really just get brought to life collaboration across those teams, but I’m so lucky to have such amazing teams that do that.

Kelly Molson: I mean you obviously, what you’ve been doing, the strategy has really resonated with the audience that you’re trying, because you’ve seen the campaigns have been successful and you’ve had people come through the door that you’re wanting to attract. But it feels like it might have really invigorated the team internally as well. There’s much more opportunity to be creative within the budgets that you have. Much more opportunity to collaborate. It feels quite exciting.

Pete Austin: Yeah, hopefully. You’d have to ask them. Yeah, no, it is exciting. I think there is a bit of a misnomer about what innovation really means as well, so we have to go through a process of kind of turn definition and myth busting. Now, the vending machine is almost, for the sake of trying to explain to the team what innovation is, it’s almost a bad example, because it’s totally new, it’s totally something the museum hasn’t done before, it’s a stunt.

And I think sometimes innovation is seen as a marketing stunt. Well that’s not necessarily innovation, putting a wrap all around Oxford Circus Chew for Stranger Things, the next series. That’s not innovation, that’s called having millions of pounds.

 So I wanted to get into the team that innovation doesn’t have to mean big public stunts. And a really good example is, one member of the team innovated something that was so simple, but it was such a great example, I keep using it about obviously we’ve got vending machines, we put a spitfire in London Bridge station for D-Day 75.

This is all innovative, but it’s also big and it’s stunty and I don’t think that’s necessarily what it’s all about. One of the members of the team, we’re seeing that we actually put a lot of marketing spend, or maybe not a lot, but more than we’d want to in kind of shoots and modeling shoots for our campaigns, and we weren’t always getting, the classic point is you put people in your marketing that you want to come into your museum, so we’re not always getting what we wanted and it was always a challenge.

And she was like look, we’ve got loads of volunteers who are people that are massively engaged at the museum, they do look like our audience, and a lot of them look like who we want our audience to look like. There’s a pull there, they’re engaged, they want to be involved. 

So she started this pool of models within our volunteer group to be in our marketing. And that’s just a great example of how that is exactly what we’re innovating to try and innovate to do which is to diversify our audience by making people see themselves in our marketing, not a model family, no matter what they look like, they don’t look like necessarily like people like themselves, and it also cuts down on marketing spend, which means we can invest it into reaching wider audiences.

So that’s such a tiny example, but I was really pleased when that came through because I was trying to get across to the group that innovation wasn’t about just going wild, having fun, and seeing how it works, and if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. I was like no, we still have to be incredibly strategic about this, and obviously responsible about it as well. I didn’t get given any extra money to enact this innovation marketing, so that was almost well if you want to do it, you’ve got to innovate on that front as well.

Kelly Molson: That is such a perfect example, because I think when the word innovation is thrown into the mix, you do automatically go oh it has to be something new. It has to be something that we’ve never done before, and it does have to be big, a real statement piece. And I think that’s what scares potentially some museums, or scares organisations because that sounds expensive, and that sounds frightening, and nobody likes big change, right?

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: But something like that, that’s an amazing way of being able to innovate, and it’s saved you money, and it doesn’t have to be big and shiny and flashy, but it’s absolutely perfect.

Pete Austin: Yeah. Well I love that example, because don’t get me wrong, we’ve done some amazing big things as well, and the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries poster is really the biggest thing we’ve done because it was the biggest risk. Essentially our senior leadership and trustees were signing off a non traditional museum marketing campaign for the biggest thing the museum has done since the First World War Galleries at IWM London.

So that was big and that was innovative, and its seen great results, and as we’ve mentioned earlier on through absolutely no foresight or nothing we saw coming, it’s perhaps even more resonant and relevant right now, and that’s great. But those smaller things about innovating, and that was the big process I was talking about going through with the team.

You can innovate processes, you can innovate anything that makes the marketing more efficient, more spend available, we can put it into reaching those new audiences. It doesn’t have to be on that front line of the creative for the campaign, it can be way further back. We’ve innovated some really small internal processes as well about how we do things, how we collaborate. So it hasn’t all been this all singing, all dancing, nominated for awards stuff. It’s been this kind of behind the scenes stuff too.

Kelly Molson: This is what I was going to ask you, because it’s difficult to know how you gauge the innovation strategy is successful, but I guess there’s two strands to it, isn’t it? And you talked a little bit about the campaigns that you’ve done, they’ve achieved what you’ve set out to in terms of getting the numbers through the doors.

But I guess there’s the other strand of internal processes like you say have been improved. So how do you know if what you’ve done has really hit the mark, how do you look at what the KPIs are and whether it’s achieved that?

Pete Austin: Yeah. Well we set KPIs and we set targets like we do for all of our campaigns, and because the innovation element of the marketing is so intertwined with the whole campaign, in essence we wouldn’t reach KPIs if it wasn’t working. But that’s kind of how we look back on the campaign and see how it worked.

I think if I just looked back at how long the organisations had these developed and audiences in place and how we hit targets for different campaigns, we’ve definitely seen, since we took this new approach, we’ve hit targets and over achieved.

Also interestingly, it’s hard to attribute that success directly to just the kind of marketing obviously, because part of that innovation, part of what happens in an organisation when you get that senior level sign off for this approach is you then have to start having conversations with the exhibitions team, the design team, the curators.

It then genuinely kind of becomes cultural. So for example then, you’re not sat there just receiving the next exhibition or season and being asked how to market it, because you’ve had these conversations, you’re helping to lead that conversation, you’re helping to embed that from the start, and it’s nice to hear now when it’s referenced as Pete’s strategy, or this strategy that we’ve got to do.

How would it fit to this if we were doing this thing? And then the great thing about that is if you’re starting from that process, the KPIs are even easier to reach, because you’re not pushing uphill anymore, you’re kind of it’s all happening together.

But the crucial thing for us as well, and it kind of comes back to that point you said about what other organisations do, or how it all started, is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think one of the big things about innovation is people are scared of it because they’re like hang on a minute, I don’t want to massively effect what’s going really well already, and we definitely didn’t do that. If you look at IWM’s output, we’ve not stopped doing what we think is really appealing to our core audiences. We still do a lot of that. Its just also happening alongside it and to compliment it, and it’s crucial that you can kind of do that sensitively as well.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. So that’s really important, isn’t it? Because it’s not all in one or all in the other. You’ve got to have this as part of kind of an intertwined strategy I guess with the core audience that you have who are maybe not going to be as kind of engaged with some of the more innovative things that you’ve done.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: What would you do differently? Is there anything that you’ve learned while you’ve been through the process that you think that you would have done in a different way? You can say no if you feel like you’ve nailed it. No, nothing.

Pete Austin: No. I think I would have, I think it was a really, really collaborative process, but there were definitely areas of the museum I would have engaged earlier in this process, I think. Ideal world, I would have sat down with everyone, one by one, and we would have talked about what this means and their hopes and dreams and fears for what innovation in marketing means, and I think it was sometimes hard for me to have conversations with perhaps curators and people that were working, because often this manifested itself in the marketing for an exhibition.

So these people are in this day in, day out, and for something like Yemen as well, not necessarily this is an example, but for something like Yemen, these are curators who are actively trying to bring objects back from a life conflict. To say they’re invested and to say they’re kind of absolutely in this would be an understatement. Some of the stories they can tell you would be amazing about how we get these objects back from essentially a live conflict.

So then to say to someone, I’m going to put a vending machine in Manchester Piccadilly Station and the poster for your exhibition that you’ve probably almost risked your life on is going to be a box of eggs. It’s like okay, that’s not the time to have that conversation. The time to have that conversation was 12 months earlier and really talk it through. But 12 months earlier, the strategy hadn’t been signed off.

So I think I would just try to speak to teams who were actively involved in whatever product it would be that we were doing the innovation marketing for as early as possible, and the great thing now is everyone knows this and we’re in a process. For example, the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries, we set out our ambitions through that kind of campaign from the very start, pre COVID that was our plan, and then we ended up delivering it in October last year.

So that’s a great example of how it does work, but the challenge is getting those people on board and helping to understand why you’re doing things, and also crucially understand why you’re not doing it, not just, like I said, for a laugh, or just because it’s more fun. It’s like this will genuinely resonate more with the audience we want to visit the exhibition.


Kelly Molson: The crux of it comes down to communication, communication, communication with anything like this.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: There will be other museums, there will be other attractions out there that I think there’s something they definitely need to do, because everyone’s in a situation now where they have a core audience, but yes, they do need to look at new audiences coming through and how they’re going to attract those.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: What advice would you give to other museums at this point who are thinking they would like to be more innovative about the campaigns that they’re launching.

Pete Austin: Yeah, I think my advice always would be start with the audience you’re trying to reach, and that’s what we did, and that’s really where it was all formed from, really looking at the audience growth strategy that we’ve put in place and go how do we want to reach them, and do we need to innovate to reach them? Or do we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, but do it slightly differently.

And I know that’s technically innovating, but it’s not really. Do we just need a slightly different marketing mix is not innovation. I’d root everything in that. We had some audiences that we ended up reaching way more effectively than we thought. We had some that we didn’t. That was the kind of landscape I was coming into. So it’s really a case of trying to work out and crucially agreeing with the organisation who you should be targeting, and then whether you really need to innovate to do it.

I think you definitely, definitely need buy in, you need senior buy in. It’s not something, not that any strategy is, but something like this is definitely not something you can just do, because if you just do it, and you don’t do it with a plan for how you’re going to continue to keep doing it, then it’s just a flash in the pan and it’s the very definition of a stunt rather than a strategy. I was very fortunate in that the senior team and trustees were on board with this idea and this approach.

And then I suppose, just to come back to that point I made earlier, don’t overhaul change things. Don’t go too far. Innovation doesn’t mean chucking everything out and starting again, it can mean tweaks. It can just mean how are we going to innovate in this one area. It’s like a research and design department in a way, just focus on one area at a time if you want to see where the results might come with out effecting the entire organisation.

There’s no way we’d of started any of this with the Second World War and Holocaust Galleries and maybe even if Yemen didn’t reach over visitor target and the campaign didn’t get as much press and didn’t get as much attention as it got, maybe we wouldn’t have carried on with it. It’s just we would have always reflected and worked out whether that was the right thing to be doing. We’re not carrying on belligerently in the face of the whole world telling us it’s not working. This is kind of the process we’re going through.

Kelly Molson: Communicate and then actually listen to what your audience is telling you.

Pete Austin: Yeah. Just basics.

Kelly Molson: Good advice, Pete.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: What’s coming up next for IWM? What interesting things are happening in the next few months?

Pete Austin: We’ve got a lot going on. Like all visitor attractions and museums, we’re just getting back up and running, really. We’re really enjoying that. We’ve got a big exhibition coming up at IWM London later this year on war gaming, so that should be really interesting.

And yeah, trying to get people back on the HMS Belfast, onto the ship on the Thames. Summer campaigns around that, more activities especially for families, getting people used to going out again, visiting London, going to those big attractions. Churchill War Rooms, we’re slightly revising the offer at Churchill War Rooms with a view to getting more people back there.

Hopefully international tourists come back, that’s a common theme, a common thread with all your guests and all of the discussions around the sector. And yeah, just really getting things up and running again and getting people back, I suppose.

I’m interested as well, not to make a big point about it, but for us as well, we’re looking at how we do or don’t react and reflect and contextualise the current world events. We have a role and a remit and our role and remit is to really kind of deepen understanding of these conflicts and how conflict starts and how it progresses and the impact on peoples lives.

I don’t think we could necessarily ignore what’s going on at the moment in Ukraine, but as an organisation it’s how we react to that, what our role should be, because that’s a really interesting life topic at the moment.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, definitely. And yeah, there’s a level of sensitivity that needs to run through everything that you’re doing in terms of that as well.

Pete Austin: Exactly. We’re very well placed for that. I always joke that we’re the experts on dealing with sensitive topics. We really, really do it every day. You’re not the global authority on the Holocaust or one of the world’s most respected Second World War and Holocaust galleries without knowing how to tackle a few tangled subjects. So I think it’s something we can do, it’s just something we’ve got to look at how we do it and how we execute it. But yeah, it’s really interesting time.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. Well I have one more question for you, but I also have a request, Pete, while I have you here. So it’s for Duxford, which is my local Imperial War Museum.

Pete Austin: Okay.

Kelly Molson: I’m like 15 minutes away from Duxford.

Pete Austin: Right.

Kelly Molson: I mean, Duxford is fantastic, it’s an awesome place to go and have a look around. I’m not necessarily even a plane nut, but wow, it is seriously impressive. You do need to be, and we’ve seen the air shows multiple times. I had a brilliant evening out at Duxford a few years ago where they had an open air cinema, and they showed my favourite film, Pete.

They put Top Gun on. We watched Top Gun underneath the planes, we had to walk into the hangers to go to the toilet, it was absolutely phenomenal. Can you make that happen again? Can you make that happen? Put in a word?

Pete Austin: I’m sure we can, yeah, I’ll put in a word. Those kinds of things are amazing, aren’t they? I’m sure you and anyone that’s ever worked in visitor attraction and organisation knows how hard those things are to put on as well, because they often sit so isolated from your kind of rolling program and all that stuff.

You mention air shows, you get into a rhythm of running two, three air shows a year, and suddenly they’re really well oiled machines, and those stand alone events are sometimes a challenge, but they’re also a massive example of how we can get people in who, like you say, don’t just want to come necessarily to see the planes. I’ll put in a word.

Kelly Molson: Appreciate that.

Pete Austin: And if we can’t do it, we’ll just get you to drive in, we’ll put a TV screen up, you can just park your car in front of a 40 inch screen, we’ll put Top Gun on.

Kelly Molson: Great. I’m down for that as well. All right Pete, what about a book that you love? We always end the podcast asking our guests if they’ve got a book that they love that they would like to share with us?

Pete Austin: Yeah. Again, I had a long think about this. So I used to be a journalist, so I feel like it kind of reflects on you when you’re asked about your favourite book. I don’t ever really recommend or have any strong recommendations for kind of marketing books. I’m not one of those people. I’ve always been a learner through people teaching and listening and engaging, so I’m not a big book person up front.

I think a book that is definitely, I’ve read at every stage of my life is Animal Farm, by George Orwell, and it’s meant something at different stages. I always come back to it, there’s a few books I always come back to, and maybe I’m not going to re read it, but I’ve genuinely re read that book so many times, and I just think maybe that’s what maybe early days when I was reading it, Orwell’s kind of approach and commentary was something that made me even want to become a journalist.

So that’s the main book, but then I’m also, my wife made me say that’s a great answer, but if anyone ever sees you now going to see you reading a trashy poolside thriller and they’re going to ask why you’re not reading something from George Orwell’s cannon, and that is true. I don’t know about you, but when I go away, I don’t want to have to think-

Kelly Molson: No. You want escapism.

Pete Austin: Yeah. So go and buy and book, or usually go to the charity shop, grab the trashiest thriller book you can get. So yeah, if anyone ever sees me at the Holiday Expo, don’t expect me to be reading 1984 or anything. It’s going to be-

Kelly Molson: Some James Patterson on his back, that’s what he’s got.

Pete Austin: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I love it. Brilliant. All right. Well thank you, Pete. That’s a great recommendation of a book. So as ever, if you want to win a copy of Pete’s book, if you go to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words I want Pete’s book, then you’ll be in with a chance of winning it. Pete, it’s been really lovely to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing.

Just for anyone listening, what we’ll do is Pete will very kindly share me links to all of the things that we’ve talked about today, so you can go and have a look at the campaigns that we’ve discussed from the show notes. Please go and visit the Imperial War Museums if you haven’t been. If you haven’t been and you’re listening, you’re mad. Go. They are absolutely incredible places. Go and learn and understand about the things that have happened to people from the past. Thanks Pete.

Pete Austin: No worries. Thank you very much.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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