Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton – building resilience through weddings and events

A year-and-a-half ago Charlotte Desjarlais was appointed by Royal Pavilion & Museums (RPM) to the new role of Business Development Manager for the Estates, Weddings and Events department, a three-year post part-funded by Arts Council England’s Major Partner Museum scheme and has since been finding success with weddings, events and joint ventures

With a remit to strategise, plan and maximise the effectiveness of our sales activity, I’ve focused on creating clear product ranges to offer and up-sell, from weddings at the Royal Pavilion and Preston Manor and traditional Christmas banquets to unique conference facilities.

Until spending a short period as maternity cover in the RPM events team, my career had been focused on catering (both retail and events) and working for investment firms – perhaps the perfect combination for maximising commercial income for an organisation like this. And having been born in Brighton I’ve always felt a strong affinity with what the Royal Pavilion and Museums are about; I’ve spent much of my life in London but my heart has always been here. I genuinely feel lucky to be working in the former Royal palace, where my mother once promised me I’d one day have a room.

Since I joined the team has focused its activities on three main areas: weddings, events (from opera recitals to bespoke tours) and joint ventures, such as our involvement in the Brighton-wide film festival Cinecity. We’re already the site of around 20 per cent of Brighton & Hove’s weddings outside its registry office, sometimes hosting four or five a day in the Pavilion’s Red Drawing Room or lavish Music Room, and my target is to achieve 130 a year within five years.

Creating our own events, across all five of our sites, has been a big growth area for us, and I’ve tried to capitalise on opportunities to do this when the buildings are available at weekends. Activities such as film-screenings, concerts and performance-based events, at affordable prices, enable us to open up the buildings to people who often wouldn’t normally access them, and bring incredible spaces like the Royal Pavilion’s Music Room back to their original use. And, once someone has visited one of our sites, it’s much easier to encourage them to return.

Our joint ventures, often with other big players in the city including the University of Brighton, are set up on a profit-sharing basis, and bring huge expertise – not to mention funding – to the events we can offer. Such events are also key in opening up new audiences, broadening the ones we already have, and establishing strong working partnerships for the future. Across the board I’ve therefore spent much of the last year and a half assessing what we have to offer, the groups we can address and where new opportunities lie.

In every case though our primary concern is the care of our wonderful buildings and grounds, and I work closely with the conservation team to safeguard them (regrettably having to turn down wedding receptions in our state Banqueting Room, for example). I also work closely with departmental heads to ensure that the events we host are in keeping with the kind of buildings and organisation we are, while recognising the diverse audience groups in a city focused on tourists as well as residents. And it’s certainly not all about income; as an organisation we’re really community-minded, and it’s important that the type and breadth of our activities address local wants and needs.

As everyone knows that Brighton & Hove is a pretty quirky place, where it’s not hard to find unusual things to do, so I want RPM to focus on providing reliably high-quality experiences.  This can be a challenge in historic buildings and with stretched resources but we’ve proven consistently that we can do it, and the unique nature and importance of our buildings means the potential appeal is huge. How many city councils can offer weddings in a former Royal residence, for example?

Marketing our offers can be a challenge – being a local government organisation, resource constraints do come into play – but I’ve already managed a fairly diverse weddings campaign that takes in new print and outdoor marketing across our Estate and along the seafront. As we continue to spread the word and our reputation grows I’m confident that RPM’s potential as an event venue will quickly be realised; so if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a new weddings campaign to get underway.