Museums + Heritage Awards – Marketing Campaign

Very good cake at that! But how should we ensure there were plenty of visitors to enjoy the cake in the cold and windy month of March? This was the question the team at Kiplin Hall needed to address at the start of 2012.

Jacobean Kiplin Hall is situated near Richmond in North Yorkshire. The house was built in 1620 by George Calvert, Secretary of State to James I and founder of Maryland, and is now an award-winning house and garden, and accredited museum. This private, charitable trust is run by one full-time and 7 part-time members of staff and 105 volunteers. The gardens and Tea Room open in February, which brings visitors to see the swathes of snowdrops, and the Jacobean Hall opens in April, but March is a problem. We needed to reverse the trend of 2011, where March visitor numbers dropped and were concentrated on Sunday opening, leaving the weekday figures very low. We briefly considered closing the gardens and Tea Room during March, but this was defeatist, introduced a different set of problems and we needed the early base on which to build visitor numbers for the year. Two-for-one admissions and price reductions were swiftly rejected as poor, unimaginative solutions, oh, and by the way, we needed new china! We recollected a tale from the 1960s, when the last owner of the Hall, Miss Bridget Talbot, had reportedly served afternoon tea to her guests on an eclectic mix of mis-matched crockery. We decided to draw on this story to bring visitors to the Tea Room, solve our china problem, introduce a talking-point and assist in raising the overall profile of Kiplin Hall. We would offer tea and cake for two in return for donations of pre-1960s china.

The campaign budget was a tight zero pounds! Our strategy must rely entirely on press releases, the Kiplin Hall website and social media…and that British tradition, tea and cake. The press release and accompanying photograph of Tea Room Manager, Mary Exelby, surrounded by a collection of china from our homes, was picked up by most of the local media. Our return to the system of barter, cake in exchange for china, immediately captured the imagination of local people, particularly the older sector, who were available to visit Kiplin Hall on weekdays, as well as Sundays. This drew a new market and demonstrated to these new visitors the quality on offer in the Tea Room, whilst creating interest in the house and gardens.

Through the excellent media coverage, visitor numbers increased by 24% and revenue by 33% over the previous March. These increases were sustained throughout what was a notoriously difficult year for country houses and visitor attractions in general.

Plate Appeal – It’s a Piece of Cake generated a continuing talking point – we are all asked about the china whilst at Kiplin and out-and-about and we are still receiving offers of tea and dinner services, despite the cut-off date for the offer of end of March 2012. We now have almost 1,000 cups and saucers, piles of plates and a charming collection of tea pots, sugar bowls and milk jugs. Rarely are visitors served on a matching set of china and this creates a talking point, which adds to the enjoyment of our guests and the ambience of the Tea Room. We saved at least £1500 on the purchase of new crockery and acquired, free of charge, a far more attractive and interesting collection than could have been obtained commercially– indeed one of the beautiful, hand-painted, late Victorian sets is now on display on a breakfast table in the Dining Room. As by-products of the campaign, we saved lots of beautiful old china, delighted the donors, who were pleased that their china was gaining a new life, created a new unique selling point for the Tea Room and achieved a platform for growth over the following months. Administrator, Marcia McLuckie, explained: “Because of advertising costs and the relatively low revenue potential, it is not cost effective to use our limited advertising budget on one-off promotions. Our small team successfully took an imaginative and creative approach to resolving the problem of low visitor numbers in March. We are thrilled that that this has led to a place on the shortlist for the Marketing Award in the 2013 Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence.”