Award-winning local marketing at Kiplin Hall and Gardens

Kiplin Hall and Gardens received two awards at The Museums + Heritage Awards 2022, coming home with ‘highly commended’ for museum café of the year and Joint Winner for marketing campaign of the year. Shortlisted among giants of the heritage sector including Imperial War Museum and Stonehenge the win marks a huge achievement for Kiplin which is going through a phase of development and growth, fueled in part by its growing popularity with visitors post-covid.

We spoke to Kiplin Hall’s Marketing Manager Samantha Jennings to find out how she planned and implemented such a successful 2021 marketing campaign.

For those who don’t know you, tell us what makes Kiplin Hall special?

At Kiplin visitors can enjoy the historic house museum, tea room, ample gardens & grounds. The museum tells the stories of 400 years worth of family ownership via the Calverts, Crowes, Carpenters, and Talbots who were all grounded in North Yorkshire but made their mark around the globe. Lakeside paths and woodland walks offer tranquil routes to explore the formal gardens and open parkland. The Tea Room is known for it’s freshly made cakes and bakes, using ingredients grown in the walled garden on site.

What was the basis of your award-winning campaign?

Kiplin’s 2021 marketing campaign aimed to go local; attracting first time and repeat visits from residents living in the surrounding towns and villages. The concept of a ‘destination on the doorstep’ gained popularity as people stayed local while lockdown restrictions eased. Kiplin reported record breaking visitor figures in 2021, welcoming just over 30,000 visitors, a 65% increase on their previous best. And like most AIM members, Kiplin Hall and Gardens is an independent museum reliant on ticket income.

Press coverage was fundamental to the success of the campaign. Was this coverage as a result of paid-for advertising? Or did you generate coverage via PR activity?

A combination of both. In 2020 we paused almost all of our paid for advertising in the press but resumed much of it in 2021. We do quite a lot of in-print advertising. Our audience and rural location mean that there are a few really key paper publications; The Darlington & Stockton Times has a biblical following here and The Northern Echo is also very popular with our audience. And there are a couple of well-read local magazines including Dales Life and Richmondshire Today.

In addition, grass roots advertising was important to us in 2021. We placed a number of adverts in community/parish/village newsletters. Ranging in cost from £20 – £100. Some were simple photocopies to a small number of houses, others were more ‘professional’ but in general the point was that these publications were valued by their readers, who were residents within around half an hour’s drive of Kiplin. Some of these publications were just black and white, so different for us from a design point of view. But we made it work, kept it simple. As well as an ‘advert’ we also offered other content like recipes, write ups, gardening tips, giving free content to these newsletters.

At the end of the day, we had to do a LOT of work at our end to write the content. During 2021 we pitched a regular series with The Northern Echo called An A to Z of Discovery at Kiplin, which was 400-500 words and 3 or 4 photos to create a full-page article. The feature ran each fortnight, so we had a page of coverage every two weeks for a WHOLE YEAR! As you can imagine each article featured an object/person/plant/moment in time, that started with that letter of the alphabet. This theme was really a joy to work with because it could be very specific, for example B is for Bridget Talbot, the last owner of Kiplin Hall. Or more general, for example H is for Heraldry; we talked about stained glass windows and various members of the family in that one. It gave us loads of room to explore our collection. We were also able to publish each article on our blog, so the work that went in fruited twice. The Northern Echo publishes in print and online, so the content was on the web via them too.

Key to this process really is that we do the work to produce content that is basically publication ready. The editors and journalists trust our content and know it is good. And I think now look forward to receiving pieces from us. The second most important element is that this content was not news. It was not a press release. It was feature content specially written for that publication.

This feature ran in conjunction with our normal press releases. It was a lot of work but well worth it. In 2022 this has continued with a couple of smaller series features running at different times in the year. I simply couldn’t keep up with a page a fortnight in the long term as I work two days a week.

You’ve clearly built up a mutually beneficial relationship with your local press contacts. How did you do that?

Trust is very important here; the journalists have come to trust my content as it’s always good quality. I offer draft articles so put in the work without the promise of publication. I expect to do a lot of the work at my end. This includes providing good photos!

Our local papers are smaller in terms of staff than they once were. Journalists can’t always research every story they might want to. But I make it my business to learn about our objects and history. I can then write up content as an ‘expert’ or work with our curator so we can simply pass content onto the press.

We work really hard to keep local journalists on side. I track them down on Twitter and invite them to Kiplin if I’ve not met them before for a coffee and short tour. I often offer complimentary annual family tickets to members of the press. (Some accept and some insist on buying their own). We invite them to previews. If we have unsold tickets for events I would offer them to the press at short notice. Not for the promise of coverage, simply to harbour a good relationship. I send them Christmas cards, that sort of thing. And if someone moves on and a new person takes over, I work hard to build up that rapport again with the new person.

Was there any other marketing activity that formed part of your 2021 campaign?

Alongside the press coverage and local newsletters we continued with our normal marketing, which includes social media, blog, posters, leaflets, email.

I work part-time so I tend to find if I put a lot of energy into press, something has to give elsewhere. Sometimes this can be social media content. When I push harder on socials, I produce less press. I tend to swing between the two priorities depending on the time of year, resources etc. I accept I cannot do it ALL all of the time.

How did the ‘destination on the doorstep’ campaign theme come about?

I think this came out of a zoom meeting with Visit England. They did various sessions in 2020/2021, it’s a bit of a blur but I think they suggested a number of hastags for campaigns. Escape the Everyday and Destination on your Doorstep. We used both but the Doorstep one really gained traction in our organisation because it sits so well with our ethos. It just clicked and quickly grow arms and legs.

What advice would you share with other AIM members on delivering successful local marketing?

Have staff with dedicated responsibility for marketing. Even part time staff can do a lot to make a difference. But it’s not instant. I started working at Kiplin in June 2019 and the relationships I’ve built with journalists have taken time, but because my job is just to do the marketing, I can dedicate time and effort into just that. This summer we’ve had a 5-page spread with the Kitchen Garden magazine. It has taken 2 years to get from an initial pitch to words in print. You have to invest time and effort into these relationships.

If you want to gain editorial coverage you’ve got to give journalists the GOOD STUFF. A press release saying you have an event coming up is essentially just an advert. Editorial and feature content is about stories. And AIM members have so many stories to tell about unique objects/people/places. If you tell readers something amazing, they will want to come and see it for real as a result.

Take good photographs and label them clearly using numbered image captions as listed in your text as file names. Do everything you can to make journalists lives easier. Imagine they get your email and can just copy/paste text and drag and drop the photos into a newspaper page template. If you can do that for them, they will love your content.

Journalists generally have fewer resources than previously so heritage organisations can help fill that gap in the press industry. It’s a big job to fill a daily or weekly newspaper. They need and want your content. Make it easy for them, make your content cost them less time. You will have to put effort in but will reap the rewards.

I also feel it is part of the duty of museums to offer up content to the press. The pages of newspapers can be dark and scary and full of bad news. Museums are places of truth, trust and heritage. This content must be seen in our media to continue to inform, educate, entertain and engage the public with their heritage, informing the present and future for us all.

For more marketing guidance and advice, see our Marketing Success Guide>>

Click here to visit the Kiplin Hall and Gardens website>>

Pictured left to right: Kiplin Hall and Gardens enjoys award-winning status; Grounded in North Yorkshire but making marks around the globe Kiplin has been owned by four families over 400 years who have all made their marks locally and abroad; Kiplin Hall and Gardens is fast becoming known as one of Yorkshire’s sparkling jewels, rather than a hidden gem.