Maximise publicity using networks

So, you've bought that old and mysterious property and have decided to share it with the country before restoring it and moving in. You've registered it for Heritage Open Days, online or posted off your form. Now what? How are you going to get noticed as one site among the thousands of others in the country?

© Jim Herbert - Lions House Allotments in Berwick upon Tweed

Well, you've already discovered the one publicity tool that's common to us all; the Heritage Open Days team. Katja, Sarah and Nicola are busy getting your information on the national website and you might get a name check on this blog too!  They also help you by sending you a pack of posters and balloons and the like. Use them to make sure that people trying to visit your site can find it. If your venue is a little off the beaten track, make sure you clearly signpost it to direct visitors to the site. Perhaps laminate the posters to make them more durable in bad weather.

But what else? Between the national publicity and your poster there are many publicity opportunities if you know where to look.  By way of illustration I'll talk about how Heritage Open Days works in Northumberland where I work. Different parts of the country will operate in slightly different ways I have no doubt. This is not necessarily the only way to do things and if anyone can think of something I've missed, post a comment; I'd love to hear how everyone else does it.

Big is beautiful

As Heritage Developement Officer I'm in regular contact with the national Heritage Open Days team and get the information about all registered sites in Northumberland and then work with my colleagues at Northumberland County Council in the Graphics, Web, Tourism and Communications teams to get the information out there at a county level. This year we are producing a booklet that will be distributed to all our Tourist Information Centres, Libraries, Art Centres and Museums as well as other visitor attractions in Northumberland and any number of smaller local outlets. I am hoping to work with the web team to produce a mini-site within the main county website devoted to the event. The booklet is in production now, but an updated version with later entries will be there as a download.

Our Communications team will be doing a series of press releases to the regional and local papers, TV and radio stations in the North East and Scotland. This will culminate in a big press launch at a new Heritage Open Days venue. Last year we had excellent TV coverage. It all depends what stories are breaking on the day but it would be a massive boost if we manage to attract the cameras.

Leading locally

Northumberland is a huge rolling landscape of heritage from all periods, reflecting all our ancestors' pasts, but the county's size can be a problem. I rely on local networks to help me as local people know their areas best. Woodhorn Museum and Archives operate three other museums in Northumberland at Berwick, Morpeth and Hexham. These are obvious starting points to centre any Heritage Open Days activity around, but there are other local organisations, both 'professional' and 'amateur'.

The Berwick Civic Society has been involved in the scheme and done great work for years. Their members register and operate about a dozen sites in Berwick and Tweedmouth. Similarly, the Greater Morpeth Development Trust is a hive of activity with some really new ideas. In the south-east there's a great bunch of volunteers who have set up Blyth Valley Heritage Ltd. Next door to them, the Wansbeck area is co-ordinated by a couple of individuals. These people register their regular events and find new events. They feed this information to me and my colleagues and I make sure they have the latest news from national and county levels.

In Berwick and Blyth, the number of events is so large that the local organising groups produce their own booklets to complement the Northumberland booklet. You might think this is duplication of effort, but I see it as getting two bites of the cherry. A visitor to a Tourist Information Centre is confronted by a vast amount of tempting leaflets, so having two increases the chance of one being spotted. In Berwick, the Civic Society booklet is given out to visitors at each site as a guide to the history of that site but then promotes the other nearby sites.

Smaller 'clusters' of events in neighbouring villages, say, could work together to publicise their events in nearby, larger towns. Rather than have five posters for five events (which may look similar and cause confusion to the potential visitor) club together to produce posters promoting all five events on one poster.  

Network now

Find out about what networks there are in your area and use them. Perhaps go to your local library or museum and find out what history societies or local development trusts exist. They may already co-ordinate other Heritage Open Days venues and will be happy to have you on board. If they don't, you could suggest they do! Or contact your local council. There may well be an officer with a brief for heritage, culture or tourism. If they don't do what I do, it might be that they haven't heard of Heritage Open Days (?!) and could be persuaded about what a great community event it is. Councils like this sort of thing! They should at least be able to advise or have other contacts.

Look at the Heritage Open Days website now it's live, and see what else is going on in your area and create your own local network. It could be concentrated in a town or it could be a trail around the country lanes, linking more isolated events. If there are a lot of listings, you might create a series of themed trails - industrial, faith, open spaces, etc.

Whoever you are and whatever your involvement is in Heritage Open Days, identify what your 'sphere of influence' is and work with the people and organisations around you for maximum impact. Talk to your neighbours, community groups and local government officers and work together for better publicity and a successful Heritage Open Days weekend!

Northumberland networks

Alnwick Area Friends of The Earth

Belford Development Trust

Blyth Battery

Greater Morpeth Development Trust

North Pennines Heritage Trust (Historic Dilston)

Northumberland National Park Authority

Remembering Flodden Project