By David Makowsky, Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village
Journalists have a tremendous influence in shaping a visitor’s decisions on what to include on their “must do” list. In today’s digital age, a photo or article conveying a museum’s story can raise the public awareness of the institution. The return on investment can be tremendous. For example, every dollar that a museum spends in hosting a media visit generates at least $30 back in terms of unpaid editorial media coverage.
Like a first date, historical interpreters only have one chance to make the right first and lasting impression. Done right, the relationship between the museum and the journalist can extend the reach of the potential audience and generate visitation to the museum.
An essential element in successful media relations at living history museums is that historical interpreters understand who the media’s audience is. The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, other living history museums, as well as attractions across Canada, have benefited from research conducted by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) to develop a spectrum of traveler type personas. There are nine Explorer Quotient (EQ) personas with a description listing each type of traveler, what they seek when then travel and the type of activities that would interest them. The CTC website has a quiz that individuals can take to discover what traveler type they are.
When the journalist arrives at the museum, historical interpreters must remember that they are storytellers who want the museum’s stories to stand above the other events happening in the day. They should present themselves and their historic environment like an outline to an interesting book. The introduction should be a summary of their activities through one or two sentences to hook the journalist and his audience to the rest of the story. Where possible, introduce interesting characters and drama that elicit an emotional response; perhaps the museum is celebrating an anniversary or special event that can be highlighted in the information conveyed. Invite the journalist to participate in a historical activity; however, ensure that this type of learning or experiential opportunity can also be available for the journalist’s audiences who visit the museum as well. The historical interpreter should also provide a brief conclusion at the end, summarizing in one or two sentences how this activity or historic environment is intertwined in the fabric of the museum’s theme. This concise approach is often different from the dialogue that occurs with visitors. Therefore, historical interpreters should practice delivering key points in one or two sentences to make their final thoughts quotable in print, audio or digital formats. If conversations with visitors are like essays, then communication with media is the multiple-choice exam.
Positive media relations is an increasingly important tool for a living history museum to use to convey what it preserves, protects and presents to audiences around the world. Often times, there is only one opportunity to give the right first impression to the visiting journalist. When both sides are prepared to embrace the media visit, this experience can be a lot of fun for all!
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared as: David Makowsky, “To Arms, To Arms… the Media are Coming!” in Carol Kennis Lopez, ed., Proceedings of the 2012 ALHFAM Conference & Annual Meeting, 64-72.
 Helena Katz, Travel Alberta Media Relations Workbook (Fort Smith: Katz Communications). [Publication no longer available]
 This is now Destination Canada.