MMFA: How to make visitors to come (back)?

This has all to do with the job of Jean-Sébastien Bélanger at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The MMFA has encountered, since the beginning of the year, an outstanding success. This success is, of course, due to programming and collections exhibits, but not only.

Jean-Sébastien Bélanger - crédit Aude Mathey Culture et Communication

Jean-Sébastien Bélanger – crédit Aude Mathey Culture et Communication

Jean-Sébastien Bélanger is Head of membership  and customer service. He is the contact person regarding marketing to general public and members.
Jean-Sébastien has followed a pretty unusal carreer since he graduated in Political Science from UQAM. Long fascinated by the museum – at that time, Culture was financed and developed by the english-speaking part of the city, he tried to appy. Unfortunately, in these days, in 1991, Quebec was experiencing a big economic crisis and the only position to which Jean-Sébastien could access was the store clerck. He got quickly promoted to supervisor and then assistant to development and membership. He is now in charge of the entire marketing strategy for  “mass” public as he says.

It is therefore one of the architects who contributed to the success of MMFA.

Overcoming successive declines of grants

The Department of development and membership has found its purpose very quickly with successive cuts of subsidies for twenty years. With a museum that become more and more successful with the new deployment of its collections, exhibitions and new invited artists and speakers, thanks to the momentum of Nathalie Bondil, the budget of operations had increased drastically, which was unfortunately not the case subsidies.

The museum had therefore to rely primarily on self-financing.

After several cuts in personnel and having taken new measures to increase the productivity of the remaining teams, the MMFA had to set up different strategies designed to increase the number of (paying) members.

Redesigning existing strategies

Historically, it was the members who created the museum. At the time, culture was perceived as coming from the English-speaking part of Montreal (richer), especially since the museum was located in this district of the city (west of McGill). These members were to become as people who had an advisory opinion on the museum and participated in the annual campaign.

It took the museum to expand its members while also retaining the existing ones and deleting transactions that were too expensive to keep producing them and that were not really related to the museum anymore. The MMFA has therefore developed a membership strategy by (re)focusing on its expertise: the collections, educational programs, valuing its members and networking.

In order to reach these objectives, the museum has successively:

  • deleted to free access to its permanent collection (the museum started to charge for these collections in April 1th, 2014 which led to no impact on visits);
  • simplified grid subscriptions (now 5 offers);
  • removed popular events such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day;
  • established visits of large collection (for members) followed by a cocktail;
  • implemented an introductory visit so members have the impression maximize their subscription;
  • created previews of some shows with personalities (artists or speakers);
  • transformed the member magazine into an art journal but accessible to neophytes;
  • created noon-express tours;
  • opened online subscription.

Members enjoy now a VIP online space, the contents (visits, noon-express, etc.) are developed closely with the director of education and cultural activities. Indeed, so as to provide visiting services and relevant content to its subscribers, it seemed natural that the two departments worked together.

In marketing, simplifiying categories is not as obvious. Too many offers usually mislead visitors and clients and don’t lead to a good conversion rate.

The MMFA had run lots of tests and surveys to create and define these 5 offers. The term VIP (developed by the museum agency) also had a strong and positive impact with members, especially the younger ones who got quickly the impression of being part of a small circle (as big as 88,000 members). Finally, only members of 30 years old and less can benefit from an offer based on their age.vAccording to Jean-Sébastien, the eldest group is relatively complex to manage (they actually don’t always want always give their age) and is also likely to spend a lot in membership subscriptions.

The challenge was to capture younger populations, lured by loyalty and pricing.

This category  also presents a special feature. They move regularly and since a lower price is deciding factor, the museum has created an offer bespoke online only, allowing them to benefit from special rates.

Thus, in a very short time, the MMFA has increased from 2,000 to 11,000 members, without any advertising, word-of-mouth had done the rest. Finally, using specific softwares (CRM) and various tools developed by the museum helped to increase productivity.

Winning and retaining its public

Aside from telemarketers who were once widely used, but unfortunately abandoned for cost reasons, the museum has implemented some well-known strategies from the private sector.


When Jean-Sébastien Bélanger mentioned winback (which means to redirect a member who wants to cancel to a special department that will do everything to keep him).

So when a customer wants to cancel his VIP museum pass, he is sent to an agent who offers him 1 or 2 generic promotions. This agent cannot close the account without offering the customer all the promotions it enjoys.

The telemarketing service was mainly used for renewals (these are not automatic). The outbound prospection functioned poorly. Thus the museum has redefined the role of agents receptions.

Acquiring members at the ticket desk

The majority of acquisitions by Jean-Sébastien Bélanger actually perform at the reception anf ticket desk. Sales reps are dressed as museum agents but are paid on commission. Those are also located at the members desk. These agents are dedicated to persuade visitors to take a subscription rather than buying a single ticket (about $ 14). Their mission is not to target tourists spree (the museum would lose money and it would lower the retention rate of the service of Jean-Sébastien), but rather local families, youth groups or couples .

This strategy is still the one that works best. And to have been addressed (and convinced) at MoMA, I can point out that I really made ​​a good deal.


Yes, the museum is still using the old good direct mail solution. Although quite expensive, the museum sent letters to former subscribers, contact lists and also to currentsubscribers so they can receive their magazine.

Finally regarding social networks, their mission is only to inform th public. There is no (or little) conversion this way.

And what about web?

The museum does not have a dedicated page for its members on Facebook. The Facebook account is not in fact intended to be conversational but is just another way for the museum to inform its public (what a shame …).

However, the new site has been developed with the aim of developing subscribers. It is possible to register online, members can watch live and pre-recorded lectures (which works very well with young people, families and Baby Boomers). The magazine, however, is not available onmine because of the licenses prices which the museul cannot afford. The site new version, with regards to marketing, was dedicated to enrich the customer experience and to offer them more content but also to gain hands on their subscription management. The site will be fully responsive by the end of 2015.

What additional revenue to expect?

With now 88,000 members, the MMFA does not have much maneuvering to expand the number of its subscribers.

It is however necessary to develop new sources of income. Subscribers are thus required to pay if they want additional services or simply donate.

They are also contacted for the Annual Giving campaign and for several special projects all along the year. All donations over $ 1,000 are managed by the Foundation. It is good to remember that donations are 100% tax deductible. The Cercle des Jeunes Philanthropes has been established to build up the next generation of donors for the museum.

After such a review, we can only wish good luck to the Museum of Fine Arts. And you, what strategy have you implemented?

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One Comment

  1. MMFA: Diversifying its publics | Culture and Communications
    26 November 2014 at 01:43 Reply

    […] two indeed do offer no content and therefore regularly contact Mr .Murra’s department. Thus VIP members enjoy reserved museum activities, such as guided tours which actually work very well. The Department of Education and Cultural […]

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