The Orsay Museum (A) (B) - The Art of Marketing and The Marketing of Art

The Orsay Museum’s collection of 6,000 paintings and sculpture has become an essential part of any Parisian cultural tour. Its traditional approach to promotion and marketing, however, was called into question in the late 90s when other major Parisian museums began revising their tactics and creating departments dedicated to marketing and tourism. The Orsay Museum (A & B) by Helmut Schutte and Marci Garber Hawawini, examines the reassessment and evolution of its marketing strategy.

by Hellmut Schütte
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

When analyzing visitor attendance, the Orsay Museum had identified three segments of its population whose behavior and tastes differed according to geographic origin: Parisians, provincials and foreigners. What the team at Orsay observed in 1999 was that the number of Japanese visitors was diminishing and that there was an increasingly overwhelming American presence. Orsay was convinced that it was time to develop a new visitor strategy. This two part case, The Orsay Museum (A & B), by Helmut Schutte, Senior Affiliate Professor of International Management, and Marci Garber Hawawini, examines the process of reassessment and change in its marketing strategy.

The first initiative of the marketing team at Orsay was to create a department dedicated to tourism to define and implement an appropriate marketing strategy on different fronts. The team contacted members of SNAV, the Association of French Travel Agencies, and eventually selected 10 to visit. Overall, the visits were received with great enthusiasm. One agent exclaimed, “You are the first museum ever to come and see me – it is a wonderful initiative on your part and you should continue.” Orsay also decided to join Maison de la France (the French Government Tourist Office devoted to the promotion of French culture), thus enabling it to be represented at various international trade fairs and workshops. In 2001, Orsay successfully hosted the annual meeting of Maison de la France’s Culture Club and the gala evening of the ‘Rendez-Vous Paris’ tourism fair.

Convinced that America represented a large and perhaps untapped market, the Orsay team conducted two market research studies in the Spring of 2000: a telephone survey of a selection of American tour operators, and a further survey of visitors conducted over a three-week period in June when the greatest volume of American tourists was expected. The museum continued to develop its positioning and marketing mix on the basis of this research and its ongoing work with tourist associations.

In 1998 1,840,000 visitors had visited the Orsay museum. In 2001, after the events of September 11, American tourism collapsed and visitor numbers fell to 1,088,000. As the head of Orsay’s marketing team put it: “A museum is an offer of leisure like any other. It is its positioning that makes it unique and which opens the door by which one enters and then makes his choice.” Had the Orsay marketing team got the marketing mix wrong? Was their positioning right? Had they put all their eggs in one basket and should they cut their losses and aim at a different segment to survive the crisis?

This case, split into two parts, is suitable for managers, marketing managers and senior executives. It examines the development of one institution’s marketing mix and the positioning of its offering in accordance with its visitor profile, exploring the logic of this strategy and the measures taken to ensure successful implementation. Subsequently, it follows the necessary reexamination of its market positioning given the changes in the political climate following the events of September 11 when the drastic decline in the number of customers visiting the institution seemed to cast doubt upon the efficacy of the marketing mix. The case provides key lessons for future marketing relationships and strategy, providing particular learning points for crisis marketing efforts.


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