“Food Inside”

(Reading time: 2m, 21s)

About a month ago, I visited every Florida museum's website and signed up for every newsletter I could find. Since then, I’ve been noticing a lot of email subject lines like this in my inbox:

Museum newsletter subject lines
  • “Here’s what’s happening at our museum”

  • “Museum News”

  • “Exhibition Opening”

  • “Events this week/month”

What’s the real world equivalent? How would these subject lines function in a physical environment?

Imagine you’re walking by a restaurant and notice a sign outside. The restaurant wants you to see the sign and be motivated to walk inside, look at a menu, and order food.

These museum newsletters work the same way. The museum wants people to read the subject line, open the email, and then click through to the website to buy tickets or become a member or make a donation. Sure, they want people to come to the museum, but in terms of what can be done in that moment, a visit to the website and some transaction would be an ideal, immediate outcome.

So, these generic email subject lines are like walking by a restaurant with a sign outside that says, “June Menu”.

And that’s all.

Or maybe the sign would say, “Menu Change | This Saturday”.

Sandwich board that says “Food inside”.

Doesn’t exactly make your mouth water, does it?

You might wonder if the person who wrote the sign was feeling ok. Maybe it’s their last day before they move on to a more exciting job elsewhere.

I recently opened one of these emails announcing a new exhibition and had to scroll halfway down just to find the name of the artist and exhibition — like walking into a restaurant and having to go to the bathroom to read the menu.

To be fair, I can understand why this pattern might seem reasonable. If you have a lot of events going on all the time, it might seem unfair or inaccurate to highlight just one in the subject line. And the obvious alternative would be to create a different email for each event, but what if you then wind up sending too many emails and people unsubscribe?

There are a few ways to address that problem like better segmentation and list management — but my gut tells me a lot of these organizations may not be weighing these questions.

I think a lot of these museums have enough mailing list members to be testing subject lines. Have they done so and subject lines like “June Events” result in more opens/clicks/sales than a more creative and specific subject?

Tell me if you disagree, but I doubt that’s what’s happening here.

So, why is there so little creative energy in these subject lines?

Is it that the people who write the newsletters don’t feel empowered to make creative decisions? Are they devoting their time and attention elsewhere? Maybe they see better results by paying Facebook to get this content in front of followers? But how would they even know when many aren’t using analytics to compare the impact of these different channels?

I’d really like to hear from you about this. Why do these organizations not seem to be testing alternatives? Museum folks know as well as anyone how hard it is to get people’s attention these days — they understand how valuable that attention can be.

Why are these organizations showing up in people’s inboxes as if they were the only ones there?

Hit reply and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen