The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Fitzwilliam Museum case study Cambridge

Maintaining visitor interest and footfall during construction and closure


Following a successful fundraising programme the Fitzwilliam Museum undertook a major building project to transform its open Courtyard into a closed space offering educational, research and visitor facilities over three floors. This led to the Fitz, as it is affectionately known, becoming a major construction site over a period of two-three years.




Copywriting, Event management, Internal communication, Media Relations, Public affairs


Two distinct briefs followed the progress of construction works

  1. In Cambridge the client needed to communicate clearly to visitors and educational establishments and all users of the Museum that the galleries and research facilities remained open. Later, a clear information programme on the unavoidable closure of the Museum took over, which was then succeeded by the final stage of the reopening of the Museum and the key celebrations. The PR communications programme for Cambridge was expected to encompass all these phases and keep the Fitzwilliam front of mind as an active member of the Cambridge community despite the construction work.
  2. The second brief was to use the new-build at the Fitzwilliam and its enhancement of the Museum as the focus of national interest, to raise the profile of the Fitzwilliam as the repository of one of the world’s finest decorative arts collections. The brief was to achieve maximum coverage at local, regional and national levels of the reopening, through all forms of media, to increase the number of visitors.

The strategy

  1. This was an example of putting in place an overarching, rounded PR programme that monitored and communicated constantly the activity at the Fitzwilliam from the dual perspective of the Museum: 1) as part of the University of Cambridge and 2) from the perspective of the Cambridge community. A crucial pre-requisite was to know well in advance of any activity or change in schedule that would have an impact upon Cambridge. Working at senior management level in the Fitzwilliam, this was reasonably straightforward to achieve. Rather more complicated was assessing how different groups of residents would react to these activities and to the inevitable periodic disruption both within and beyond the Museum that these activities brought with them. Clear communication minimised crises.
  2. Key to achieving the desired outcome of heightened recognition of the Fitzwilliam at national level and beyond was appreciating that it takes time to capture the attention of those individuals in the media and in public life who can influence public opinion. As early as the pre-construction phase, plans were being formulated about the re-opening and how and whom we should try and involve.

In the case of the Fitzwilliam we decided to approach Cambridge University alumni, now leading figures in the Arts world, who were receptive to being interviewed or to writing an article, or happy to provide a comment for inclusion in a press pack. Their personalities and their reactions gave life to the profile of the Fitzwilliam, helping define the Museum to those hearing about it for the first time.

Sustaining interest in the Fitzwilliam and converting media coverage into footfall was achieved by giving the re-opening event a dual purpose. It not only showed off the finished building but also launched a major Impressionist exhibition in one of the new galleries, with paintings and sculptures brought together from major museums and art galleries worldwide.


Cambridge took ownership of its Fitzwilliam Museum and followed the construction process with interest through a series of articles and interviews in the local media, visiting in large numbers when the new Courtyard opened.

Not a single complaint or objection was received.

Coverage at the time of the re-opening was achieved at national newspaper, radio and television level as well as in both specialist arts and general interest magazines. The Museum today enjoys appropriate recognition for its fine collections. The Impressionists exhibition was a major success at the time of the reopening and reaffirmed the Fitzwilliam as a leading museum of the decorative arts. The Fitzwilliam’s marketing team seized the opportunity of the Museum being in the spotlight and over a number of years, have built the profile of The Fitzwilliam to where it is today. In 2016, the Fitz celebrated its 200th anniversary, marked by a visit by The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Note. Phillips Profile has also been instrumental in helping other museums and galleries wishing to raise their profiles, amongst them:

York City Art Gallery

Smith Art Gallery, Stirling

Lydiard House, Swindon

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holburne Museum for decorative arts, Bath

Newstead Abbey, home of Lord Byron, Nottinghamshire