A few months ago, I read an article about a new marketing campaign from Qantas Airlines. The campaign, titled “Stories for Every Journey,” commissioned a series of “custom books” that were the exact length of some of Qantas’s most popular flight routes. I’m not sure why this article has stuck with me, but it has. Perhaps it’s the idea that a marketing campaign resulted in the creation of new literary works? Or maybe thinking about the quantitative analysis that went into deciding exactly how long a book should be for a particular flight route or what subject matter it should have? Probably both of these. But most of all, I think I keep coming back to it because it makes me think about how museums create programs for particular audience demographics.

When we offer an “adult evening lecture” or a “drop-in family program” we have a particular image in mind of who we think this program would appeal to. But are we always right? I myself am an adult museum-goer who enjoys both attending lecture programs AND stopping in at family activities (with or without my family in tow). We’ve also all experienced adults who acted more like children and children who acted more like adults.

Even Texas educators try to become super at times. This is me at our Halloween Spooktacular in 2012.

How, then, do we decide what a program should look like? And how do we know the program has served its purpose once it’s been run? Anybody who has the definitive answers to these questions should be named Super Museum Educator of the Century (some contenders: at the Jewish Museum in Maryland; at the KidSenses Children’s InterACTIVE Museum in North Carolina; or even the picture at right). Until we find this person, I’ll offer just two parts of the puzzle as seen in this example.

First, start with what you know. Qantas’s marketing firm knew about how many words per minute the average person reads and they knew that they wanted to target their Platinum Flyers. They also extrapolated common flight behaviors–namely that someone on a short flight would be likely to read continuously while on a long flight they would take breaks for meals and/or sleeping.

Then, take the risk and jump. Commission some interesting art for the book covers, pick topics and go for it. We can only analyze our planning so much before we just need to act. Will it always work? Nope. But even if our main take away from a new program is a nearly empty room, we still have the chance to learn something about our audience and our institution. Who knows? Maybe the next thing we see is a return to free checked bags and more leg room. Stranger things have happened.