Museum Makers: Maxwell Blowfield, press officer, British Museum
This new series highlights the contributions, careers and expertise of museum professionals nationwide. From marketing to retail, front of house to management, our museum makers reveal what goes on behind the scenes of the UK's cultural institutions.
Maxwell Blowfield is currently press officer at the British Museum. Previously, Maxwell was communications officer at Sir John Soane's Museum and marketing assistant at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. Maxwell has a masters in museum studies from University College London.
I’ve been the press officer at the British Museum for nearly a year. It’s flown by, and I’ve already worked on PR campaigns for some diverse projects: from an art exhibition about modern Greece to a partnership with Google that digitally preserved the ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala. I love being able to promote the great work of the museum to the media and to ultimately help us engage more with our audiences.
I began my career in museums by volunteering on the ticket desk at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill. I loved it so I went on to do a few years in museum retail, as well as some duty managing and front-of-house work. They’re often seen as the unglamorous side of museum work but I wouldn’t trade those years in as they gave me such a valuable insight into how museums actually work, and importantly, what visitors want. I knew I ultimately wanted to work in some sort of communications role, so when I saw volunteer position at Sir John Soane’s Museum, I jumped at the chance. I had to do it alongside my full-time job but it was worth it when they eventually offered me a permanent contract. After four great years there it was time to move somewhere bigger.
You can’t over-prepare for an interview. Making sure you know your stuff is a great way to ensure you stand out from the crowd. I spend hours thinking about all possible questions I could get asked and practising my answers. Most of these questions never actually come up but there’ll be plenty of nuggets in all those replies that you will end up using. It’s also important to know as much as you can about the institution you’re applying for. Read the annual reviews, read the latest news articles, watch speeches the director makes. I went into my interview knowing that the British Museum was the place I wanted to work – if they’d have asked me to go through the balance sheet I would have been able to do it. Maybe…
I’m a total news addict and devour stories from the moment I wake up until I go to sleep. By staying informed about what’s in the news and who’s writing what, it really helps me when I’m pitching feature ideas or news stories about the British Museum’s activities. While a typical working day is usually just catching up on emails and following up on enquiries, the best times are when you get a creative idea for a story and a journalist comes back to you and says, 'yes we’d love to run this'.
Getting press coverage for a museum is a huge team effort. It wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and generosity of a whole host of people: from curators and conservators, to front of house and security staff. My role just brings them all together. Thankfully, museums have some of the most dedicated and hardworking staff you could hope for which makes it all a lot easier.
Twitter is such a fantastic resource for my job. I’ve found it useful since the early days of my career. It’s not only a great way to stay informed about the sector, but it’s the best way to network. I’ve met so many amazing museum colleagues through it and everyone helps each other out and supports each other. Just take a look at the #MuseumHour hashtag at 8pm on Mondays to see how collegiate we all are. I’d recommend all emerging museum professionals sign up – at the very least it’s the perfect ice breaker at those awkward conference lunches!
You’ve got to be passionate – not just about museums, but about the media too. Like journalists, what drives you as a PR is a desire to keep people informed and hopefully entertain them along the way. You’ve got to get a thrill by seeing a story you’ve worked on appear in print or on the TV. It’s not a job for people who are just trying to make it as a curator one day.
I just want to keep having the opportunity to learn new things and to continue to challenge myself. I hope to do this for a good while longer at the British Museum – there are some fantastic exhibitions coming up which I can’t wait to get my teeth into. I’ve just run the PR campaign for I object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent, then we’re opening the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries at the end of September.
Maxwell can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @maxwellmuseums.