English Heritage welcomes millions of visitors to hundreds of historic sites every year. They can take selfies at Stonehenge, watch thrilling jousts at Dover Castle, explore the grandeur of Queen Victoria’s island getaway or soak up the stillness at Rievaulx Abbey. Each year we invest in better experiences, host hundreds of events and find new ways to bring history to life for as many people as possible.
But we don’t simply operate tourist attractions. We’re also a major heritage conservation charity with a duty to protect, promote and preserve the sites and artefacts in our care. All the money we raise goes directly into caring for these precious, irreplaceable pieces of the past.
That’s been true for decades – English Heritage has existed since the early 1980s, and our roots actually go back to 1882, when the government first began taking sites into state care. Until 2015 we were part of a government agency, but in that year we became an independent charity, given the task of becoming fully self-funding. That challenge has been invigorating and has helped us to become a more ambitious, modern, creative and playful organisation.
We’ve made award-winning interventions at sites like the bridge at Tintagel, launched fun innovative events including Enchanted Christmas and our summer blockbuster events, as well as developing larger-scale promotional partnerships to get the brand out there in places where you wouldn’t expect to see it. We’ve found our voice when it comes to advocating for our cause, embraced a vast range of commercial opportunities and strengthened and solidified our brand. Working together with partners has undoubtedly helped us reach larger audiences and provided us with a great platform to tell our story.
We start by focusing on brands that we think would be a good fit with our brand and our target audience. Getting that right is a basic, but absolutely vital part of a successful brand partnership.
And it’s worked. Our member base has grown by 28% from 2015 to 2020, to over one million today, and our visitor numbers grew above target year-on-year – at least, that is, until the pandemic struck. Lockdowns and a sharp drop in inbound tourism have undoubtedly been a challenge for us, as they have been for everyone, but we’ve come an awfully long way in quite a short space of time.
There’s still more to do, however. And, although it’s an organisation-wide effort, our brand partnerships play their part in expanding our reach and exciting new generations about history with the fascinating stories our sites tell. They’re the perfect opportunity for both brands within the partnership to increase awareness, reach new customers and generate incremental revenue.
Essentially, we design every brand partnership to create impactful, relevant and effective campaigns which deliver on at least two of our commercial objectives: raising brand awareness, recruiting new members, adding value to existing members and driving new visitors to our historic sites.
When we’re identifying leads, we start by focusing on brands that we think would be a good fit with our brand and our target audience. Getting that right is a basic, but absolutely vital part of a successful brand partnership, and it’s something we always bear in mind. If there isn’t a good fit, then the partnership simply won’t thrive in the long run.
Beyond that, when planning what the campaign entails, there’s a huge amount of scope for variety and creativity. We’ve created on-site kids’ activities with major film studios, run interactive workshops with a premium chocolate brand and offered free passes to a media company’s VIP customers. And with our customer base and our unique collection of hundreds of fascinating historic sites, there’s still so much untapped potential.
Three examples of marketing partnerships
We’ve recently run a brilliant partnership with Country Life, one of the UK’s best-loved brands of butter. We offered a two-for-one promotion on tickets to our sites, which ran on over 25 million promotional packs. We spread awareness with bespoke retailer activations in-store and online, and worked with Country Life on online content. Although we can’t go into the numbers, we were delighted with the uptake, and Country Life relished the opportunity to reward its customers and engage with new audiences – especially those who got back into cooking and baking during the pandemic.
The partnership was successful because of the strength of the offer, but also because our brands are aligned. We’re both proudly British brands with a reputation for quality and authenticity – two of our core brand values.
Our members’ rewards programme launched in 2018 and has been a great success, with thousands of our members redeeming great deals and discounts from a fantastic range of quality brands. We promote it through our 330,000-strong email list and our Members’ Magazine, which goes to nearly half a million households four times a year.
Again, it’s win-win-win – we raise money for our charity, our partner brands get sales, and our members get deals on everything from food to fashion and holidays to homeware. It also gives them another reason to renew their membership with us, and helps us recruit more members. So far we’ve created about 450 offers and achieved nearly 80,000 redemptions. Our partners’ revenue has grown by 64% since launch, and our own income has grown 27% year-on-year.
We’ve been partnering with Tesco Clubcard for nearly two decades, and we’ve welcomed thousands of new members through the scheme. With its vast customer base, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to increase awareness, particularly among our key family audience. It also gives us the chance to position ourselves alongside other top attractions as an organisation that offers fun, wholesome days out for all the family.