Reaching out to New Audiences

Page 1

The voice of the Voluntary Arts

Reaching out to new audiences Attracting new people is important for most groups. It can provide financial security, expand participation in the arts and crafts in your area and allow you to meet the objectives set out in your constitution and/or funding agreements. The process of getting new people in through the door, and the lasting relationship you have with them once they’re in, is called ‘audience development’. This briefing will explain how the principles of audience development can be useful to your voluntary arts group.

Definitions Audience – this term is commonly used to refer to the people who come to watch a show or concert, but it can also be applied more widely to festival-goers, gallery visitors, workshop participants, and people involved in running the group, funders and local policy-makers. This briefing can be applied to audiences in the widest sense. Audience development – this covers a number of different approaches to how groups relate to their current and potential audiences. It includes increasing the number of people coming in through the doors, appealing to specific sections of the community, improving the experience of the audience and creating a long-term relationship. This briefing focuses on getting new people involved, which is often the initial stage of the audience development process. The following sections will explain why audience development is a worthwhile investment of time, money and resources. It will provide guidance on how to set your priorities, think about who your new audiences might be and create a plan to engage with them for long-term benefit. It will also look at how to make sure the process is working effectively.

A. Why do it? If you sell tickets for shows, concerts or events, the financial benefits might be foremost in your mind, but audience development activity is not just about making money. Although it often helps organisations become more financially sustainable, there are many other reasons to change or extend who you are engaging with and how you engage with them. Voluntary arts organisations are often already very good at attracting new audiences! Nevertheless, it is useful to be very clear about the benefits of your investment in good audience development work. For example: • you increase your impact by connecting with more people more often; • you improve your audience’s knowledge, experience and appreciation of the arts and crafts, and in doing this, increase their enjoyment, and the likelihood they’ll take part again; • you become more sustainable as you have a stronger base which will enable you to plan more effectively for the future; • you meet your own social or community objectives and those of your funders and partners – what’s more, you can show them how well you are doing this; • you generate more sales and more opportunities for funding as you become more attractive to potential funders, sponsors and patrons; • you have a close relationship with a wider range of people, who bring with them new artistic challenges and possibilities. Groups that are good at audience development tend to be outward looking, responding well to the needs of their communities. They balance a clear understanding of their own purpose with an openness to be influenced by their current or



122 2008

VAN Briefing


potential audiences. This outlook keeps groups fresh, and helps them to be sustainable in the long term. For example: A folk music group meets in a village hall in an area where there are a lot of migrant workers. By speaking personally to people from this new community, the committee members encourage several of them to come to an evening concert. Following this, some of the new audience members join the group and bring new folk songs from their own culture. The group welcomes this opportunity and enjoys learning a new repertoire. They continue to attract new singers and audience members from the new arrivals. Before you can start your audience development work you need to be clear on which parts of the community you wish to target. For example, there might be specific sections that are under-represented in your group. Previous VAN briefings can help you identify the sort of techniques you might use to engage with different groups – see VAN Briefing111– How inclusive are you?; 104 – Older people and the voluntary arts; 94 – Cultural diversity and the voluntary arts; and 90 – Young adults and the voluntary arts.

B. Planning There are many approaches to audience development. A few examples include: • Creating interest – an artisan blacksmith might decide to undertake tours/visits/workshops in order to generate enough interest in the art form to prove to funders that there would be support for building a training workshop. Not only will this get more people involved, if the funding is awarded it will also increase the capacity, allowing even more people to participate in the future. • Creating expertise – a choir specialising in rarely heard works might decide to produce detailed information about the pieces in the form of a pamphlet. This could be mailed to potential audience members before the concert to ensure that they are as informed as the performers, and therefore have more of an incentive to come. • Branching out – a specialist dancing group might decide to develop a children’s dancing session so that they can find the enthusiasts, participants and audience members of the future. As these three examples show, audience development actually starts when you begin planning your show, event or workshop. To attract new audiences you have to consider which changes might help make people feel that you really do have something

to offer them, and are truly welcoming. Things to consider: • Your artistic product – is it time to experiment with the sort of art you deliver? For example, a jazz festival could consider including some jazz-inspired world music performers to widen its repertoire and attract a more diverse audience. • Your publicity and marketing – do your marketing materials really appeal to the sort of audiences you are trying to reach? You could consider new places to display them or using alternative formats. For example, an art market may want to attract younger visitors. By changing their publicity material to show young artists, potential audiences (including young people or those that work with young people) can see that a wide range of work will be on display. • Your venue – think about where your activity happens. For example, not everyone will be comfortable attending a craft workshop in a church hall, even if the event is not connected with the church. Consider changing the venue or holding alternative events elsewhere. Also think about details such as car parking, whether the access is good for people with disabilities, whether the space is a comfortable temperature and whether appropriate refreshments are available. • The cost – have you considered how much your activity costs compared to other arts activities? Have you also compared the pricing to other leisure activities such as going to the cinema, sports classes or eating out. Are you asking people to pay a lot of money up-front (e.g. term fees) before they are even sure if they are going to like what you offer? • How approachable are you? – people can be very scared of doing new things. Think of something new that you’ve done recently and all the anxieties you might have had, and how easy it would have been to be put off. You should consider how people are welcomed when they first contact you or when they attend for the first time. If you are selling tickets through a third-party box office, you need to make sure that the people actually selling the tickets know enough about you to represent your group properly.

C.Your organisation The aim of audience development is to form lasting relationships with new and different groups of people. The critical factor in this sort of work is that in order to really engage with different people you often have to be different yourself. You will be more effective if you are prepared to let your potential new audiences have an impact not only on the way the show, festival or workshop is run, but also on the way


your organisation is run. The following activities will help ensure that you are really connecting with new people. • Review your governance structures – whether you are a formally constituted group with a board of trustees or you are run by an informal committee, you should think about how you can open up to new influences. For example, if you are an organisation that wants to attract younger people, one way to support that change is to make sure that you have younger people on your committee, and that their suggestions are given full consideration and tried out where possible. • Ask yourself difficult questions – and review the things you take ‘as read.’ For example, if your orchestra has always employed the same conductor, is it time for a change, or to ask the conductor to try something new? Commit to forming new partnerships – it is often • difficult to make changes on your own. Working with others can give you the freedom to try out new things, share the financial risk and increase your impact.

There is no point in collecting information if you are not going to use it, so before you plan how you are going to gather the data, make sure you also know what you will do with it. Qualitative data can be very useful in: • advocacy work – you can use it to bring your events to life and show the difference you have made to individuals; • evaluation reports – you can present a rounded picture of your achievements, and show funders how you meet their targets; • marketing materials – because sharing great experiences makes other people want to enjoy them too; • team building – it is easy to get commitment and generate enthusiasm when people know that what they do is appreciated and bringing real rewards; • planning – because you will know when you have had a real success, and when your efforts aren’t paying off.

D. Is it working?

We often tend to count our successes with audiences in numeric terms (known as quantitative information), monitoring how many people attended/participated/visited/experienced the work and how much was generated through ticket sales. To monitor and evaluate your audience development achievements, you also need to know who came, why they came and what they got out of the experience (this is known as qualitative information). Using both types of data together can help you understand the impact of your group’s activities. It can also help you to generate funding, especially where funders are interested in achieving social targets (such as community cohesion) or educative targets (such as adult learning). Collecting data can seem daunting, but there is lots of help available on how to do it, and it can be very simple. For example, questionnaires are great for collecting numeric data, but they can also be used to find out how the experience made people feel, either by asking multi-choice questions or by allowing them space to give their own opinions. There is value in collecting people’s opinions and feelings spontaneously, for example, when they are leaving an event. You can often gather great quotes when people are leaving a performance buzzing with excitement. It’s also worth considering going back to them some time later and giving them an opportunity to feed back after they have had time to reflect on their experience. See VAN Briefing 80: Monitoring and Evaluation for some straightforward suggestions on how to capture both qualitative and quantitative data.

E. Hints and tips

Be clear about why you are doing it – audience development often requires your group to change, and real change requires commitment and time. Establish clear objectives and involve everyone in this process. When they have contributed to and agreed them, it makes it easier for everyone to support them, and for everyone to understand the benefits of change. Be genuine – audience development is about forming long-term relationships, where you make changes with people, rather than imposing them upon them. People will sense if you are not genuinely interested in them and won’t respond. Only undertake audience development work you really want to do and which you can sustain. Don’t make it hard for yourself – sometimes the temptation is to try to attract an audience that is completely different to the one you already have. It is possible to attract completely new audiences, but you’ll have to change more about yourself to be successful. For your first project, try to identify a new audience that you think you can attract with just a few manageable changes. Be realistic – even if your audience development process isn’t likely to need a lot of money, it will probably need a lot of time, dedication, enthusiasm and energy. Ensure that you have sufficient resources available to dedicate to your idea, and plan a realistic timetable. Make sure you have set achievable targets along the way so that you can monitor your progress and celebrate your success!


First issued with Update 55

Further Resources

Audience development agencies

• •

England Network is a national membership association dedicated to collaborative audience development and marketing. Find links to the English regional audience development agencies on their website – Northern Ireland Audiences Northern Ireland – Republic of Ireland There is no single agency in the Republic, but there are some networks and umbrella organisations providing audience development support. For further information contact – Scotland Glasgow: Glasgow Grows Audiences Ltd – Edinburgh: The Arts Business – Scottish Highlands & Islands: Hi-Arts – some audience development services – Some local authorities run audience development projects. Wales Audiences Wales –

More useful contacts and websites

• •

Taking Part in the Arts – for interesting case studies – Audience Data UK – for a quick guide to using data –

Heritage Lottery Fund – a useful description of audience development – Thinking_about_Audience_development.pdf

Further Reading

• • • •

A Guide to Audience Development by Heather Maitland (Arts Council England) Partnerships for Learning by Felicity Woolf (Arts Council England) This Way Up: A flat-pack guide to marketing the Arts by Caroline Griffin (AMA) Monitoring and Evaluating your Arts Event – Why Bother? A book of ideas and encouragement by David Chamberlain, Melc Llewellyen and Mike Hotson (VAW) and

Acknowledgement Our thanks to Audiences NI who commissioned this briefing on behalf of VAN, and to Caroline Griffin, the author.

Audiences NI 20 Mount Charles, Belfast BT7 1NZ T: 028 9043 6480 E:

Information contained here may go out of date and you are therefore advised to check its currency. Updated information may be available on the VAN website: Disclaimer: Reasonable precautions have been taken to ensure the information in this document is accurate. However, it is not intended to be legally comprehensive; it is designed to provide guidance in good faith at the stated date but without accepting liability. We therefore recommend you take appropriate professional advice before taking action on any of the matters covered herein. © Copyright notice: Unless otherwise stated, all material published by VAN is subject to copyright. However, we do encourage members of the voluntary arts sector to copy and disseminate this material for non-commercial purposes. If you wish to do so, please send details of your requirements to We also ask that you acknowledge VAN, author Caroline Griffin and Audiences NI wherever this material is used.

Do you need this publication in an alternative format? Contact T: 029 20 395 395 E:

The Voluntary Arts Network, Ground floor, 121 Cathedral Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9PH T: 029 20 395 395 E: W: The Voluntary Arts Network is registered in Scotland as Company No. 139147 and Charity No. SC 020345. VAN acknowledges funding from the Arts Councils of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Registered office: 2nd Floor, 54 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7EH.