Event Blog | The Grass Is Always Greener?

A view from the Marketing De Las Artes conference in Madrid...

Well maybe not always. In fact, as my flight touched down in Madrid, the first thing I noticed was just how parched and yellow the countryside around still looked, even at the end of October. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the upper twenties, and Madrid looked anything but ready to surrender to autumn just yet. Having just left a cold, grey and stormy London a couple of hours previously, it felt very much like taking a welcome brief return to the fantastic warmth of this year’s summer. The weather, it turns out, was not the only feature to whet my enthusiasm for this city that I was visiting for the first time.

I was in Madrid to talk about Audience Finder at Asimetrica’s annual arts marketing conference, Marketing De Las Artes. To share The Audience Agency’s experiences and plans for developing and rolling out our Big Data sharing project. The conference theme? ¿Colaboramos? (Shall we collaborate?). What, I thought, could I possibly share to the advantage of this fantastic city that seems to have it all sorted (weather, transport, communications, cuisine) so much better than we do back home? Well, quite a lot, it turns out.

I was aware, travelling out, how acute Spain’s economic challenges are. And I had a good idea, from talking to friends and colleagues, about some of the challenges Spanish cultural organisations face in accessing data about (and therefore, understanding of) their audiences. Few organisations have their own box office systems to record ticketing transactions. Budgets for surveying and researching audiences are stretched to the extreme. Yet, never before have Spain’s cultural organisations needed this information as much as now, in order to help them robustly plan, implement and evaluate strategies to help them grow audiences and become more sustainable and resilient, to evidence their impact and value, and to source new streams of income.

At the Marketing De Las Artes conference I heard some inspiring examples of innovative collaborations that have been highly effective in developing new audiences. I was particularly inspired by Alice Walton’s presentation about the Philharmonia Orchestra’s amazing work with the Science Museum to develop their “Universe of Sound” project that has found genuinely exciting new ways of really engaging people with classical music in a way I’ve never seen before.

Into this context come I to talk about the tools and services that The Audience Agency offers to the cultural sector back home. Most of our performing arts organisations have long had access to a wealth of knowledge about their own audiences through sophisticated ticketing systems. Our “non-ticketed” organisations, largely comprising museums and galleries, are becoming ever more adept, at gathering sample survey data about their audiences and visitors. Profiling tools such as Arts Audiences Insight and Mosaic have become established means for organisations to compare their own audiences with the populations of their local markets.

And now, The Audience Agency is helping organisations to take an even bigger step forward. By pooling audience data through the Audience Finder programme organisations are starting to be able to contextualize where they fit into the wider cultural ecology and specifically how their own audience profile, reach and engagement patterns measure up within the local, art form, sector, regional or national picture.

At the same time as providing this crucial and hitherto unavailable context, the pooled data source is providing us with an audience data warehouse which will give us the opportunity to develop a 360-degree view of arts audiences that has not previously been available. We’ll be able to understand as never before the people’s engagement across the range of organisations, and based not just on their ticketing histories, but also to include the attitudes, motivations and experiences as understood through our national survey framework. Add in to that the work that we’re doing to understand people’s digital engagement and individual giving behaviours, helping the sector to develop and support itself.

Our updated arts based population segmentation and profiling tool (the as yet un-named Arts Audiences Insight 2.0) will bring together all these rich sources of knowledge into a tool which will help users to understand, describe, measure, identify and target the right audience segments more accurately than ever before. We’re aiming to launch our new profiling tool early in 2014. This all adds up to an exciting, comprehensive and fast developing set of resources and opportunities that the first participants are already starting to benefit from and that more and more organisations are becoming engaged with.

Sharing all these developments with colleagues in Spain who don’t have access to anything like, could have the potential to make things feel a bit uncomfortable on all sides, were it not for the underlying ethos of collaboration driving efforts there and here. In Spain you get the feeling that organisations are eager and enthusiastic to work together to develop and exploit such tools to help them build audiences. Here in the UK, arts organisations are already a long way to understanding that the power of the collaborative effort is so much greater than anything that can be achieved individually. This is the very nature of Audience Finder – working together in an open way to develop resources and skills that lead to the greater mutual advantage of our cultural sector organisations and audiences. And we’re happy and eager to share our learning and experiences with colleagues working to the same aims elsewhere.

Keep an eye on these developments or find out how to engage with Audience Finder here.

Leo Sharrock is Head of Data Strategy