Here at The Audience Agency, we talk a lot about audience development and how important it is for cultural organisations, but actually sitting down and getting on with it can feel like quite a daunting task if you haven’t had to do it before. With that in mind, we spoke with our friendly team of consultants to find out their top tips for making audience development that little bit less scary....
- Get everybody involved
- Talk to your audience and listen when they respond
- Use the insights you have and have access to
- You are not alone
- Remember it’s all about what you do and why you do it
In our experience, the best audience development plans are those where the whole organisation has been involved, not just the team or individual where the work 'sits'. Ensuring that everyone - from the front of house staff through to the CEO - shares audience ambitions, understands why the plan exists, what their responsibilities are will make it much more likely that the plan can be embedded at all levels and be successful.
Audience development isn’t a finite project but an ongoing discussion with the most important people at your organisation; your audience. Enabling them to contribute to the conversation as well as you understanding what their perception is of your organisation helps you to understand what matters most to your audience. However, talking isn’t enough; you need to be prepared to listen to what they say and if necessary make changes that reflect their needs as well as your own.
Don’t assume that you know your audience. They’ll change over time and having data, and, more importantly, the insights that can be gathered from that data, will back up your theories to help you to build a strong evidence based case for developing audiences in a way which reflects your organisation’s offer and values.
If you’ve collected data about your audiences: brilliant! You can use this in all sorts of ways to understand more about your audience; you could segment them to understand the needs of different audience groups, discover what they are (and are not) coming to, map patterns of attendance, and begin to measure your successes, and that’s just scratching the surface.
If you’ve not collected data about your audiences: don't worry! There are lots of resources out there that can provide insight about the likely behaviours of your audience as well as the likely behaviours of the population of your area in general. Audience Finder has tonnes of free insights based on what we’ve learnt over the last few years about different audiences and artforms. Or you might look to Area Profile Reports, which provide information about the population in your local area to understand the market potential.
Through all of this, regardless of what data you hold, remember that in your organisation there will be people who really understand and know your community. They can help you make the right decisions about what development means and also help spread the word, so that you’re doing the right things to engage new people and/or deepen engagement with existing audiences.
There is no magic audience development wand that can make you achieve your goals overnight. So don't beat yourself up about it! Audience Development has at its heart the idea of growth and change - new relationships, new kinds of engagement. Change takes time, so be realistic, and communicate progress to keep your colleagues on-board. It can sometimes feel disheartening if change isn’t happening 'fast' enough, but hold firm, stay focused and share successes and news to keep staff involved and engaged.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you’re the only organisation going through this process, especially if it’s the first time you’ve really had to focus on audience development. That's where the experience of colleagues and support comes in handy. Make time for conversation and reflection, and give yourself the space to learn from the successes and mistakes of others. Whether that’s reading articles and blogs (like this one!), attending events with other arts professionals, or talking to someone here at The Audience Agency, using the knowledge and contacts that you have access to will make the process that much easier.
Your audience development plan is all about what your organisation does and who it does it for. It is a business plan for engaging more and new people, so it should have all the familiar parts - purpose, goals, ambition, intended impacts and objectives (whichever are relevant). Your audience development plan should tell a (your) story – who you have engaged in the past and who you now want to develop or reach and why (using evidence).
Your strategies are the selection of activities which are mostly likely to engage the people you want to in order to achieve your ambition.
Finally, it's a learning process. Evaluation and review will give your plan necessary robustness and flexibility. The ultimate test is – does it enable you to realise your organisational mission and vision, and vice versa? Ask yourself, do your mission, vision and business strategies filter throughout your audience development plan?
These tips should help set you on your way, but if you would like to talk to one of our consultants, contact us to find out more about ways we can support you and your organisation.
Evaluating a Salford cultural and education partnership which co-creates theatre with children and young people.
How The Audience Agency is innovating to help art galleries find out more about their visitors in a fun and interactive digital way.