Attract and widen your audience

Chief Executive at Audiences London, Sarah Boiling talks to Ahram Online about the advisory work of her organisation which provides solutions to many artists and artistic groups worldwide to help them widen their audiences

Published on Thursday 16 Dec 2010 in Ahram Online

Audiences London is an organization which supports cultural groups such as theatres, museums, galleries and orchestras and helps them to attract and widen their audiences. It offers advice to artistic associations and institutions on the methods they need to increase their visibility and to broaden their audience and extend their relationship with them.

They do this using a variety of methods, such as audience research (box office data analysis, audience surveys, etc), workshops, bringing groups and organizations together, sharing and learning together, and broadening partnerships between different groups.

Audiences London has been in business for ten years, and today provides advisory services to renowned art galleries such as the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain, and many theatres and art centres. It is a great reference point not only in London, but the expertise and advice they provide can help many individuals and groups world-wide.

They have a comprehensive website which includes free resources to help build a picture of the target audience and the potential market, communication and sustainable relationships, planning and strategic thinking.

Sarah Boiling, Interim Chief Executive at Audiences London talks to Ahram Online and shares information on how to reach audiences.

Ahram Online (AO): Does your service provide advice only or do you help attract the audiences yourself?

Sarah Boiling (SB): Mainly we give advice and support and the group carries out the campaign – distributing flyers, posters etc. We give them the information that enables them to be successful. We’re considering contributing to campaigning at the moment. So that may soon be a new service we can offer.

AO: Which groups do you work with?

SB: We mainly work with public-funded groups. We don’t often work in the commercial sector or with pop and rock bands. But lots of venues where we work also promote bands for example. Therefore we still have to think about those types of audiences.

AO: Would your advice on strategies differ depending on which type of group you are working with? How do you assess the type of support to offer to groups?

SB: We ask lots of questions. We need to understand what they aim to achieve, who their target audience is and what they already know about them. For some organizations it might be purely about numbers and getting more people buying tickets, while others want to attract families from local areas.

AO: What methods do you usually recommend and would these differ from country to country?

SB: I don’t think the methods would differ much. The funding situation might be different, but the secret is to make your cultural event relevant and attractive to audiences, to maximize the relationship. If you want to engage people the first thing you need to do is to understand where your audience are coming from and define who you still want to reach. Making assumptions does not necessarily bring good results.

This is why we always ask the same question: “What do you know about your existing audience? How can you talk to them? What are their favourite events? How did they find you? What publicity worked?

Once you’ve got that information, you can apply the knowledge to the people who aren’t coming. What is stopping them? Are there any barriers and if so, what can you do? That’s the fundamental principle. I believe this is applicable across countries and cultures. Securing your audience is about the relationship. It is a long term investment.

At the same time ongoing communication is very important. Keeping in touch with the audience regularly keeps those organizations at the front of their minds. The more visible the organization is, the more successful it can become.

AO: Do you advise groups to alter their event if you believe it might help them to reach their goals?

SB: Obviously cultural marketing is very different to commercial marketing, where the product can be completely changed. In the art world the balance between the artistic and the creative focus needs to be respected, and the last thing we want to do is to undermine that.

But having said that, we can still add elements to the creative product to make it more appealing to audiences. For example, an exhibition can add a social element to the space, so people can have a chat or maybe even listen to live music. So it’s still the same gallery and exhibition, but it is presented in a more acceptable way to viewers. With classical music the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment uses some great strategies. Orchestras willing to gain a younger audience can consider changing the time of their concerts and they could make them shorter or introduce musicians dressed casually etc. There are many changes we can add to cultural offers to break down the barriers between creative products and audiences.

AO: How does technology help in the promotion of artistic events?

SB: Anything that includes word “digital” in the pamphlet attracts audiences immediately. It’s absolutely crucial in terms of communication, having a dialogue and being more open. Many organizations working with us use the internet – Flickr, Myspace, Facebook and other social networks – where they open a conversation with the audience. Those platforms also allow them to give the audience direct feedback and receive comments on an exhibition or a show. Therefore the “digital world” can have a vital impact on the way that many organizations reach their audiences.

AO: But isn’t “digital” a tool for the younger generation?

SB: Indeed, the internet with social networking is hugely important in the lives of young people. If you have something that is aimed at youths, you have to embrace those tools.

AO: What other tools do you recommend?

SB: Text messaging is very effective. The point is to get the message out there and hope that people will pass it on. This way you use an informal network and word of mouth. It’s about finding the people who are well-connected, with lots of friends, who can network with you. And once you find these people and they pass the information, this is when it spreads like wildfire. And that’s one thing that technology can really help us do.

AO: Does this mean that your work is mainly targeting the younger generation?

SB: In the UK at the moment there is a lot of funding to support young people and lots of organizations approach them. There is evidence which sees how art is going and concluded that lots of people are successful while young. Then again, if you can bring people when they are young, and even if they don’t come regularly, they will eventually return when they are older. It’s an investment.

But of course there is a danger in concentrating on young people only. In the UK, there are a growing number of older people and in a few years there will be more people over 60 than under 20. We are aware of this issue and held a conference on arts and older people. We brought lots of organizations together when we raised this debate and we talked about changing ideas about the arts, as well as the definition of arts to the older generation. We asked what those organizations are really doing to reach to people over 60.

It is important not to make the assumption that older people do not use technology as in fact, their access to the internet is increasing every year.

AO: Yet, would it be different when promoting an artistic product to older people?

SB: The principles remain the same. It’s all about defining your audience, reaching them and talking to them in their language and responding to their needs.

Visit Audiences London website for more information and tips on how to reach and widen your audience: http://www.audienceslondon.org/

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