Category Archives: Uncategorized

Audience Development

Really looking forward to spending most of the week of May 8, 2017 in Perth as one of the Keynote Speakers for CircuitWest’s WA Showcase. They’ve asked me to present my 3-part workshop series, The Audience Development Challenge. First developed in 2010 for the Australian Performing Arts Centres Association (APACA) national conference in Melbourne, these workshops have now been carefully and thoughtfully overhauled,  refreshed and distilled to the essentials for success, using what I’ve learned from the amazing experiences I’ve had through 2015 and 2016 working with regional presenters on program planning, audience research and marketing throughout Australia. I’d love to share these experiences with you, and help you take the first step to growing your audiences with ‘the audience development challenge’. Are you ready? Call me on 0414 766 173 or email merryn[at]

Is live-to-digital affecting audiences?

“From Live to Digital – Understanding the impact of digital development in theatre on audiences, production and distribution” by AEA Consulting for Arts Council England, UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre.

This report from the UK addresses the question of how Event Cinema, and other forms of live-to-digital transmission in the performing arts, is affecting audiences, producers, venues and tour managers in the UK.

The answers are perhaps surprising: data reveal minimal impact on attendance, and overall stable levels of touring, although some organisations are experiencing challenges. Audiences do not believe Live-to-Digital is a substitute for live theatre; they believe it is a significant and distinct experience.

Read the full report here: Live to Digital research report


Less emails, more responses? How do I do that?

Another great case study from the folks at MarketingSherpa, this one shows how consolidating your database, and segmenting and tailoring emails works much more effectively than blasting everyone with the same message. OK it’s not about an arts organisation, but since when did that stop the smart arts marketer learning from a case study? Here it is:


how do customers want to hear from you?

There are so many ways to communicate with your customers these days, but in determining your marketing channels, it’s important to know how your customers want to hear from you. This latest U.S. research (January 2015) from MarketingSherpa concludes that one form of communication is clearly preferred over others. Is it Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? SMS? Phone? Snail mail? Email?  Do you think arts audiences also feel this way? comms-preferences-by-age-marketingsherpa

Marketing the Arts to Death?

“If you want to sell something to somebody, you have to tell them how it will satisfy their desires. It’s one of the oldest truths known to humankind. But in the arts, we don’t really know who our new audiences are, we refuse to learn what they want, and without knowing what they want, we can’t tell them how our products will satisfy their desires. So instead we blather on endlessly about how wonderful we are – or how wonderful people should think we are – and hope that young, culturally diverse people will somehow magically find us as appealing as traditional audiences once did.”

So Trevor O’Donnell diagnoses the problem with arts marketing (at least in the US) today. While his accusations of lazy, ego-driven marketing might be exaggerated, there is much to ponder here. I certainly agree that much arts marketing is still too ‘arts-centred’ and uses too much ‘arts-speak’, instead of being customer-centred and using customer language.

Read his full blog post here. He’s so passionate about this subject he’s written a book about it, titled Marketing the Arts to Death. It’s certainly worth thinking about the language we use, and how we evaluate the quality of our marketing, to ensure our first objective is to establish meaningful communication with our potential audiences, about the types of experience they can expect to have with us.

Why advance purchase increases enjoyment

Here is something arts marketers need to know: a new paper in the journal Psychological Science suggests that we derive more pleasure from anticipating experiences than material objects. So it follows that buying tickets in advance of the event provides more enjoyment than buying the ticket closer to the event. Is this a piece of knowledge arts marketers can use to their advantage? Certainly. By encouraging (providing incentives for) people to purchase in advance, we are increasing their enjoyment of the experience. Could this be one of the reasons why offering subscriptions or package purchases is actually a good idea, and that customers who do buy in advance are some of our most enthusiastic advocates? Read the abstract of this article below; if you’d like more detail, the full text is available for download at the Psychological Science link above.

ABSTRACT of Article:

Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having). Although most research comparing these two types of purchases has focused on their downstream hedonic consequences, the present research investigated hedonic differences that occur before consumption. We argue that waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions. Four studies demonstrate that people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good. We found these effects in studies using questionnaires involving a variety of actual planned purchases, in a large-scale experience-sampling study, and in an archival analysis of news stories about people waiting in line to make a purchase. Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential than for material purchases.

Psychological Science, August 2014

Arts Audiences Today: 2014 US CultureTrack results

Stephen P Brown reports from the LinkedIn Group Audience Development for the Arts on a US survey of arts audiences just released. I wonder whether any of these trends are mirrored in Australia?

Recently, Arthur Cohen, CEO of the arts marketing firm LaPlaca Cohen, presented the top-line results from its 2014 edition of CultureTrack, the largest national tracking study focused exclusively on the ever-changing attitudes and behaviors of U.S. cultural consumers, including trends in attendance and motivators and barriers to participation. The full results can be downloaded at Among the highlights of Culture Track 2014:

Visitation on the rise for some art forms: Since 2011, there has been an increase in the percentage of people who visit museums and attend performances of classical music, jazz and musical theater—but there were decreases for plays, classical dance and opera.
Frequency of attendance in decline: The individual rate of attendance has dropped since 2011, with about half of respondents continuing to attend cultural activities once or twice a month, but only 15% attending three times or more—down from a previous 22%.
Blurring boundaries: Audiences think of “culture” in broad terms, beyond the confines of traditional disciplines presented by museums and performing arts organizations, with almost 80% of respondents defining a visit to a public park, and 64% defining food and drink experiences as cultural activities.
Need for shared experience: People value cultural activities as opportunities to spend time with friends and family—a benefit that they rank second only to general entertainment or enjoyment value (83% and 93% respectively). In choosing which activities to attend, they make decisions based on personal invitations and friends’ recommendations (83% and 81%, respectively) almost as much as on topic (90%) and cost (86%).
Not attending solo: 28% of people overall state they will not attend if they have to go alone—a figure that rises to 43% among Millennials (ages 18 to 30).
Greatest barriers to entry: Perceptions of high cost and unappealing subject matter remain the two principal reasons for choosing not to attend an activity.
The truth about social media: Despite the high value that audiences place on personal recommendations and the company of friends and family, social media in general is still catching up as a source of information about cultural activities, used by 20% of all respondents, compared with television (36%), newspapers (28%) and radio (27%).
Millennials driving the social media charge: But this pattern varies by age. Social media is the most-used information source among Millennial audiences (38%), only about 15% of whom turn to newspapers to learn about what’s going on. Among Gen X (ages 30 to 49), 25% rely on social media for information, compared to 24% for newspapers.
Transitional moment for technology: Not surprisingly, for cultural consumers of all age groups, ownership of smartphones has skyrocketed, up 35% from 2011. But only 20% choose to use their smartphones on-site at cultural organizations.
The “selfie moment”: Of those who use smartphones on-site, the two most popular activities were taking photos (68%) and sharing photos (47%).
Need for redefinition of loyalty models: Traditional loyalty models continue on a steep decline, 85% of visual arts [attendees] do not own any memberships, and 90% of performing arts [attendees] do not hold any subscriptions.

According to Arthur Cohen, “These findings reveal audiences that are restless, curious and ‘culturally promiscuous’—eager for new experiences they can share in person with friends and family. We have also learned that people rely above all on their emotions to tell them what those experiences might be, outside of traditional definitions of culture. If something enriches their senses, if it enlarges their world, and if they can do it in company they like, they are open to it. This is challenging news for institutions that are trying to retain the loyalty of audiences, but good news for organizations that are willing to listen to what the public has to say.”

Branding on tour

Branding for presenter venues who host many different touring companies each year, and for the touring companies who are only in each town a short time, can be challenging. Increasingly, touring companies are striving to establish more of their own brand on tour, asking themselves how they can strengthen their relationship with the audiences they meet on tour.  How can venues establish a strong brand of their own, when what they present is actually made up of lots of other people’s brands? And how can touring companies begin to establish their brand in local markets, when they might only visit a town once every couple of years, and they’re presented within a season which is strongly branded by the venue? These are issues being discussed around Australia right now – it would be great to learn about how people are dealing with them. What’s your experience? In this article from the UK, branding-touring-companies-and-venues-jam35-jon-bradfield-2009, Jon Bradfield of touring theatre company Out of Joint contemplates their situation and describes some of the ways they’re trying to address the need to establish their brand and stronger links with touring audiences.

Diversity builds resilience

If you attended one of the Mark Robinson forums presented by BoardConnect in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in late 2012, you’ll be familiar with his concept of adaptive resilience. More from Mark and colleagues now, on how diversity in organisations can help build organisational resilience – definitely worth a read: diversity_and_adaptive_resilience_public-1

If you didn’t attend one of Mark’s forums, then you should investigate what he means by adaptive resilience, in his original article: making_adaptive_resilience_real, before you read about how diversity can help get you there. In this article, Mark lists eight characteristics of resilient arts organisations:

• Culture of shared purpose and values rooted in organisational memory
• Predictable financial resources derived from a robust business model
• Strong networks (internal/external)
• Intellectual, human and physical assets

Adaptive skills
• Leadership, management and governance
• Adaptive capacity: innovation and experimentation embedded
in reflective practice
• Situation awareness of environment and performance
• Management of key vulnerabilities: planning and preparation
for disruption

.. definitely food for thought in advance of your next business planning day, don’t you think?

Articles on Audience Development

I’m embarking on a campaign to stimulate conversation around the linkages (or lack of them) between programming and audience development. Here are some of the articles that have inspired my campaign. What’s your take on this issue? (I’m also looking to build a collection of Australian case studies on audience development and programming, so do let me know if you’re working in this area.)

All the World’s a Stage, Alan Brown, 2012

A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts, Kevin F. McCarthy and Kimberly Jinnett,

RAND Corporation, 2001

alan-brown-speech-on-artistic-vibrancy-in-programming, an address by Alan Brown, November 2013

Building Demand for the Performing Arts, for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Alan Brown,

October 2012

Building Arts Organizations that Build Audiences, Wallace Foundation conference proceedings, 2012

Research into Action: pathways to new opportunities, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, 2010