5 insights – from our conversation with Katy Raines and Chris Unitt

12 April 2023

Our Supercool Session webinar with Indigo's Katy Raines and One Further's Chris Unitt is chock-full of useful facts, stats, ideas and takeaways.

We discussed findings from numerous sector reports, with a focus on audience and organisational insights. The full recording's available here: Supercool Sessions 8 – the reports are out; what next?

As a short-cut to the good stuff we've picked out some key talking points, along with their practical takeaways – to help you more quickly and easily apply the findings to your work.

1. Become more relevant to under-35s

🤓 Issues and insights

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional (older) audiences are not returning to venues quickly – and when they do, they're neither visiting as frequently as they did, nor spending as much. That's unlikely to change significantly.

Your traditional older audience grew up in the '60s. That time of social and political change has, at least in part, given them their life-long appreciation of arts and culture. Katy Raines believes there's an opportunity right now to repeat that pattern – with those who're currently under-35. They could well be your frequent attenders, long-term fans, and legacy donors of the future.

So there's a need to focus attention on engaging with younger people. Badly impacted by the double-whammy of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, under-35s are both time-poor and cash-poor. So if young people are coming to visit you, they really LOVE you! Recognise and reward that by helping them get even more involved. They care deeply about the social aspect of engaging in the arts – they're craving a social life now that pandemic restrictions have been removed. But they need to feel that the experiences are 'for them' – understanding what they're looking for from the whole experience (bar, food, seating, timing, length etc.) will be crucial so that they don't feel like they're trapped in a format that is for older people.

They also care deeply about the climate emergency, and what you're doing to fight it. A whopping 77% of audiences believe that cultural organisations "have a responsibility to influence society to make radical change to address the climate emergency". In under 35s that figure is 86%.

That is not soft language, and that is not an insignificant percentage. People – young people especially – care about the environment.

🎬 Takeaways and actions
  • Don't rely on older audiences coming back. Some might – and lifelong fans will likely stick with you – but the world has changed, and you must too.
  • Emphasise the social side of your offering to build engagement with those younger audiences who're craving meeting up with people. They're the lifelong fans of the future.
  • Explain how people can get involved, outside of buying tickets – volunteering for example. Help younger audiences get closer to you in a meaningful, purposeful way even if they don't (yet) have as much money or time to spend with you as they'd like.
  • Be open and clear about your environmental sustainability policies and actions – tell people how much you care about the planet. This is important to the majority of audiences but especially under-35s.

Sidenote: Here's how we talk about caring for the planet, and what we're doing about it – Supercool + Sustainability

2. Offer ticket flexibility

🤓 Issues and insights

Only around 12% of traditional attenders have not returned but the impact is more like a 30% decrease in ticket sales. That's because of how often they were coming and how much they'd spend. Some venues are seeing some recovery – but not everyone. And even when audiences are returning, they're planning on attending less frequently than pre-pandemic.

More people are buying ticket insurance, as they're more aware of potential disruption in the world, as well as feeling the need to be more careful with their money.

Audiences still have an expectation of the same level of ticket flexibility that was in place during the pandemic, for example, refunds or exchanges. But many organisations have removed this flexibility. That's understandable as it takes a lot of work to manage – but flexibility really helps to drive-up ticket sales when people are feeling unsure.

People spend money when they have it – and when they have it is much less certain now than it has been in recent years.

🎬 Takeaways and actions
  • Audiences need reassurance – Indigo've boiled it down to 5 Reassurances Audiences Need:
    • Health & Safety – will I be safe?
    • Access – can I get there and get in easily?
    • Financial – will I be protected financially if I can't go?
    • Social – is this something I can do with family and friends?
    • Brand – will it still be the place I love going to?
  • Don't expect people to buy tickets far in advance for a while yet. Having said that, anything we can do to make them feel safer, or benefit in some way from buying early, the more likely they are to buy. Perhaps audiences can get tickets cheaper in advance? Or maybe they can spread the cost? Could we offer the best seats to people who buy early?
  • Keep or re/introduce ticket flexibility. This is like the well-known M&S model of feeling able to buy now, knowing you can take it back without any fuss if you change your mind. Imagine giving audiences the peace of mind that they can book loads of tickets now, safe in the knowledge that they could either exchange, or get 'credit' with your organisation for future events.
  • If you're a Spektrix customer: There's a flexible subscription feature which allows people to buy 2 tickets for 3 shows in advance, then cash them in at later date for the shows they want to go to.

3. Forget the myth of 'frequent attenders'

🤓 Issues and insights

Generally speaking, we can have a false understanding of our audiences. There's a tendency to think that the majority are like us. Or like the people you see and speak to in the foyer before a performance; those ones you see all the time because they come to everything.

So, pretty much everyone who visits must be a passionate advocate, who really loves the arts, right?

Even in 2005, about 65% of 'repeat audiences' were coming no more than once a year, and in the latest Spektrix report, the figure was around 75%. 75% of 'frequent attenders' visiting just once a year is not good! And that was pre-covid, so we know it's got even worse since then.

It is still useful to measure repeat audiences. There was a time when ACE used to ask for percentages of 'new audiences' as a measure of success. But that meant if you were a bit rubbish at getting people back, your numbers looked great because everyone was new, every time!

🎬 Takeaways and actions
  • Keep measuring repeat audiences – but don't expect figures to start soaring any time soon.
  • Focus on getting first-timers to return and measure your success in doing this - relentlessly
  • Re-think your success metrics. We've identified young audiences as the people to attract. They may not be in a position to spend much with you right now. But they may be happy to volunteer, engage on social media etc. So, what else can be measured to help us identify and foster our loyal fans?
  • Be patient and start measuring data from scratch. Audience behaviour has changed – and is still changing – so we need to reset expectations. Look at the people who are coming back now – who are they, how often are they visiting, and what is getting/keeping them engaged?

4. Your programme matters

🤓 Issues and insights

Many organisations are still re-programming things that were postponed due to the pandemic. But if you've still got a programme from 2019 you may find it really difficult. Trying to sell the same stuff isn't going to work – audiences have changed.

And trying to sell everything to everyone won't work either! Long-term cuts to regional theatre means that a lot of work is made in London, then heads out on tour across the country. So people aren't hearing as many stories that resonate with them.

People like what they like – but this isn't always artform driven. In fact it rarely is. It's more likely to be driven by the 'type' of work eg. Classical, Contemporary, Mainstream or Family. Music is a good example of this. People who like Classical Music are less likely to also like Rock & Pop than they are Classic Drama. And Rock & Pop Music attenders are likely to have more in common with Comedy fans than Opera buffs.

Showing everyone everything – or even programme by artform – is likely to be counter-productive as each person is likely to be put off by other bits of your programme because it waters-down the thing they love. So offer them lots of programme choice, but within the 'type' they love, and keep the stuff that will put them off away from them.

This is tricky to manage as an Arts Marketer because you're often talking to many different audiences about many different things every day – but everything is funnelled through one Facebook, Instagram, Twitter account. This can make it harder to build a relationship with those different audiences. (Unless you're a laser-focused organisation whose audience shares a common interest – be that Shakespeare, folk music, or crabs.)

In terms of those younger audiences we're wanting to attract, there are a couple of specific programming challenges. Firstly, no matter how excellent your marketing strategy and messaging, young people will not magically be interested in the same things as traditional audiences.

And secondly, where's that pipeline of new work? The work that's being properly funded, and tested, and developed – and that will resonate with younger audiences in every corner of the country?

🎬 Takeaways and actions
  • You can't do much about the programme! But better segmentation of the programme by 'type' can help you reach audiences who'll be interested in specific shows, concerts, gigs, or artists.
  • Don't rush building a relationship – perhaps someone's been to visit for the first time, to see an easy-sell, popular big-hitter with great reviews and thumb-stopping social content? Now's the time to build on that relationship. Sell them on a slightly different experience next time. And a bit more different the next. And so on and so on. And as trust builds, they know they'll have a great time when they visit, so be more open to trying something new.
  • Review your social media accounts – do your Twitter followers engage more with tweets about your classical programme, while Instagram speaks more to the comedy crowd, and Facebook is more about families? Review engagement and, based on what you find, experiment with different content across different platforms so you're not selling everything to everyone.
  • Focus messaging on audience-centric benefits – e.g. new work is often priced much more keenly than established shows like Matilda or Hamilton. Perhaps "a great value night out" is more of a draw than focusing on details about the show itself?
  • Make the most of digital tools – assuming you have sensible categories and/or landing pages on your website, and a well-segmented email database, you're well-placed to show people the things they'll be most interested in. And keep them away from the things that might put them off!

5. There isn't enough time!

🤓 Issues and insights

You knew this already but it's official – according to One Further's Cultural Content Report 2022, the biggest issue for Arts Marketers is lack of time. (Money too – but mostly time.)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, quick-thinking, sparky Marketing and Digital teams got into the habit of producing lots of digital content, as it was the only way to keep audiences close.

Now, however, many people are not merely trying to sustain that same level of content creation – they're planning on creating more content in future. Despite having considerably less time than they had during lockdown, and in many cases smaller teams.

Added to this, Marketing can become the "Oooh, why don't you just …" department. As much as new digital tools and platforms can save time, they can add to your workload. That long list of things you're expected to know about, understand, monitor, and do, is regularly being added to – without anything being removed.

Something's gotta give!

🎬 Takeaways and actions
  • Prioritise!
    • Make time for the fundamentals first – there are some things that absolutely must get done e.g. setting up event or exhibition pages on your website, as they're crucial to your organisation's work.
    • Plan-in other work around those fundamentals – things like evaluating the SEO value of a collection, or creating behind-the-scenes content. Things you know are useful, but are less essential and/or time-sensitive.
    • Use known quieter periods to set-up things that'll help you in future – e.g. Make sure you have a good GA4 set-up, with customised dashboard that pulls through what you need, and cuts out the noise; learn about and set up your Facebook ads. These kinds of things can be ticking along in the background, even when the team’re pedal-to-the-metal and strapped for time.
  • Use that prioritisation to create a digital strategy (one of the things that'll help you in future!)
    • With a digital strategy in place, your team's focus and time are pre-allocated in a structured way. You know what you are – and are not – spending your time on. This makes it much easier to say no to doing that last-minute Facebook post or random podcast series or last year's TikTok dance that someone thinks will help to sell more tickets.
    • Allow for some wiggle-room in your planning, so you can react to time-sensitive things, experiment – and have a bit of fun!
  • Understand what's working – and what isn't. If you’re putting your valuable time into something, it needs to be worth doing – therefore done properly, and evaluated. (Not always in a deep-dive way, but make sure you have some idea how it performs, learn from it, and only spend time on stuff you’re pretty sure will get a return on that time investment.)
  • Share the load. There's often a lot of hidden knowledge and passion within an organisation. Who else in the organisation could you brief to write a blog post for the website? Or interview for a podcast? Or make a video to share on TikTok?
  • Learn from other Arts Marketers – sharing across an organisation is one thing but learning from what your peers are doing and what's working in similar organisations could save you a lot of time.
  • Share what you learn with other Arts Marketers – essentially the flip-side of learning from others! Sharing what you've done, what you've learned, where you've failed, your time-saving tricks, and the successes you've had will all help your fellow Arts Marketers – therefore the sector as a whole 🙌

And that's only some of what was discussed – watch the session in full:

Supercool Session #8 – the reports are out; what next?

Big love and thanks to Katy and Chris for sharing your time and wisdom 🧡

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