Performing Arts Audiences – how can we keep them coming back?

by Fiona Bell – Client Relationships Director at Audiences NI

I enjoy a good conference. What’s not to like? You hear from different perspectives, learn things, and meet new people.

The latest notch on my conference bedpost was the All Ireland Performing Arts Conference, held this year in Cork.  My ANI colleague Claire Rose has already written a blog on some of the content and speakers, which gives me free reign to concentrate on my hobby horse. Punters. Please substitute audiences, customers, patrons, clients or whatever term doesn’t make you cringe.

Heather Maitland, audience development guru, presented the findings of “Audiences for the Performing Arts”, a benchmark project which is now in its 12th year. The project analysed audiences for ticketed events taking place across 55 festivals, theatres, and arts centres in 2016.

But brace yourselves folks – the news wasn’t good. In 2016, 76% of households only came once a year – the highest percentage since the benchmark began. Only 14% of households bought tickets for 2 events.  10% of households bought tickets for at least 3 events.

When you look at these findings along with the fact that theatre is the art form people would be least likely to recommend to a friend – we have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Heather suggested 3 things which might have an impact on punters coming back:

1. Choice – the old “they would buy more tickets if there were more events?” question.

Well, looks like they won’t. Not for children’s theatre, dance, or drama anyway.  One venue did get a slightly higher attendance rate at music events (2.2 visits per year), but they had 183 shows during the year.

What punters appear to like is a choice of different things. Probably why festivals buck the old re-attendance trends. This all goes against how we normally market to potential punters. If they go to a contemporary dance show, we tell them about more contemporary dance shows. Sound familiar?

2. Boring things work.

It doesn’t all have to be shiny and new marketing campaigns. Nottingham Playhouse send out a flyer to people about 3 months after their first visit. It lists everything coming up and talks about it in ‘non-arts’ speak. Then offers 20% off. And for them, it is really effective. Not because prices are a barrier – but because it is a call to action for their customers which makes them actually go and book.

3. It’s just not about them.

Heather produced a raft of flyers she had lifted from her hotel in Cork – shopping trips, family fun days, heritage tours.  And every one of them featured its target market on the front. When do our audiences see themselves reflected in our marketing? Rarely. Because it’s not always about them, is it? It’s about the work.

So maybe we all have a bit of work persuading them to come at all before we ask them to pick a show.

I’ll leave that one with you…

Save the Data – GDPR Compliance

We recently hosted a free session detailing how arts, culture, and heritage organisations can get ready for new data protection regulations. Here is a quick and easy guide to what you need to know, and some free resources to help you on the way.

What is it?

GDPR (General DATA Protection Regulation) comes into force on 25th May 2018.

  • Enhanced personal privacy – more rights for your customer or visitor.
  • Organisations will have to have more defined processes in place for dealing with data.
  • You must be more transparent as to why and how you use personal data.
  • All staff need to be up to speed on the new regulations.
  • Financial Penalties can be imposed for breaches.

How does it affect my Organisation?

If your organisation collects or stores any type of personal data from people in the EU – you will need to comply with GDPR. This could include email addresses, names, contact details, addresses etc.

If you don’t comply – there can be financial penalties.

However, there are some positives – being compliant shows your audience that you are a trustworthy organisation that respects their privacy and personal information.

Where do I go from here?


Take stock of what information you have already, where it is stored, and what processes you have for data protection already. Who is responsible for data protection in your organisation?


Do you need all of the information you collect? –Why collect someone’s date of birth if you never segment marketing by age or offer a birthday discount?

Could you store it all in one place? This makes it easier to fully delete information once it is no longer needed.


Ensure passwords and protection are in place – Password protect documents and databases which hold personal data. Ensure that the password for this is kept elsewhere. If sending this document via email, send the password in a different method e.g. text or in person.


Let your audience know why you are collecting their data, and what you will do with it.

Some free resources to get started:

GDPR lets get started

GDPR Consent Checklist

Note: This is intended to provide an overview of GDPR and is not a definitive statement of the law.

For a definitive guide, check out the Information Commisioner’s Office website.

All-Ireland Performing Arts Conference- Cork 2017

by Claire Rose Canavan

I have just arrived back from my trip to Cork, (which I must admit was not as bad as I thought it would be at all- quickest 6 hours of my life!), after attending the All Ireland Performing Arts Conference 2017 (APAC). As I have just started a new role within Audiences NI as Client Relationship Executive, I was really excited to get to the conference I had heard so much about, meet lots of new people and hear from great speakers.

I started my two days with a Theatre NI members meeting- and what a great way to start! The session was very interesting, and very inspiring, as we heard from Hannah Baird on the ‘What Next?‘ project. What Next? describes itself as an organisation which aims to “work collaboratively to build alliances outside of the cultural sector, build relationships with local and national government and engage the public in new and different conversations about the arts.” The strength in the movement comes about as the people who involved with it “voluntarily come together and collectively take action around issues that affect everyone. No one is part of What Next? for their own individual agenda but for the issues and challenges that face us all.” There are currently over 30 chapters across England, Scotland and Wales, and because the talk was so encouraging, we hope to set one up in Northern Ireland soon!

From this, I headed into the main conference where we heard from various artists and theatre makers on their work and how they got there. After this, we headed to Firkin Crane for dinner, networking – and not to forget one of my highlights of the trip, the karaoke!! However, being sensible, I headed home to get an early(ish) night’s sleep and get ready for day two!

Day two was also very interesting. Each speaker based their talk on the theme of ‘Twist or Stick’ or, in other words, to ‘change or remain’. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech from Shona McCarthy who is Chief Executive of Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society. Shona talked about Edinburgh, but also her experience in ‘LegenDerry’ when it was city of culture in 2013. This talk was honest, realistic and inspiring. Shona’s example from the north, humour and positive attitudes towards all her projects was really refreshing to hear and gave me lots to think about on my train home! I would like to thank Theatre Forum IE and Theatre NI for the work they put into organising it and to Ali FitzGibbon the curator. Roll on APAC 2018!

DigitalDNA – key trends for arts, culture, and heritage

Audiences NI recently attended the DigitalDNA conference in Belfast’s George’s Market. We were on a mission to discover all that is new in the world of digital and bring back some nuggets of information, advice, and interesting developments.

Here are some of the trends that we think are going to be key for those working in the the arts, culture, and heritage sector.

Service Experience

Several speakers emphasised the idea of service experience versus product experience. This means that organisations consider how their customer or visitor interacts with them as a whole. Instead of thinking just about what a product does, or how to market it, the entire customer experience is taken into account.

This could include how a customer finds information on your website, how easy it is for them to book a ticket, how they are greeted at a venue, and any interactions they have with your organisation via email or phone.

Research, Research, Research…

Many of the marketing speakers emphasised the importance of knowing your customer and your audience.

Before you can cater to your customer, you must know your customer. Sounds simple, but many big businesses assume they know who their customer is, without actually having any hard evidence for this.

We were delighted to see one of our board members, Damian Cranney, share his insight in this area and emphasise the importance of researching and tracking your audience. Sometimes the amount of research you could do on your audiences or visitors can feel overwhelming, but as Damian pointed out – any customer research is better than none. You never know what you might find out.

Here at Audiences NI we run free Audience Appointments each month – these can be a great starting point to get thinking more about who your audience are. You can use these appointments any way you like. Ask us to critique copy, review audience development plans, identify target audiences, help plan campaigns, recommend research methods, or just chip in.

A man in a white shirt presenting on a stage with a mic.

New Data Protection Regulations

Microsoft gave a useful run-down on how the forthcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will impact business. The GDPR will come into force on the 25th of May next year.

Jamie Brighton of Adobe also referenced data protection as a practical way to let your customers and other businesses know that you are trustworthy and that it can improve the customer or visitor experience.

Understanding GDPR is crucial for any organisation that deals with personal data – be it through ticket sales, mailing lists, or visitor surveys.

If you would like to know more about how the GDPR will affect arts, culture and heritage organisations specifically, you can register for our free lunchtime Save the Data event taking place Monday 19th June.

Save the Data. Free GDPR info session. Monday 19th June 1 to 2 PM. Audiences N.I. To reserve your place:

Join us at the AMA Conference with our bursary


AMA Conf

We’re delighted to offer a bursary for this year’s Arts Marketing Association (AMA) Conference at the Belfast Waterfront on 25-27 July.

The fact that the AMA conference 2017 – The Value of Everything is on our doorstep, offers the opportunity to experience the conference without the cost of flights and hotels.

We are offering the bursary because we recognise the importance of innovation and new ideas, but also that it is hard to find the space for that in your day and in your budget.

The opportunity to apply is for NI organisations who don’t have any marketing staff. You will have marketing in your job but it will only be one of many roles you are juggling as you need to be a jack of all trades/all-round office whizz.


The Audiences NI bursary application form is available through the AMA website, click here.


The deadline for applications is Tuesday 9 May.

Digital? What is that?

Guest blog post by Amanda Neylon, Programme Director – Digital Delivery, NHS Digital

I’ve been working in ‘digital’ for over 10 years and something I am asked a lot (and not just by my parents!) is ‘What is digital?’. Some of us remember when digital meant that we didn’t need film in our cameras or our TVs had more than 5 channels. My first job was in ‘new media’ then I was responsible for ‘websites’ and now it’s ‘digital’ and there will probably be another word soon. Or maybe we won’t even need a word anymore because it will just be what we all do.

So what is digital to me? Well I try and look at it differently, I prefer the word technology, I believe my job is to help everyone make the most of technology. It’s not just about websites or social media, it’s about exploiting all that technology can do to inform, connect, support and inspire us.

When I was working at Macmillan, we looked at how technology could make a difference to people affected by cancer. That meant redeveloping our cancer information to be easier to understand with case studies, videos and personalised content, available to view on any device. It was developing apps to make life easier, with reminders when to take medication, or documenting your pain and symptoms so you could share with your doctor. It was simple data tools for the people commissioning services in local areas so they could see all the information they needed about cancer in one place to enable them to make the best decisions for their community. It was our nurses doing web chats and answering questions on Facebook so patients could get support when they needed it, not having to wait until their appointments.

Similarly in NHS Digital, we exist to help patients, clinicians, commissioners, analysts and researchers. Our goal is to improve health and social care in England by making better use of technology, data and information. That covers a wide range of products and services. We run the Spine, the technology that supports the infrastructure for health and social care in England, joining together over 23,000 healthcare systems in 20,500 organisations. We provide tools that allow you to access, review, monitor and extract data for analysis and reporting. And we are transforming patient services such as the NHS Choices website so we can connect people with the information and services they need, when they need it most. Oh and we do a bit of social media.

Digital isn’t just about developing the geeky stuff, it’s about how organisations work too. The ability to understand and exploit digital should be part of everybody’s job now. That is not just about adopting the latest new technology, or using social media, it’s about changing the way organisations think and work. Digital technologies support faster change (well compared with things that need welding, foundations or 5 years of training), this enables us to be agile, in the true sense of the word, not just as a project methodology. It’s about being collaborative, starting small, testing, learning, iterating and being brave, which in turn enables us to be more responsive to users’ needs throughout a product life span. So a huge part of being in digital right now is being able to support culture change and staff development.

It’s all well and good developing organisations to be more digital and developing all this great technology, but we also need to make sure everyone out there is equipped to use it. At NHS Digital this is particularly important to us as there is a correlation between health inequalities and digital exclusion, so we are working hard on projects to close that gap.

So. Digital? It is much more than social media, it’s how we use everything about technology to live, work and make our lives easier. At least that’s what I tell my parents!

More about Amanda…

Amanda is Programme Director for Digital Delivery at NHS Digital, having formerly worked as Head of Digital for MacMillan Cancer Support. Amanda was part of a panel at our Transformation from the Comfort of your Chair event on 23 February at the Google Hive, PwC. This was the third event in our Network, Not Work series, bringing the NI cultural sector together for more than the usual small talk.

Help us put our new website to the test

We are creating a new website and now we would love your to help us test our thinking. We want to make sure that it’s as easy as possible to find valuable information and resources, as well as information on how we can help you and your organisation.

If you can spare a few minutes to take part in our website testing, here’s how it works…

We have a list of things you might want to find out when you visit our website. You’ll be given a list of options to choose from for each of the tasks. You’ll navigate your way until you arrive at the one you think helps you complete the task. And repeat.

Don’t worry, we’re testing our website navigation, not you. So there are no right or wrong answers.

How to take part

Simply click here to take part. You need about 10 mins to complete it. Thank you in advance if you can take a few minutes to help us.

So…have I missed much?

chrisBlog post by Chris Palmer, Audiences NI Research Manager

So … have I missed much? It’s been just under 3 years since I departed from my first stint at Audiences NI and started my sojourn into software development. Needless to say, I’m delighted to be back at Audiences NI as we start a new chapter … but more on that later.

For the last 2 of my 3 years away, I was product managing the For-Sight CRM and email marketing platform, a product focused on the hospitality sector. For an arts lifer up to that point, it’s been a fascinating contrast to view another sector at work. Hospitality, while different in many ways, does still share some of the same core DNA with us here in the arts though. It’s a people business, a sector with a large leisure customer base and one which revolves around the customer experience.

Some comparisons will hopefully prove heartening to hear. The importance of good quality data capture and data protection is really only starting to be on the agenda for many hotels, lagging behind the awareness that has existed in the arts for many years. Likewise, email marketing, customer segmentation & experiential marketing are still surprisingly recent additions to the marketing mix, even at some pretty well known brands.

An all too familiar lack of time and budget for marketing are of course common issues, but it’s here where hospitality tech may be stealing a march on where we are in the arts, with an increasing usage of marketing automation. Automatically triggered, personalised content allows en masse CRM with that individual touch, something that simply wouldn’t be practical manually with the time you have available.

Enough of my time away though – why am I back? Those who remember me from my first stint here will not be surprised to hear that I missed the work. While running a software product was a fantastic challenge to take on, I missed my big pot of box office data and benchmarking projects! Sad, but true (and not at all surprising to many I suspect). When the opportunity arose it seemed like the right fit at the right time, particularly given our plans to refocus the agency’s work around the cultural data and insights.

I’m therefore delighted to be returning to head up the research department at Audiences NI. I’ve always felt that we’re in a unique position to collate, interpret and inform about cultural activity, but I’m not coming back to the same organisation to simply do the same work. I’m excited at the prospect of taking a more strategic approach to our body of work, and going beyond the ticketing data to maximise the breadth of insight and consultancy we can provide.

By putting insight at the centre of our own work, we can better support arts organisations of all sizes to put that insight at the core of what you do too. We’re doing that because we believe it is that important to selling, growing and improving what you do. Give me a day or so to find the pens and remember how the phones work first though …

The New Pursuit of Purpose

Guest blog post by Robert Jones (Head of New Thinking, Wolff Olins).

In the last five years or so, something has changed in the world of business. I work for a brand consultancy in London, and now almost every company we meet talks about its ‘purpose’. They used to discuss their ‘vision’ or ‘mission’, but now they want something more altruistic, less self-serving: a desire to make a difference to the world. Purpose has suddenly become a universal pursuit. To reassure sceptical customers, and more immediately to attract the best talent, companies know they need a ‘purpose statement’ – though, sadly, not all companies turn those words into deeds.

So what does this trend mean for arts organisations? Surely arts centres, theatre companies, museums and galleries have always had a sense of purpose. Their people have always been motivated by non-commercial ambitions, by a desire to make a mark, or to make a difference. But these values are usually not explicit. They’re in the organisational climate, but not written as a mantra. Now, many cultural organisations also want to define their purpose more overtly.

There are, of course, dangers in being explicit – dumbing down, oversimplifying, cutting out dissent, becoming blind to alternatives. As the cultural commentator Bryan Appleyard has said, simplicity can be the tool of the tyrant. But, on balance, the benefits are huge. A clear purpose can galvanise an organisation, as we’ve seen with clients like Tate, Historic Royal Palaces and most recently Art Fund. It helps attract and keep the best people. It helps clarify strategy, propel innovation and accelerate decision-making. And it helps attract funders (who want to know that, by investing in your purpose, they can help achieve theirs.)

And a great deal of the value comes from the process of finding that definition – getting people across the organisation to surface their individual values, to look outwards, and to enlarge their ambitions. We all spend a lot of time thinking about what we do and how we do it, and for me, the excitement of purpose is that it forces us all to ask a more profound question: why, as an organisation, we exist.

More about Robert…


Robert Jones is Head of New Thinking in Wolff Olins, London, where his focus is to help organisations work out what they want to stand for, how they’ll stand out and help them to never stand still.

Robert will deliver an interactive workshop – What do We Stand for? Building a Brand From Why – on 18 November. This is the second event in our ‘Network, Not Work’ series, bringing the NI cultural sector together for more than the usual small talk.

How (and why) to refresh a legacy brand

ANI Guest Post by Kim Mitchell (MoMA)

Guest blog post by Kim Mitchell from MoMA, New York.

Nineteen years ago, I interviewed for a job at The Museum of Modern Art as a publicist. I recall being curious about the communications challenges, as I came from a small regional museum where the struggle for press coverage and name recognition was a daily source of frustration. What obstacles could there be for one of the world’s renowned institutions of modern and contemporary art?

My supervisors were patient with my admittedly naïve question and described how being a leader made communications more crucial—MoMA had to be strategic and creative, transparent and responsible. We had to demonstrate best practices in communications as we did in all other aspects of the museum, and standards were high. When the eyes of the world are watching, you need to be “at the top of your game every day”, as my future boss said.

Those were prescient words then and still apply today, as the environment and audience for culture has exploded. MoMA has been a place of constant change since its founding in 1929. With a new building expansion underway, an ambitious program of exhibitions in Manhattan and Queens, as well as traveling exhibitions, partnerships, publications, digital programs and retail, the time felt right for clarification—to restate our purpose for today and for the future.

We began with research—internal and external, qualitative and quantitative—with many stakeholders, to uncover our challenges and opportunities. What did our diverse audiences want and how could we best deliver? Intense workshops and meetings followed with a senior group of staff, to distill our complex offering into a cohesive statement of purpose and how to bring that purpose to life. Many vigorous debates ensued! We assembled cross-disciplinary groups to research specific topics, assign priorities, and identify action steps for the short and long term.

In the end we rallied around the concept of engagement for everyone, with a commitment to renew our efforts to make MoMA, in all its various channels, a more welcoming and navigable place for inspiration and discovery. Those initial pilot projects are now rolling out, and early indicators show that the time spent on research and strategy will pay off for years to come.

More about Kim…

Kim Mitchell - The Museum of Modern Art, New YorkKim Mitchell is Chief Communications Officer at MoMA, New York and will be speaking at the first of our ‘Network, Not Work’ events, No Talking at the Dinner Table, on 19 October.

She’ll be talking about her experiences of leading the brand strategy, marketing, communications and visual identity of this iconic venue.

Keep an eye on Audiences NI in the coming weeks as we’ll share some highlights from the event.