It costs a lot to attract new audiences. What can we do about it?
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TRG Blog: Analysis from TRG Arts

It costs a lot to attract new audiences. What can we do about it?

Amelia Northrup-Simpson | June 9, 2017 2:39 PM

Our partners at the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) put out a report recently on metrics by sector for arts organizations. Among the metrics they analyzed was response to marketing efforts.

In other words, how much does marketing need to spend (including staff costs) to bring in each attendee? Here’s what they found:

NCAR shared this research on Twitter last week. The Akron Symphony picked up their chart and asked the following smart question:


It’s a great question, one that we hear echoed by many of our clients. Have you ever looked at your ROI numbers and thought that your money just doesn’t go as far as it used to? If so, you’re not alone.

The answer to their question, as TRG sees it, is two fold:

  • If this is the environment in which arts institutions are operating, how do we make sure we make the investments to bring in audiences?
  • To Akron Symphony’s point, how can we lower the number?

Let’s talk about each of these approaches.

Ok, marketing the arts is expensive. Now what?

NCAR’s data could be viewed as a wake-up call. So what if we accept that this is our reality?

The number differs from organization to organization. Indeed, there’s variation between sector, as we see in the chart. However, on average, it tells us that orchestra and opera especially have to really invest in order to attract audiences. Theatre and dance aren’t too far behind.

These numbers may be a consequence of marketplace and programming, both of which are tough to change. And, it may hinge on efforts to attract new audiences. New patrons cost more to acquire than those who have previously attended. In that light, a higher response to marketing spend number may actually indicate success in attracting new audiences.

If you’re chasing new audiences, you may have to accept that you’ll need to spend more to make more. After you go through the five stages of grief and eat some ice cream from the carton, what can you do? TRG suggests the following:

  1. Recognize reality: Don't under-budget if you have big goals for new patrons. It’s not unheard of to invest 50%-60% of the ticket cost to attract a new patron.
  2. Re-invest: If you’re chasing new audiences, do your best to make those new patrons "sticky," or likely to return. Create a line item in your budget for this specific purpose. Ideas here >>
  3. Reactivate: At the same time, mine your own database for patrons who have attended before in the past few years. They’re not technically “new.” They might take some convincing to get them back. They are also likely to be cheaper than a truly new patron.

The cheap-skate’s guide to new audiences

What if we imagined that response to marketing spend could be lowered? Or perhaps the words “spend more to make more” chilled your heart and you’re looking for a better (cheaper) way.

Yes, new audiences are expensive. But, we’ve all heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” The methods I’ve described above are assuming you’re working as smart as you can and have hit a plateau. But what if your campaigns not 100% optimized? Or what if you’re working hard to retain patrons and still not meeting revenue goals?

  1. Capture rate. Do you know who’s new or not? This question seems basic, but many organizations struggle here. Learn how to collect data on your patrons here>> 
  2. Communication channels. High-cost, indirect channels like TV & outdoor may be ineffective for certain programs. As our CEO Jill Robinson always says, Beethoven's 5th will always sell better than an all-Scriabin fest. Using Beethoven’s 5th to attract new audiences through mass media makes good sense. For programming without blockbuster potential, focusing on direct methods like email, telemarketing, re-targeting ads, and (yes) direct mail, can yield big ROI.
  3. Community trades. If you haven't developed a huge prospect pool in-house, think about trading patron contact information with other arts orgs in your community. If you’re in a community with a TRG Community Network, our trading platform makes it easy. If not, trade excel spreadsheets or cross-promote in your email blasts.

Not “either-or”

The two viewpoints I’ve described above may seem at odds with each other. You can actually believe both and work on the issues presented by both. They speak to two basic skills all arts marketers must have:

  • Understand the levels of loyalty within your patron base and how to allocate budget to attract patrons at all levels
  • Understand how to optimize a campaign not only for “right patron, right message, right time” but also on right channel and for right budget.

Thanks to Akron Symphony for raising this important question and for NCAR’s tireless work in setting data benchmarks for the field.


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Case Study: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma 
 Photo: Joseph Mills

After a poor year for earned revenue in 2012, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (LTO) had rebounded and was experiencing a growth spurt. In 2013, Director of Marketing Danyel Siler had turned her attention to single tickets.

Her hard work had paid off, but season tickets were still a challenge. “Season tickets were steadily declining,” she said. “The season ticket campaign had been done the same way for years, maybe even decades. And we blamed the fall on the trend that subs were declining everywhere. Our executive director, artistic director, and I all knew something needed to change, but we didn’t know what.”

Read More>>

Killer Group Sales Campaigns

A boot camp for arts marketing and fundraising leaders

Friday, August 18, 2017 
Online Workshop (11am-2pm MDT)

Do group sales contribute less than 10% of your single ticket revenues? Does your organization only sell tickets to groups reactively? Are you setting group sales goals only to fall short every year?

After subscriptions, group sales is the most important ticket-buying group for an arts and culture organization to cultivate. In this one-day session, learn how to leverage your group sales program to create a renewal base of loyal customers, while also driving new patrons to attend, all by tapping into the social networks that already exist within your marketplace. 

You’ll leave with your own, unique group sales campaign plan for next season, front-line sales strategies, and projections of what is possible for growth.


Jill Robinson
Adam Scurto
Amelia Northrup-
J.L.Nave Vincent VanVleet Keri Mesropov

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