TRG blog: Guess who’s coming to your arts events?

Guess who’s coming to your arts events?

Photo: Fernando de Sousa via Flickr
This week, TRG's own Will Lester and Amelia Northrup are contributing to the Arts Marketing Blog Salon on Americans for the Arts' ARTSblog. This article by Will was originally posted as part of the salon, which previews the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference in November.
How well do you know your audiences…really? Before the curtain goes up you can undoubtedly pick out that valued donor or long-time subscriber in your audience. Or, at every exhibition opening, you probably know the faces and names of the most important and dedicated members attending. But who are all the rest of the people coming through your doors? Are the majority of people who have been to your organization before, or are they new? And are they new to the arts or just new to you?

The team at TRG Arts was curious about this too. What we found is that, in a given season, about 50% of the people coming to your arts events are people you have seen before. The other 50% are new to the organization, although maybe not to the arts. Subscribers, members and other regular attendees actually only comprise about 37% of the typical database. Another 14% are “reactivated” patrons—patrons who have some sort of buying history, but haven’t bought in the last two years.

That means every night is opening night for some portion of every audience. During the course of a season, HALF of an organization’s audience members had a first-time patron experience.

Of those new patrons, half were new to the arts altogether, meaning that they had never attended an arts event anywhere in the community and were not in any other database in the community. The other half were new to that particular organization, but had purchased a ticket from one or more different organizations in the community (denoted by “known to arts community” on the chart).

So what can you do with that information? In broad strokes, there are three things to take away:

1. The first rule of arts marketing is “know your audience”. Put the knowledge you have about who is attending your performances or exhibitions to use to more effectively target and tailor your communications with them. Your message to a newcomer in your audience will be different than one to a more longstanding loyal patron, or to someone who attended a few years ago, but hasn’t been back for a while.

2. Secondly, you can make better decisions about how to allocate marketing expenses. Put money into audience segments that will yield the highest return on investment. For example, understanding the prior experiences your new audiences have with the arts can help you customize your materials. A new patron may need more support, encouragement, and stronger offers to encourage repeat attendance. On the other hand, an experienced arts patron who is trying your organization for the first time is “low-hanging fruit”. They will be more apt to return with some follow-up, but less hand-holding.

3. Finally, this research also illustrates the value of cooperative arts marketing. Cooperative list exchange programs allow colleague marketers to identify new patrons who have experienced the arts elsewhere in the community. If you’ve ever wondered why you should trade with other arts organizations in your area or if you live in a city with a list exchange/co-op, consider those patron origination statistics. They suggest could be finding a big, productive pool of new patrons who are active culturally but just haven’t tried your organization yet. Once found, these new and experience patrons are prime prospects for repeat attendance, allowing you to grow your audience and bolster patron loyalty.

Will Lester will be presenting more information on this topic at the NAMP conference during Alan Brown's Lightning Rounds of Research session on Monday, November 14 from 5:15-6:30.

Posted October 4, 2011

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