Audience Development: Some Ideas to Try

ideas1This is hastily written post, mostly because I’ve been trying to lovingly craft something more concrete for weeks, but just CAN’T! So I’m just going to toss these out there as they come.  As always, feel free to comment here or on Facebook.  These are just ideas knocking around my brain.  They may not be for every organization and, as with anything, should be used in conjunction with a thoughtful plan of action regarding your organization’s audience development strategy.

Seriously, people, just put a little thought into it!  😀


First:  Actually collaborate with another group, especially if you’re doing something similar to something they already do. Even if it feels one-sided in terms of audience outreach- it is still more people being reached than just to your audience alone. AND you may find a few extra hands helping out in the process. The added programming to both sides doesn’t hurt at all.



Preaching to the choir is how you get them to sing!: Encourage your core audience to reach out for you:

(Get to) Know Your Audience:

Your core audience loves you. You’ve spent a lot of hours, blood, sweat, and tear creating great art for them. But don’t assume that their love is unconditional. Always look to deepen the connection between your company and your core audience. Deepening connections is how you get core fans to bring friends—because they are so excited about you they have to share the experience—and how you change your “acquaintance audience” into “bosom buddies”.

Offer as many opportunities as possible for your audience to meet the actors, designers, and staff face to face. (We know that many actors are uncomfortable with this, but it is truly considered a special treat to many audience members to talk to the actors face-to-face after a show, so encourage your talent to meet with them and to make it all about the audience rather than about themselves!). After show greetings in the lobby, pre-show reception with the director and producer, a few special events for kids, even just letting the audience know where you all go to unwind after a show and letting them know that it is okay to come up and say “hi” . . . these are all ways of showing your audience that you value them, you consider them friends, and you want to get to know them. Read more about it:

If you’re really ambitious and have the means and space, pull out a couple of ice chests full of beers, wine and sodas and invite the remaining audience to sit and unwind with the actors right there on site! (With an appropriate license, you might even be able to make an extra buck or two by selling it!)

Expand in circles:
Offer incentive programs where your core audience can bring friends or encourage friends to come. Be creative when creating a season pass—offer a steep discount for those who bring friends with them. Encourage ways for friends who already like your page to get their friends to like your page. Hold social gatherings before or after the show that encourage socializing with friends WHILE interacting with your company.
Write the script for them:
Sometimes your core audience doesn’t know how to speak up for you! Encourage them via FB, e-newsletters, twitter to comment on online reviews, to e-mail their friends about the show, to talk about it on Monday at work. Then give them hints to the script. If you hear in the lobby how much they loved the design spectacle, the voices, the acting, the story, drop in some phrases they can use that help articulate reaction to the show. Get creative. See where and how you can encourage audience to speak up. Always remind them to “tell your friends if you enjoyed the show!”
Read more:
However you decide to go about audience development, always remember to take good care of your core audience. Never neglect them. They are what keeps you from just scattering seeds randomly in the wind.


That’s always the big question. There are lots of active, interesting people out there and we often just assume that they SHOULD be interested in US! But people have a lot of things offered to them and very diverse interests, so it is up to us to find where those crossover areas might be. And then, once we find those crossovers, we have to actually reach out to them and give them good, solid reasons to try us on for size. They’re not going to do it just because we suggest it!

Other arts goers.
This might be the first place to look because, believe it or not, not all art-lovers attend all of the arts. Are there some reasons you can give them to give you a try? Does a production you’re planning feature a particular style of music, visual art, dance? Reach out to those organizations and see if they’ll be willing to cross promote. If you can, find a way to talk to those audiences directly or offer those audiences incentives to come to your shows. The wide net is great, but sometimes some really targeted marketing is more effective. And if you’re worried that you’re “stealing” their audiences, don’t be. Arts-goers tend to be very loyal once their loyalty is won. Giving the symphony’s core audience a reason to come and see a musical with live music or a classically-influenced score isn’t going to keep them away from the symphony any time soon.

Other Loca- Obsessives
What about the local foodies in your area? Perhaps if they’re interested in local food, they’ll be willing to support some locally-grown creativity as well? What about shops featuring local designers or craft-makers? Brewpubs featuring local labels? If there is any way you can collaborate or cross-promote with these places, do it! Will they be willing to create a special dish in honor of your show in exchange for ad space or lobby signage? Do it! Can they create some locally-driven swag for your production to sell in their shop (and at your show for a small % of the sales?)? Anything to make their customers aware of you and that you’re local, you’re live, you’re unique to this place and time. . . it can’t hurt!
Read more here:
Active groups of all ages:
This one may seem like a gimme, but I think it is often overlooked. Very often clubs, groups, civic organizations, and communities are just waiting for someone to wave their flag and say “Over here!”. Consider taking a look at the myriad local groups you can get in touch with, offer a presentation or a speech to them. Or better yet, offer to host a small event for their members at your theater—with tickets included. IF you offer them a package deal—wine, hors d’oeuvres, the space and tickets for the show—for their members to have a private reception, perhaps meeting the director or a few performers in the works. It gives them a social opportunity for their club to meet informally and introduces the more socially active of their membership to your organization!


Again, just a few ideas knocking around my fevered brain.  A few places you should follow to keep up with the ideas being tried out there in the world:

Thomas Cott’s You’ve Cott Mail Daily Emails.   Cott is an accomplished arts marketer and his digests of the goings-on in the arts world are valuable for keeping your finger on the pulse of things.

Another “Pulse of Things” place to keep up with is the 2 a.m. Theater blog, postings from active members of the theater world all the time with lots of ideas being thrown on the front porch to see if the cat licks it up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s