A city-wide arts consortium
Audience research to help an arts community collaborate to build audiences.
Sometimes the whole is greater that the sum of its parts. The five leading arts institutions in this East-coast city realized that they were only competitors in a narrow sense. On a more strategic level, they were crucial allies.
After all, they were each experiencing the same challenges, which were becoming endemic across the national arts landscape: declining subscriptions, aging audiences, fewer and more fickle single-ticket-buyers, a saturated marketing landscape, and (as they gathered to discuss all this) a looming recession. If they could increase the profile and appeal of the arts as a category in their city and region, they would all benefit.
So, with generous help from a local foundation, they banded together and decided to conduct joint market research. The consortium chose Slover Linett in a national search, in part because we proposed a holistic approach: we didn’t see this as just a marketing problem, or just as a programming problem, or just as an issue of over-supply in a region with declining population. We saw it as all these things and encouraged the leaders to think creatively and innovatively on multiple fronts at once.
Our research process had four phases:
A situation assessment, in which we compared this metropolitan area to similar-sized US cities in terms of arts offerings, population growth, etc.; interviewed a wide range of civic stakeholders; aggregated and analyzed the patron databases of the five organizations; and mapped geographic opportunities for the organizations to target.
Online surveys of the organizations' current and potential patrons, to determine where the greatest opportunities lay and how these organizations could appeal to new audience segments;
A facilitated ideation session with the organizations' leaders and staff to develop concepts that might appeal to arts patrons in new ways, or to new kinds of patrons;
A series of focus groups to test the viability of the best of those ideas with current and potential audiences.
One of the findings that surprised everyone was the potential for increasing audience cross-attendance within the consortium organizations. Our database analysis revealed that three-quarters of patrons attended only one of the five institutions, suggesting that the low-hanging fruit was indeed within reach.
The findings also reminded us that awareness isn't the problem, exactly. Even occasional arts consumers generally know what's out there, and simply reminding them that you exist or that you have a new season coming up doesn't inspire them to rush out and buy a ticket. They're waiting for a good reason to attend: a special invitation from the organization, or better yet from a friend, or an unusual event — something that conveys that this time it's not just business as usual.
In our final report, we recommended six highly-developed strategies and accompanying tactics that the organizations can employ both individually and collaboratively to strenghten their relevance, appeal, and sustainability.