Audience Development can save the arts, but do you know what it is?

Audience Development saves the day!

Audience Development saves the day!

Last night I went to bed thinking about audience development, and I woke up thinking about it.  I seem to be eating, sleeping and focusing my life around audience development (as my fiance pointed out).  However, I feel that not many people know what audience development really is.  And since people do not know what it is, I do not think people are seeking it out right now either, at least not the audience development I know and love.   If I said that audience development could save the arts, would you sit up and take notice?  Let’s try it…audience development can save the arts!

What is audience development?

Audience development has been a buzz word in the past 3-5 years in the US (England, Scotland and Canada have been using it for many more years), yet so may people still view it as “cheeks in seats.”  This definition implies that audience development is only for arts organizations that sell tickets.  It also implies that it is marketing geared to getting people in the seats.  This definition is not audience development.

Audience development is relationship building at its best.  It is utilizing people power and the power of people to increase exposure and awareness of your art form and organization.  It is building existing and potential audience bases, fan bases, patron support (donors and volunteers) by focusing on relationships, which will get the right kind of people more involved with your art form or arts organization.  Imagine building your own community of support, your own art family.  Who are the people that will really dig your art form (existing and potential)?  What kind of people are they?  Then after you find your people, you can target which ones are good at and want to spread the word, volunteer, donate, become subscribers, be on your board, etc.

So who needs audience development?

Every artist and arts organization needs audience development since every artist and arts organization needs people power and the power of people. Every artist and arts organization needs support.

Why do we need audience development if we are already doing marketing and pr?

Right now many people view audience development as an additional expense.  “If I already have marketing, why do I need audience development?”  or “We are needing to cut back, I simply can’t add audience development right now.”  or “I applied for a grant for audience development and received funding. We are working on doing it ourselves (but we are not sure what to do).”

I’m using this blog to put out in the universe that audience development can save the arts, but only if a shift in our everyday thinking occurs.  For decades we have relied on marketing and pr to get an audience.  We have also been using marketing to build donor and volunteer support.  Is marketing alone working?  Is spending all that money on advertising getting the needed results?  If it were, I don’t think the arts would be in the predicament it is now.  Do you feel like you are banging your head against the wall trying to get results from doing the same old thing?

Albert Einstein once wisely said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Maybe a change is needed so we stop the insanity. I feel that audience development is the change we need.

Also, when looking at organizations that are doing okay despite the economy, these organizations are naturally using audience development, whether they realize it or not.

Audience development uses the 4 C’s (a blog I recently wrote).  If you do not have elements of connection, community, collaboration or caring, you are going to fall short on gaining the right audience for your art and/or organization.

Is audience development expensive?

We need to also review the costs of audience development.  It may cost a little bit for hiring someone to guide you and help you with planning, but the overall costs are less than marketing.  Now, if marketing is not working as well as it used to (mainly due to getting inundated with so many marketing pitches every day), why not try something different?  Why not try shifting some of your marketing budget into an audience development line?  You will not have to spend extra money.  Instead you will be using your budget more wisely, placing money on a plan and programs that actually will work for a fraction of the cost of typical marketing.

The best way to use audience development is hand in hand with marketing, or at least with pr.  I have seen many artists and organizations decide to drop placing ads completely and simply use audience development combined with pr.  And you know what?  These artists and organizations are actually increasing their audiences and saving their budgets at the same time!

The only reason some people may still shy away from audience development is the fact that it does take time and effort.  It may not cost as much money, but building relationships does mean time with people and efforts placed on audience relations programs.

So how can audience development save the arts?

To recap, it is less expensive than marketing, so it saves money up front.  Building relationships with the right people using people power and the power of people does work-you will increase your audience (my record is between 30-50% every time) with the right people for your arts community, and once you get the audience development ball rolling, participation and support for your art form/organization will naturally increase due to having the right people among your own personal community.

So why not make the shift and give audience development a try?

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Until next time, may your audiences be happy and loyal ones, and if they are not, feel free to contact me!


Shoshana Fanizza is the founder of Audience Development Specialists. Her mission is to introduce artists and arts organizations to their existing and potential audiences and to help them to form more rewarding relationships.

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Filed under arts advocacy, arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

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