Audience development rants and raves and taking risks…

Today I have been thinking a great deal about taking risks.  I myself have taken some risks these past few years.  For the past 3 years (and some months) I have been running a business called Audience Development Specialists.  We help artists and arts organizations build a happy and loyal audience.  Through working one-on-one with boards, marketing directors, artistic directors and individual musicians, artists and performers as well as presenting workshops to groups of individuals and organizations, I am slowly getting the word out about audience development.  However, and I am going to take a huge risk here being this transparent with you, I have taken the biggest risk of starting this business during a down economy, where fears run rampant.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I do have supporters that help me out  of the goodness of their hearts, or perhaps due to the fact that they are excited about my work.  I get an encouraging word quite often with “great work” and “what you are doing is important – keep it up” and “glad to see you succeeding.”  I have received positive feedback from my clients and many are referring ADS.  I am extremely grateful for this type of support too.

So here is the transparency part, despite the smoke and mirrors of  being a successful business, and I have had success in my working with artists and organizations, my business is not yet sustainable.  I have been living with a pay check less than most of my clients.

Why is this?   Perhaps it is the theory that new businesses lose money before they ultimately raise a profit, and I need to give it more time, but maybe there are other factors involved:

  • There has been resistance to paying for something new.  People still do not understand audience development so they are not sure they want to shift their budgets to pay for audience development.  Here’s the thing.  Audience development and hiring my business and other firms like mine to teach you about audience development is like funding the arts – you get a higher return for the reasonable costs that you put in.  For example, teaching you the basics, which probably will cost you similar to what a marketing ad costs, will reap you benefits far into the future.  Can your one newspaper ad do this for you?
  • Perhaps I didn’t realize that due to the economy, having more Do it Yourself options would have been better from the start.  This will change in the near future!
  • Many of you may not realize that ADS is not a non-profit. We do not get funded by grants or foundation money unless a grant is written through an organization.  If you desire to seek out a grant, ADS helps you through this process!
  • I have been bending over backwards trying to accommodate everyone’s budget when they do hire me.  Believe me, I understand being on a tight budget.  The time has come however to place value on ADS so ADS does not end up going under.  If you want the help to build your audiences, in order to keep ADS and other audience development agencies alive and well, we also need to be funded properly.
  • Artists  and organizations have not yet figured out they can hire ADS or other audience development firms as a group effort.  Not only will this help everyone’s budget, but you will be supporting the audience development agency too through the collaboration.  Of course a one-on-one would give you the best results, but if you need to get started and have budget concerns, a group workshop or seminar can be most helpful.  In the future, ADS will be pursuing group projects with organizations that could potentially be funded by grants.  Until then, group funding will have to do.
  • Maybe you did not know about our phone sessions.  Our phone sessions are extremely reasonable.  Through hourly phone sessions, you can get the advice that is needed or have a sounding board for a new idea.  Again, you may have the belief that free is better, but free is not better in the long run if it does not support your support.
  • Perhaps I did not allot enough time for our own audience development or maybe I did it too well.  I had one person comment, “Oh, I forgot you were a business,” after asking for advice and me telling her that she could sign up for a phone session with me.  She opted not to sign up even though she wanted the advice.  The good news is I’m positioned well on search engines so when the time comes to find out more, you can type in “Audience development arts,” and you can find me when you are ready.

I did have thoughts about giving up this year (and my support keeps telling me to keep going).  Despite seeing in the headlines about organizations going under and hearing about artists that need to take other jobs to make ends meet, my phone has not been ringing like I thought it would be. Why are people not looking for new solutions?  Would they rather go under?  Is audience development viewed as too weird to try?  Is it still too foreign a concept?  How can audience development help if people do not invest and jump at the chance to learn about it?

All of these thoughts remind me of the movie Jerry Maguire.  I am not a Tom Cruise fan, but the one scene where he is begging Rod, “Help me  help you,” feels exactly right.  ADS and other audience development firms are here for you.  We want to help you learn a new philosophy, a new way of building your audience that works when you do it right.  When all the components of audience development are there, your audience will start to increase within one concert.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  Not kidding!   You will get more donors, sponsors and volunteers too.  You want this, right?

On May 14th in Chicago, ADS along with 2AMt and Design Brooklyn are hosting our first Audience Development for the Arts Symposium. Right now, we do not have enough registrations to show there is enough interest.    This puzzles me.  I hear organizations and artists say all the time they need a better audience and more support, but they do not know how to go about it.  It is curious only a few people want to give this reasonably priced symposium a try when we are telling you that we have a least some answers on how to do exactly what you are asking about (I will not profess to have all the answers).   The deadline is this Friday, April 8 to get the Early Bird rates and to secure the symposium.

My latest idea is to shift gears from a hands-on do it for you consulting business to an educational resource outlet with many products and services that can teach you what audience development is and how to self implement.  I want to help spread the word farther and teach you how to fish for your future.  Okay, that does sound a little funny, but hopefully you get my point.

ADS will be making the changes to better serve you.  We will be making the time to practice what we preach for our own business in order to stay open for as long as we can (or until we are so successful in helping you build your audiences that we are no longer needed).  We will be having a book available very soon.  We already have workshops and phone sessions available.   We have the symposium in place, if you want to take the risk with us to learn a new way.  Whatever we put out there, we will make sure it is cost effective for you and listen to your feedback in regard to the products and services.  Right now I would love your feedback on the Symposium. Good or bad.

There are risks involved for you to take though too.  There is a risk to finally give up the “survival mode” and try something new that could very well be part of the answer to thriving, before it is too late.   There is a risk to finally give up any entitlement or ego issues of having the audience come to you and keeping them in the dark to actually learn how to work with your audience and perhaps going to them.  There is a risk to finally shift your budget from the same old same old that isn’t working to paying for the education and services to learn a new way of doing things.

If you truly want to build a better audience, take the risk and  “help me  help you.”  I have the passion and the desire to teach you about audience development.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza 

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

~James Stewart


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

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