Guide | Audiences on tour

A good practice guide to audience development for touring organisations...

We recognise that audience development is especially challenging in touring situations. The Audiences on Tour toolkit is designed to establish what good practice in audience development and collaboration for touring work is and suggest where effort should be directed to achieve the best outcome for engaging audiences.

Audience development is an activity to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences and to help arts organisations develop on-going relationships with audiences. It can include marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution. Both a process and a philosophy, it requires an organisation to put audiences at the centre of its vision.

The Audience Agency 2013

Relationship building

Given the challenges for touring companies to build long-term relationships with audiences, the first step is prioritising and scaling the approach. On the one hand this is about the intensity of the relationship between the venue and company and on the other the possibilities and opportunities for audience development.

Realistically, it is impossible for companies to invest the same time and resources in all touring relationships or venues and vice versa. The relationship between any given venue and touring company will sit somewhere on a scale from 1 – 5 below:

  1. first-time, one-off booking that fills a slot,
  2. repeat visits over a number of years,
  3. several shows in one season or over consecutive seasons or years,
  4. jointly commissioning or producing work,
  5. artistic residencies or collaborations between artists, venues and local audiences on creative production or learning.

Effectively ranging from a basic level at 1. where circumstances do not allow or require investment in a relationship through to strategic partnerships at levels 4 and 5.

The deal between the company and venue will also affect the nature of the relationship – whether it’s a box office split, guarantee or hire. So, responsibility for sales targets and therefore the marketing may lie with either partner or be shared.

The type of relationship between venue and company will then have implications for audience development and we suggest that strategies divide into two distinct strands, reflecting the nature of the relationship. For example:

  1. Short-term activity to attract audiences to particular tour performance/s or tour venues.
  2. Longer term strategies to build significant relationships with audiences over time in partnership with some tour venues.

The second approach is only relevant to work presented in venues where the company has a regular and frequent presence and/or is committed to forging positive relationships between company, venue, audiences and the local community. The proportion of tour dates in either strand will depend on the resources available and the overall aims and may vary from tour to tour.

In the first instance therefore, it is important to decide on the nature of the relationship or how it might develop – and for both company and venue to agree on this and understand:

  • each other’s targets, goals or objectives
  • audience information and intelligence needs
  • expectations and responsibilities for marketing
  • audience development and community engagement activity.

Where touring companies or venues are working in consortia or networks, the same principles apply. There are clear benefits to this way of working in terms of economies of scale and sharing resources. A collective approach can also facilitate more robust relationships between venues and companies, audience information collection and effective audience development and marketing. For further support in this area, Arts Council England’s Greater than the sum of its parts is a practical and constructive tool for working in groups.

Economies of scale and a shared understanding will also be generated through the touring sector cluster as part of Audience Finder.

Setting audience development objectives

Once the nature of the relationship is clear, the audience development approach can be devised and objectives set. Audience development objectives should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable or agreed, realistic and timetabled.

There may be other factors which are important, such as the type of deal between venue and company and who is responsible for delivering the marketing, but the following focuses on the two main approaches: one off and longer term.

Based on these different approaches, a range of objectives can be considered. For example:

a) A branded show for established target market(s) indicates that audience development objectives are about penetrating recognised and understood audience segment(s), which are familiar to the venue and company. Marketing is focused on the name of the show using tried and tested marketing channels. The venue and company would be expecting a high return on investment for these performances.

b) Where tour dates are described as ‘filler dates’ or where the company has hired a venue and does not expect to return there, opportunities for audience development are severely limited. Overall objectives will be around covering costs or absorbing ‘losses’ and marketing will be focused on attracting existing venue audiences through direct marketing on and offline using as few resources as possible.

c) Where a show is presented as part of a longer-term or established venue/company partnership, the product could be described as a core offering for a core venue audience. Audience development objectives would therefore be about maximising income from known and understood audience segments and encouraging repeat visits to the venue. Opportunities for deepening engagement through pre and post-show talks or varied digital content might also be key to developing audiences in these cases.

d) Where a relationship between a venue and company is burgeoning, the programmed work could be integral to joint strategic audience development. For the venue the work may serve to engage a particular known audience segment, to increase its frequency or engagement by trying something new or different. For the company it may be about developing work with a new venue to increase its geographic reach or engage a particular target audience. Either way it is a new type of work introduced to different audiences.

Types and sources of information

Audience information can be very useful in both informing the nature of a relationship between a venue and company as well as audience development planning. However, the motto for all audience data collection is – if it is of no practical use, then do not collect it.

Good intelligence is essential to establishing and building relationships, but even with one off dates, some level of information gathering is important.

How often different kinds of information is collected should be informed by the nature of the relationship, the audience development objectives and the information needs of the marketing.

However, it can be assumed that it may only be necessary to collect a deeper level of information every few years. Although there may be clear benefits to collecting particular kinds of information more frequently, where resources allow. Additional budget or resources may be required for some elements.

Type of audience informationDetailRecommended frequencySourceLevel of relationship
Sales patternsincome and tickets (full/discount) capacity, group sizesRegular – post every show/runSales report – Venue box office systemBasic
Booker behaviourrepeat visits (for venue, company, artform)Occasional – post show/runBooker analysis – Venue box office systemBasic/strategic
Booking behaviouradvance/late, phone/online/walk-upOccasional – post show/runBookings analysis - Venue box office systemBasic/strategic
Booker or audience profilesGeo-demographics - Mosaic/AcornArts engagement - Arts Audiences InsightOccasional – post show/runPostcode profiling:- Bookers from Venue box office system- Collected from audiences at eventsStrategic
Audience geographyVenue or production geographic catchment areaOccasionalPostcode mapping:- Bookers from venue box office system- Collected from audiences at eventsStrategic
Audience experienceMotivationsSatisfactionImpacts of marketingOccasional – during show / runBy venue and/ or company:- Follow-up e-survey- Face to face survey- Mini-interviews (face to face or telephone)- Vox Pops- Focus Groups- Social media analyticsStrategic
Audience digital engagementUnique users, patterns of online usage, referralsYear roundCompany and/or venue social media and website analyticsBasic / strategic
Population profilesGeo-demographics and arts engagement with venue and catchment areaPre and post-show/run- Demographic statistics- Mosaic and Acorn profiles- ACE Arts Audiences: Insight- Area Profile ReportsBasic / strategic

There is more detail on this and full check-lists in the Toolkit to inform more practical conversations between touring companies and venues about the information to exchange and for what purpose. A glossary of terms is also included.

Using audience information

An evidence-based audience development plan will support relationship development between venue and company, as well as enabling more effective marketing and better return on investment ie. audiences or attendances for spend. The following outlines how you can put the evidence and audience information you might collect to work – in terms of choosing venues, planning campaigns and monitoring and evaluating your impact. Depending on the type of relationship, different levels or depth of information may be required or appropriate.


  • An understanding of audience profiles (venue and company) and the potential within the local population will facilitate conversations between venues and companies both for identifying new relationships and capitalising on existing ones as well as for audience development planning.
  • A retrospective look at audience information in the context of achievement of previous targets will facilitate devising of new targets and objectives eg. sales patterns, audience profiles, audience experience, digital audience engagement. These aspects are also important for setting pricing levels, including discounts and opportunities for pricing incentives.
  • At a deeper level, developing an audience segmentation using a range of quantitative box office, digital and survey audience information plus some qualitative understanding will facilitate prioritisation, geographic targeting, choice and timing of direct marketing channels and devising of tone, style and messages appropriate to different segments.

    Marketing campaigns

    • An understanding of audiences – their profiles, motivations and needs - means that the messages incorporated into copy can be tailored and an appropriate tone and style used.
    • Most campaigns will incorporate direct marketing (email or direct mail) to previous bookers so an understanding of booker behaviour in terms of frequency, recency and artform crossover will help with more accurate targeting.
    • To reach beyond existing mailing lists, an understanding of the local population and different audience segments’ media consumption and lifestyles will enable better placement of advertising spend and local level promotions, partnerships or distribution (on or offline).
    • A combination of geographic population and venue audience information will help identify areas of potential as well as those ‘hot spots’.
    • A consideration of timings and choice of channels of marketing communications will ensure best use of resources – tracking sales and booker/booking behaviour will help identify what works best and when.
    • Qualitative feedback from audiences about their experience offers opportunities to improve audience engagement with shows – either through the provision of information pre/at/post-show - but also through customer service.

    Customer experience

    A note on community engagement: Where community engagement is an expressed aim for a tour or visit to a particular venue, research into local communities and networks could be used to:

    • identify new ‘satellite’ locations of the venue where work can be performed;
    • create audience-specific panels, such as youth panels, to discuss and develop programming that will appeal to such audiences;
    • create relationships of trust to explore such things as co-creation, collaboration in performance or volunteering and skills development programmes;
    • identify local schools, youth groups etc. to approach with supporting educational elements.

    This kind of research is best undertaken in partnership with venues, as effective community engagement relies on face to face networking in a local community. This approach ensures that connections and partnerships developed have longer-term potential and impacts within the area adjacent to the venue.

    Reporting on and evaluating a tour

    Evidencing success and collecting the information which will enable you to do this should be empowering. In a climate where we need to do this more and more to make our case for funding and support, it is therefore important to have a strategy.

    Incorporating into your planning an approach to collecting, analysing and presenting the relevant data to a suitable level of detail is therefore crucial.

    Monitoring is about regularly measuring such things as box office income and make up of audiences (through booker behaviour or audience profiling). This kind of information can be included in on-going reporting and the depth of information will be informed by the needs of the venue and company or the nature of the relationship between the two.

    Evaluation focuses on assessing whether the tour, season or series of events achieved their intended aims. For a tour it might involve identifying whether audience development objectives were met (venue and/or company), exceeded or otherwise, hence the need to make the original objectives SMART for ease of measurement.

    Collecting the same information (where possible year on year) will also help:

    • Enable measurement of key performance indicators
    • Build a picture of audiences over time for the company and venue
    • Assess effectiveness of marketing activity

    The online Toolkit has more detail in the ‘Reporting on and evaluating your tour’.

    Checklist – information to exchange

    The following suggests a check-list of the types of information to consider exchanging. The type of information may differ depending on the contractual agreement between a venue and a company. The level or depth of information may differ depending on whether the relationship which exists or is desired is basic or deeper, or whether a company has previously performed at the venue. It is also a useful check-list to assess how the relationship is going.

    Targets, goals and objectives

    Once the level of the relationship is clear it is important to discuss the information to exchange in relation to overall targets, goals or audience development objectives at an early stage.

    1. Discuss and understand realistic targets – venue and company – audience type and size; ticket income.
    2. Discuss how the show fits into the venue’s season and how the venue lies within the overall tour of the show – are there any sensitivities or potential for synergy within the venue season or with other tour venues?
    3. Discuss the venue and company’s audience development ambitions and how the touring show helps achieve these.

    Audience intelligence

    The following includes the information that is useful to exchange about the profile of audiences to enable setting targets and developing an effective marketing plan. It can also be useful for reporting and assessing in advance whether a venue is appropriate for a tour in terms of potential audience.

    1. Agree the information to be provided by the venue in the end of show sales and marketing report and the desired format.
    2. Share / request venue profile (average size, geo-demographic breakdown, attitudes, preferences) of audiences at the venue and/or for relevant art form at the venue (if exists).
    3. Ask for / give access to area population analysis / area profile report for the venue’s catchment area (if exists) which indicate potential audiences.
    4. Agree additional information to be shared by the venue, depending on the nature of your hoped-for relationship and the desired format.

    Marketing information

    For marketing of any tour, the following information should facilitate effective delivery.

    1. Agree what additional marketing and audience development resources and support the company might offer, access or receive and venue might provide (free or paid-for) e.g. press contacts, mailing lists or mailing inclusion, exit leafleting, social networking, video exposure etc.
    2. Agree appropriate deadlines for company to provide the venue with promotional information, images etc. that fit the needs of the venue’s target audiences.
    3. Clarify what data use permission questions the venue uses and negotiate potential for shared ownership/data sharing with touring company.
    4. If the tour company has been to the venue previously discuss use of contact details for the people who previously booked for the company’s shows there (and others as permitted).
    5. As a touring company consider ‘return on Investment’ calculations e.g. The income gained from the show against touring costs of the show, including marketing.

    Community engagement

    If within the conversation about objectives community engagement has been discussed, then the following should clarify what information to exchange to achieve this.

    1. Clarify what groups/ people the venue or company is interested in working with. Work with education and/or community engagement staff to agree primary contacts.
    2. Clarify who is going to book the education / community engagement work and what the appropriate timings are to prepare and deliver the work.
    3. Exchange contact details of groups to work with, and who the prime contact is.
    4. Obtain information and locations (or mapping) of groups worked with (if exists).
    5. Seek to understand the relationship between the venue or company and groups.

    Further check-lists are available online for assessing what should be included in the different kinds of reports that could be exchanged between touring company and venue.