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.