The Available Audience

by Keith Diggle


The concept of the Available Audience is not as easy to grasp as it first appears. If only part of the Audience Development Arts Marketing approach is understood then it will appear that the arts organisation needs speak only to the converted. All three of my arts marketing books, Marketing the Arts (pub. 1976) and Guide to Arts Marketing (pub. 1984) and ARTS Marketing (pub. 1994), made it clear that the duty to look beyond the immediate audience was part of the arts organisation’s brief. The term Audience Development Arts Marketing enshrines that duty within the job description of all.

Having said this, arts organisations have to live in the present as well as the future and there can be no doubt that only an organisation hell-bent on self-destruction would ignore the group of people who are favourably inclined towards it and its raison d’être and even more foolish to ignore the people who are so favourably inclined that they actually buy tickets for it. The Unavailable Audience contains within it tomorrow’s audience or – important this – a challenge for today that should not be confused with the day-to-day business of earning a living. The Available Audience responds quickly. The Unavailable Audience takes time.

If you go back to the A.D.A.M. Model and click onto The Unavailable Audience you will see that we are talking about people who are either INDIFFERENT to your art form (or your organisation or both) or HOSTILE to it. An arts programme that is selected with ATTENDERS AND INTENDERS in mind is most unlikely to appeal to people who don’t care or dislike that kind of thing. So, if you want to be involved in Audience Development Arts Marketing you must accept that you will need to create a different kind of arts product if you are to attract members of your Unavailable Audience. These should be the kind of events that are created especially to ‘open doors’, to give people what Waiting in the Wings calls ‘Points of Entry’.

The risk is that in what may well be a serious effort to attract new people from the presently Unavailable Audience those new kinds of arts products may be so far away from the arts organisation’s ethos that they do not offer Points of Entry to that art form at all – but to something quite different. What a dilemma the arts organisation faces! How pleasing to welcome new faces. How pleasant to see more money coming into the box office. But will that jolly crowd applauding the tinsel and jokes of the special Christmas show turn up to see Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in two months time?

Some strict self-discipline is called for here to ensure that special programming aimed at the Unavailable Audience really does act as a Point of Entry for what you are really there to do.

Programming is one problem that arises from a serious attempt to practice Audience Development Arts Marketing. Communication is another.

Sometimes an arts body will not attempt Door Opening programming but will simply try to attract members of the presently the Unavailable Audience by broadening the spread of the Product Publicity – choosing differently targeted media and by changing what is said and how it is said in order to make the programme appear to be of wider appeal. The results of such brave attempts are usually (always?) disastrous. The Available Audience, familiar with the language customarily used by the organisation and regarding the art form as something precious (which it is, dammit!), hates to see ‘dumbing down’ or ‘hyping up’ and thinks less of the producing/presenting body and may even stay away in silent protest. Members of the Unavailable Audience who are seduced into buying tickets through misrepresentation may have their prejudices confirmed rather than pass through the portals of Available Audienceship.

If the organisation simply chooses a wider media spread to target the Unavailable Audience and sticks to its usual message and language then that too will fail. It will do less damage to its relationship with existing customers but it will waste money because the financial returns will not cover the extra outlay on media purchase.

So we recognise that at any given moment in time there are people ‘out there’ who have bought and are buying what we have to sell. If we have only just started out then there are people who have bought from other people something very similar to what we have to sell. These we term ‘Attenders’.

Attenders are people who speak our language. They do not have to have everything spelled out to them. They know what’s what. We can communicate with them by mail (we know where they live) and when they come to visit us. We can sell them tickets by mail and when they come to visit us. When we speak to them it had better be relevant, interesting and new and have associations that impress them. And we never lose sight of the fact that Attenders rarely live up to their full capacity for attending – there is a large potential for additional ticket buying in this group.

Within the community there are other people who are very similar to your Attenders. They have similar knowledge, tastes, background but just haven’t bought tickets lately. Perhaps they have been raising children who have only just left home. Perhaps they have recently retired and are wondering what to do with suddenly available time. Perhaps the arts organisation has not been too clever at investigating the Sales angle and overlooked the barriers to purchase that have deterred people with only a slight interest. If these people were asked to list their interests they would probably say ‘Theatre’, ‘Opera’, Classical Music’, ‘Ballet’ – their interest may stretch to watching TV programmes about their interest, listening to radio, buying and listening to CDs, Videos and DVDs but they don’t (often) buy tickets to your events. These people, the Intenders, speak a similar, if not identical, language to the Attenders. They do not need special programming to bring them in. They might, however, need special mailings, special Sales Promotions and special Sales facilities to help them over the hurdle of purchase. Once over, they are Attenders.

For the Indifferent and Hostile the special programming, the provision of Points of Entry, that will tap into the desire some people have to try something new is part of the Educational PR that is contained within the A.D.A.M. diagram. This is where the organisation takes on the role of teacher or parent and arranges events – not necessarily within the conventional theatre or concert hall but within school, college, workplace, community centre or wherever – that provide a bridge. The intention is to turn people from their indifference or hostility into Intenders, part of our Available Audience – people who think they might just like to try this stuff out. Once they are in this frame of mind you may begin the process of turning them into Attenders.