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ArtsProfessional in partnership with The Audience Agency

Where do your audiences go when they’re not with you? Leo Sharrock considers his own ‘elsewhere data’ and what can be learnt from it.

Photo of rows of an audience

Joel Chester Fildes

Many organisations will have a subjective view of most of their audiences. To highlight this, I’m going to consider what I might look like to some of the organisations I’ve visited in the past year. I may only be one person, but you’ll see I look very different to the organisations I chose to visit.

My personal story

To the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames, I must look like someone who most often attends performances on my own and only ever for Shakespeare. I recently went to see War of the Roses in a day which meant spending more than nine hours in the theatre (for some reason I couldn’t convince my family to sit through the whole marathon with me). I pay full price for tickets and attend infrequently.

On the other hand, to the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, which is my local venue, I look more like a social attender, often visiting in larger groups, booking last minute and taking advantage of any special offers available.

I love Shakespeare and as a treat will sometimes take my family to RSC Stratford. We tend to see niche performances and I take one of my children to a matinee while my wife takes another of our children to the evening performance. As a result, I must look like a single parent who has so much to organise (babysitters, hotels) and so books a long time in advance, trying to cram a lot into a weekend, and usually paying full price for tickets.

To other venues I may look like an infrequent attender, when in fact I’m an extremely highly engaged arts attender

A completely different family treat is when we visit RSC in the West End. The last time we went we saw Matilda and paid full price for decent seats. We tend to only do this as a treat around Christmas time, so to this venue we must look disloyal.

Finally, St John’s Smith Square in London doesn't know I’ve been at all because my wife booked tickets to see a choral concert with her sister. On the day, my wife was unable to attend so I actually went to the concert. The venue has no idea that it was me who attended, or who I went with.

What is the point of this personal story? It’s to highlight that to some venues it looks as though I’m not loyal and I don’t attend frequently, or I pay more or less, attend in a different party size and behave in different ways in terms of when I book my tickets and how I buy them.

To other venues I may look like an infrequent attender, when in fact I’m an extremely highly engaged arts attender. Those organisations have partial and completely different views of me. But how can you know which is the right view?

Elsewhere data

Audience Finder gives a much greater aggregated view of behaviour, including ‘elsewhere data’ (what your audiences do when they’re not with you), which means you can understand your audience better in context. It also allows you to see who else is out there engaging in the arts that you haven’t yet managed to attract.

Having the ability to see the larger view really does matter. If you take cases like my booking (or rather my wife’s booking) at St John’s Smith Square, what can often happen at venues once a new booker appears is one of the following:

  • We start aggressively trying to build relationships with them, even though they’ve never been before, and if they’re anything like about 60% of the population who match the average attending cycle, will not come again for another two years (and most likely not to you).
  • We send them the season brochure for the next five years before removing them, and on occasion invite them to the next choral concert.
  • We ignore them.

Any, or none of those, could be the right thing to do. But, without knowing much more about the audience, you can’t tailor the right message at the right time to meet their needs. 

The high engagers

Finding out more is crucial to understanding your audience and communicating with them in a relevant, targeted way. To show how this can work for you, I’m going to take the ‘high engagers’ audience group, which I think we’re all interested in, so we can have look at how Audience Finder is changing the ways you might think about and engage with audiences.

How can you find these high engagers? Your number one resource will always be your database, so look at your audience according to frequency of engagement. This gives you the basic ‘known knowns’ and tells you who your super engagers are.

Next, it’s important to contextualise your audience knowledge. Audience Finder can help by allowing you to find out your audiences’ frequency profile (and how it compares to your peers) and their Audience Spectrum (our segmentation tool) profile.

Even if you don’t have a database, Audience Spectrum can still be a key tool to help you understand segments through detailed descriptions available freely in the pen portraits online. This can help you define the offer for communications – what product; when the campaign should hit; any special offers; which channel – and then you can use the free mapping tools to find out where your target segments are and plan your distribution accordingly.

The importance of super engagers

In some ways the super engagers may not seem like an obvious target for audience research or specific marketing campaigns. People might assume they will show up anyway for whatever is happening and frequently buy season tickets. But they are not a group you’d want to alienate.

For a large majority of people in the country, a regular visiting pattern is once or twice every one or two years. No wonder then that just 10% of the population attends three or more times a year.

We send them the season brochure for the next five years before removing them, and on occasion invite them to the next choral concert

But these audiences are hugely important to the cultural economy, as they represent a staggering 42% of all tickets purchased and are worth 37% of all income generated through ticket sales (or £159m). This small proportion of people are responsible for a huge proportion of tickets and revenue.

I’d like to highlight, however, that among even the lowest engaging segments there is a proportion of people who make a lot of bookings. It’s a reminder that segmentation models tell us something about people’s likelihood to do this or that when compared to the average.

Super engagers are obviously frequent attenders, and we’ve seen that they generate disproportionately huge ticket sales and revenue. They also tend to be culturally connected, managing to scoop nearly three quarters of the complimentary tickets issued (71%), which suggests that they have good connections within the venues they visit. They know how to get the cheaper deal, something to be very wary of. As a group they are culturally savvy, spending less on average per ticket than other bookers

They have eclectic appetites. Three-quarters of all super engagers take in two or more different artforms, and 50% more than three. The most popular artforms for super engagers include classic plays, contemporary plays, drama new writing, rock/pop/hip-hop, mainstream film, orchestral and comedy.

Powerful knowledge

Understanding your audiences can be incredibly powerful, giving you the knowledge of their needs and preferences, and the tools to target audiences strategically and tactically to meet those particular needs and develop greater engagement. Be mindful of what your audiences may look like elsewhere and always think ‘who do you think I am?’

Leo Sharrock is Head of Data Strategy at The Audience Agency.
With research contributions from James Trinder, Audience Finder Database Research Assistant.

This article, sponsored and contributed by The Audience Agency, is in a series sharing insights into the audiences for arts and culture.

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Photo of Leo Sharrock


Thanks for an insightful piece Leo! This is a really interesting exercise to undertake. It occurs to me that the arts must contain a rather higher-than-average proportion of 'super engagers' than the general population. We could probably learn a lot about this important group - and how to communicate with them - just by looking at our own habits and preferences.