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My organisation hasn’t done any audience research for years, but budgets are tight. Should I commission it now, or is it better to wait?
If budgets are tight the most important thing is to work out what you know already, and what you really need to find out. You’ll be surprised how much information you can find on your audience without spending a penny on research. I would suggest a couple of in house tasks: firstly, a research digest – find all the research the organisation has ever done and get someone to read through it and pull together a digest of what you’ve found out in the past. It should summarise the main themes/findings, and signpost the individual research reports for more information. Ideally, put all this research together in a big file or box so that you can dig it out easily. Secondly, do a customer overview – use your box office database (if you have one) to find out as much as you can about the past behaviour of your audience (maybe go back three years). This should be very broad, to paint an overall picture of audience behaviour, and could include: number of bookers per year; total value per year (and per booker); frequency per year; artform attendance and crossover; group booking sizes; booking methods (phone, online etc.); percentage of bookers coming from each postcode area (keep this fairly broad); how people hear about events (if you ask this question at box office).
Once you’ve found out what you know already, you can do a few more things that will give you more information and often cost nothing. See if you can find any published research on similar organisations, or information about customer behaviour relating to your field of work. You can then paint a picture of theatre audiences generally, for example, and make comparisons with your own findings to see if your audience behaves typically, or differently. Look at national statistics, such as census data, in order to understand more about the make up of the population in your catchment area. Alternatively, if you’re in England and a Regularly Funded Organisation of Arts Council England, get a copy of an Area Profile Report. This is free, and will give you an overview of the population within a 15, 30 or 45 minute drive.
Only when you’ve done all of this are you in a position to identify any gaps in your knowledge and, importantly, what you would do if you had that information. Then you can commission some very focused research just to find these things out. You can then be sure that any money you do spend on professional research is well spent and genuinely filling gaps in your knowledge rather than telling you stuff you already know.
This week’s question was answered by Katy Raines, who is a Partner at Indigo-Ltd, a consultancy specialising in marketing, fundraising and audience engagement for the cultural and heritage sectors.
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