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Graeae has successfully developed D/deaf and disabled audiences across the UK. Richard Matthews explains the principles and strategies that guide their marketing work.

Photo of performers on stage
Reasons to be Cheerful

Patrick Baldwin

Early on in my career, I remember attending a marketing seminar where one key principle stuck with me – that marketing and audience development should be inseparable. By marketing our work, we should always be aiming to reach an audience that is both new to our products or services, and to the sector.

Nothing beats face-to-face communication, especially when communicating with a potential D/deaf or disabled audience

The idea made total sense to me. Our relationship with our regular, loyal audience can and should be a strategic one. While remembering that these friends of ours are a key factor for our box office targets, they can also be used to help advocate and endorse our offerings to a new audience. And as the term suggests, we should always be aiming to develop our audience. However loyal or regular our current bookers are, let’s face it, they’re not going to be around forever.

Furthermore, when we live in a society that is currently more divided than it has been for decades, I believe we have a moral duty as arts organisations – the cornerstones of our communities – to ensure our audience reflects the true diversity of this country.

Accessible features

Graeae’s raison d’être for the past 37 years has been to put D/deaf and disabled artists centre-stage for the work we tour nationally and internationally. We also build audio description, captioning and British Sign Language (BSL) into the aesthetic of the production from the first day of the artistic process, ensuring these features of accessibility are not an add-on but deeply embedded into the soul of the piece.

We come at marketing from the same place. We don’t create marketing collateral and then create accessible versions, but instead make everything we produce accessible to as many people as possible. In our publicity, for example, we do this through the choice of font, size, colour and layout.

We also audio describe and caption all our promotional videos and trailers, and create BSL and audio collateral for D/deaf, blind and visually impaired audiences. We make sure our BSL and audio materials are always entertaining in their own right, so they can be appreciated by all audiences, whether disabled, D/deaf, non-disabled or hearing.

Partnership with communities and venues

Once we’ve created this collateral, we don’t wait for people to find it. We make sure that we pro-actively target communities that will benefit from it, and ultimately the accessibility of the production.

As such, a large part of the work we do in and around developing audiences is spent researching who and where the deaf and disabled people are within the regions we’re touring to, and what networks they use. Once we’ve spent time finding these networks, we establish a connection with them. Building this connection means that we can then ask if they can help to disseminate the accessible information on the production, whether it be an audio flyer, BSL introduction or BSL synopsis, to their members and users.

As with all relationships, this needs to be two-way. We think about what to offer them in return for their help in spreading the word, such as complimentary tickets or a post-show event with members of the cast.

The old marketing cliché of ‘knowing your audience’ is one we stick by at Graeae. We are careful to create several different versions of the material we send out to groups, so that the communication is targeted to the access requirement of the group we’re talking to.

We always work closely with the marketing departments of the theatres we’re touring to as well, to communicate clearly to their previous and existing D/deaf and disabled audience members and build on any existing relationships the venue has with networks and groups of D/deaf and disabled people locally.

Up until recently, we’ve mostly relied on electronic communication to connect with these groups and networks. This includes the powerful targeting tools that social media channels including Facebook and Twitter offer for reaching individuals and groups by location, interest and lifestyle, as well as the obvious benefit that Twitter offers for sharing information instantly through a single click of the mouse.

We’ve always known that nothing beats face-to-face communication, especially when communicating with a potential D/deaf or disabled audience, many of whom, as research shows, have never used the internet.

Though the usual pressures of limited time and resource has been our excuse, we’re currently investigating how we can reach networks of D/deaf and disabled people across the country in a more people-centred approach, including building on the brilliant model that the Ramps on the Moon consortium, based at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, has developed using An agent for Change – nationwide ambassadors made up of deaf and disabled people.

Invaluable tools

The Audience Agency’s service Audience Finder and ShowStats have also been invaluable tools. We’ve been able to identify that our audiences over the past year have been predominantly made up of Commuterland Culturebuffs, Dormitory Dependables and Metroculturals, representing relatively high levels of disability within these spectrums. We’ve also been able to identify that 29% of audiences to the venues we’ve visited are first-time bookers.

For our work over the next five years, we have identified that we also want to target the Kaleidoscope Creativity, Up Our Street, Heydays and Home & Heritage spectrums, so will strategically plan our tour locations for these areas. It also helps us to identify where across the country we place our ambassadors. 

Complementary strategies

The three key pieces of advice I always give to participants at the accessible marketing sessions I run are as follows:

  • Include D/deaf and disabled audience members (both new to the venue and existing) as a target audience into the campaign messaging at the planning stage.
  • Research the groups and networks locally of D/deaf and disabled people, remembering that any relationship needs benefit for both parties.
  • Consult and involve D/deaf and disabled people in your campaign, so that their voices are heard, and show that you value their opinion by offering payment or equivalent.

By following these points, your audience development and marketing strategies will not only dovetail but will complement one another and ultimately become one and the same thing.

Richard Matthews is Marketing and Development Manager at Graeae Theatre Company.
Tw @graeae
Tw @RhetoricalRix

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