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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with the Audience Agency

Touring companies have trailed behind venues in their access to meaningful audience data, but new insight tools are now benefiting touring companies and venues alike. Rosie Hanley reports.

Circus performance with musicians
A performance by Circa Tsuica

Milan Szypura

In today’s world we are often saturated by data. How we use that data though, and the insight it can give, is where it can become especially powerful. Venues have been able to gain this insight through box-office data and other tools such as Audience Finder, but there has been a long gap in touring companies being able to do the same. Looking at audiences from an insight point of view is far more valuable than simply having a list of attenders for a touring show.

The most powerful insight tells you about the audience, but also guides you on how to implement it.

Without their own box-office systems and databases, touring companies have had to rely on venues and other sources. But how could their own access help touring companies?

Insight for the touring company

We asked Jackie Friend, Marketing and Audience Development Manager at Crying Out Loud, why she thinks insight is vital to her work. She’s currently working on a project called Circus Evolution, which enables venues to bring contemporary circus to more people.

Insight is key in delivering this objective and Jackie has been working with our consultants to develop an understanding in order to diversify audiences. Audience Spectrum has identified where particular audience segments exist in the different regions that Circus Evolution tours to. Jackie says: “I am a fan of segmentation as a means to develop audiences, so what we’ve done is worked with venues to map and profile their existing attenders. We’ve overlaid that on to a map to look at where the gaps in the market are. We can then knit the data in with postcodes to see where those individuals are. It actually gives us a lot of pointers.”

On an everyday level, Jackie and the venue teams have used these findings to drive their marketing activity: “We’re doing things like door-to-door drops, working with local libraries, outdoor advertising, telesales and knocking on doors.”

Being able to put insight into action is vital with any audience development project. Insight without implementation is worthless: “We can implement practical tactics in geographical areas because we’ve got the audience insight data on who’s living in those areas.”

Using this kind of approach isn’t new, as Jackie notes: “Before, there were area profile reports, but you needed to be a bit of a brainbox to use them!” But with newer insight tools available today, more people can access and use them. “Now though, we can see the same information, but in a more readable and accessible format. So it’s easier to comprehend and anyone in a marketing department can access it.”

Jackie recognises that even though venues may have easier access to these tools they are often under-resourced and cannot dedicate time to this kind of data research for every show: “The venues we tour to have one show after another. The time to consider, look at and use all these research tools is quite limited.”

By having access to data, Crying Out Loud has been able to uncover and use insight themselves, rather than relying on the venues’ under-resourced time: “It means that quite quickly I can talk with venues about how our programme can fulfil their audience development ambitions. It gives more power to the touring company. I come in with more information and am better informed.”

So, in answer to why insight is important for touring companies, Jackie says: “I guess it puts us on a more level playing field. It’s me coming in, talking about the show and contributing to a conversation with the venue about how we can help develop its audience.”

Insight for the venue

Katie Anderson, Marketing Director at Warwick Arts Centre, offers a perspective from a venue: “Audience data is incredibly useful, but you have to understand its context to get a meaningful insight.”

Data is only as good as the understanding you extract from it. That insight can be implemented usefully across the organisation. Katie continues: “Insight is essential for audience development and marketing strategies, programming and informing financial decisions. You can accurately evidence the demand for a product and set financial and audience development targets accordingly. You’ve actually got the facts to hand at the point of delivery. Whereas before it was that we thought we needed something. Now, with deeper audience understanding, we have a clear statement of intent, and then delivery and evaluation against that intent. It just makes us all work better together.”

Accessing insight from touring shows isn’t just valuable to the touring company. There’s added value to be gained for venues, as Katie explains: “We’ve recently been part of a tour of Lord of the Flies, and I would love to know what the audience picture was in the south compared to the north and the Midlands. It’s useful to know for next time they bring a tour, or other companies tour, but also for evaluation.

“We’re all committed to increasing the number of people who attend the arts, but by using insight you are just more focused. You can deliver against what you are supposed to deliver with tangible information.”

Why does Katie think insight is important: “It’s about having a common purpose and language. You’re understanding the same things, and if that’s the case, you’re going to move faster and more efficiently.”

Guidance on implementation

Both Jackie and Katie recognise that insight without implementation is worthless – you need to be able to action the insight in a valuable way. The benefits of audience insight for touring companies are both behavioural and geographic. The most powerful insight tells you about the audience, but also guides you on how to implement it.

At the Touring Symposium we launched a new tool Show Stats, powered by the data in Audience Finder. This gives touring companies access to audience insight in a way never before available. Actionable audience insight is undeniably vital to touring companies as it offers a shared approach and common language to audience development that benefits everyone.

Rosie Hanley is Content Editor at The Audience Agency.

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 Rosie Hanley