Toward an International Consensus on Audience Development

International CRM & Box Office Ticketing Consensus
During the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to give presentations about arts marketing, audience development, CRM, and box office ticketing in Argentina, Chile, San Francisco, and Seattle. I’ve shared the spotlight with some of the best consultants and executives in our field, from South America, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States; relevant links to many of them are at the bottom of this article.

Though none of us pre-screened our presentations for one another, what amazed me was that all of us validated and reinforced what the others were saying. It’s clear that there’s wide agreement about where audience development in our industry is headed and what organizations ought to focus on in order to grow. Here are a few of the more important insights.


The move to a customer relationship management (CRM) approach to audience development and customer service has become a central point of agreement internationally. We’ve moved to a time in which the “transaction” (a ticket sale or a donation) is no longer an end in itself. Rather, the transaction now represents the beginning of a customer relationship. Using digital technology, your job is to embark on an ongoing series of two-way communications, to target and personalize your marketing efforts, and to document all your interactions to create a 360-degree view of your relationship with that patron.

Those of you who follow my blog and this newsletter know that this is the central idea in our book Breaking the Fifth Wall: Rethinking Arts Marketing in the 21st Century, so I am heartened that these ideas are truly becoming international.


“Data-driven marketing” is a phrase I’m hearing over and over. The reality is that your organization already has a lot of information about your customers. But you either may not have the ability to access it, or you haven’t yet tried. In either case, when you start to “interrogate” your data and use it to creatively slice and dice your patron database into meaningful segments that you can track and measure, marketing suddenly becomes less about guesswork and more about measurement and refinement.

When it comes to marketing tactics, I like to say that if it can’t be measured, you shouldn’t do it! For most arts organizations, a direct marketing approach in which your investment in any marketing campaign can be measured against your return is preferable. I cringe when I see expensive ads for relatively small arts orgs on the sides of buses and on random posters in the street. Yes, they make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but how do you know if they are working? These things may be good for “branding,” but most organizations don’t have the luxury of spending that much marketing money on brand campaigns.


Churn is a pervasive problem, but there are ways to address it. By now we all know that as many as 90% of first-time ticket buyers don’t come back for a second visit on their own. Many organizations hit these patrons immediately for a donation, but that’s not very effective. What does work is asking them to come back a second time — right away — and offering them a significant and compelling discount, such as “two for one.” The results presented in one case study showed that given this approach, about a third of those first-time patrons came back a second time.


Marketing is no longer just about creating brochures, email newsletters, and print advertising. It’s now your job to creatively collect and post other types of content that is relevant and compelling about your organization. I saw examples of how The Tate Modern in London and PS1/MoMA mine their archives and engage with their curators, and post interviews, background information about shows, and interviews with artists about their work. Performing arts organizations have a similar wealth of opportunities — I’ve never met a director or conductor leader who isn’t excited to talk about his/her vision and work, either in writing or on video. This is the stuff that brings your audience closer to your organization in a way that draws their attention to the institution as a whole, rather than simply promoting each event over and over.


It seems that all over the world, arts managers are running small organizations with almost no staff and few resources. Having no spare time is an international problem. The solution then has to be to create a “don’t do any more” list. That’s right. You simply must re-prioritize and make new choices about what you will spend your time (and money) on, which means also making choices about what you WON’T spend your time on. You can’t keep doing everything you’ve been doing plus everything that’s new. Some things ought to fall by the wayside, and others should take up more of your time.

In my presentations, I point out that more than 70% of arts patrons say they prefer to buy their arts tickets online, that email marketing continues to be the most effective digital tool for keeping arts patrons informed about your events, and that usage of Facebook has increased by more than 30% among arts patrons in the past three years. Given all of that, isn’t it time to shift your focus and attention toward online and digital and away from things that may have worked a few years ago or a decade ago, but not as well anymore?

My conclusion after being at all these sessions is that there’s a lot of great thinking going on all over the world, and there is broad agreement on ways to move your organization forward. For one thing, keeping yourself well informed by going to these arts marketing conferences is a terrific start. Even though I’m immersed in our field, I learned a lot — and I hope you’ll consider taking the time and money to experience some of this learning first-hand.

In the meantime, here are some links related to my co-presenters you may want to reference:

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2 responses to “Toward an International Consensus on Audience Development

  1. My
    thanks to Gene for this post. I had the opportunity to be at three of those occasions at which he presented. His five points are right on the mark. I would underscore that ‘focusing on the needs of the customer’ pervaded those conversations.

    The sixth point that i would add is that marketing professionals (including the many who participated in the Conferences Gene refereced) know a great deal about how to address the concerns of the field and are learning more each day from reading articles, asking questions, hearing speakers, etc. However, although they know more about these topics than the people ‘above them’ in the hierarchical structure, their decisions are frequently overturned by those who haven’t been to the conferences and aren’t reading about trends in the field.

    I wrote an article several years ago for the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader
    entitled “Is knowledge in the right places?” In my opinion, the knowledge necessary to be successful is often already present in an organization,
    but only listened to on rare occasions.

    It might be of value for people to respond here with their own examples.

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