We Are the New Audience
This month’s newsletter article was written by Michelle Paul, Director of Product Development here at Patron Technology. —Gene Carr
The more I explore this issue, the more I begin to think that the answer to this problem might be sitting in your office right now. How many people reading this either have entry- or mid-level coworkers who are 30 and under, or are yourselves those “emerging leaders”? My sense is that members of the next generation of arts marketers are ready and waiting for the chance to express their ideas and reach out to their peers to attract that younger audience everyone is looking for.
In November, at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, I moderated a session called “We ARE the New Audience: Empowering Next-Generation Marketers to Reach Next-Generation Patrons” with panelists Sarah Benvenuti (The Civilians), Robert Gore (TDF), Katherine Mooring (Arts & Science Council), and Kaysi Winham (Young Affiliates of the Mint Museum).
This month I’ll be giving a solo recap of that session at the Arts Reach Conference in New York, to share the ideas we came up with about what the “next generation” of arts audiences looks like and what they want. We will also explore how to encourage the emerging leaders in an organization to be the driving force for reaching this new audience.
Here’s a preview of my main takeaways from the discussion:
- Plan parties and events aimed at young audiences and ply them (us!) with booze, if only to introduce them to your space and your work and to make it a more comfortable environment. This could be in conjunction with a show, or possibly even just a separate event in the same location. If someone’s impression of “the arts” is that it’s a stiff and formal occasion, a night dedicated to breaking down that barrier can be a helpful way to encourage future attendance.
- Don’t expect the 20-somethings in your audience to act like 40-somethings. Their lives are different, and in the end you might not actually succeed in turning them into regular arts-goers right now. However, Sarah argued that even if they only ever come to the special event nights, that’s okay — you’re laying the groundwork for the future.
- Many young arts patrons experience a paradigm shift in their lives at the ages of 22, 23, 24 — as Kaysi described, they’re transitioning from the tight-knit community of a college campus to the wider community around them. They’re often looking for a new niche to fit into. What does your organization do to establish itself as a welcoming part of that community?
- What words do you use to describe the plot of a play or the dynamics of a piece of music? Robert pointed out that the themes that speak to a 50-year-old might be lost on a 25-year-old — so how can you spin the same story in a way that would grab her attention? I offered the National Symphony Orchestra’s “live-tweeted program notes” as an example of how to make classical music feel more accessible to an audience unfamiliar with the work (the whole story about this experiment can be found in the social media chapter of my book).
- Millennials generally don’t like the term “millennials” and don’t consider themselves to be millennials… which itself is a reaction that seems to be pretty characteristic of millennials. So take from that what you will!
- The way millennials think of leadership roles may seem very different from the way older people in the organizations conceive of leadership. Katherine’s experience has been that next-generation leaders often value passion and collaboration over ambition and independent success, which may mean a change for the culture of the whole organization.
- When working with younger people within your organization, give them room to succeed and permission to fail. Find a project that’s big and exciting but with room for risk-taking, one that won’t break the bank if it doesn’t work out.
- And if you are that young person, don’t wait for opportunities to be handed to you. If you see something that could be better or have a new idea that won’t cost much, just do it — especially in a small organization, you don’t always need to ask for permission to do something awesome.
- Finally, my thesis statement for this whole conversation: if your organization wants to attract a younger audience, start by listening to the young employees you already have on staff and let them drive the effort, as we probably have some good ideas about where to begin.
We ARE the new audience, after all.
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