Over recent years, audience development and audience engagement have been on everyone’s lips, permeating through our thoughts and shaping our projects. Pervasive in everybody’s mind and now a key element in most funding applications, these two concepts often receive mixed responses: some (like me) may be fuelled by zeal just hearing these two terms, others may feel disarmed. Fortunately, some experts in this field have paved the way on how to broaden, deepen and diversify audiences based on personal experiences and case-study based research.
One of them is the internationally renowned US Market Researcher Bob Harlow. Lead author of The Wallace Foundation publication series, Wallace Studies in Building Arts Audiences, Harlow followed 54 arts organisations between 2006 and 2012 that received funds from The Wallace Foundation to pilot test audience-building programs. Ten of these case studies have formed The Road to Results – Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences research led by Bob Harlow.
Harlow’s study revealed, in particular, that audience research was the key factor that strengthen audience-building strategy and lead to better results, and while this is something everybody recognise, only a few organisations, however, take on audience research.