Corinne Wahlberg, 4 February 2014

I held a session on audience development during this year’s Devoted and Disgruntled

9, an open space event organised by Improbable Theatre and hosted at York Hall in

Mile End. Here are my notes from the session.

How can I help?

What do people need in terms of marketing and promotions?

Does anyone know what SEO or SMO means? Does anybody care?

What’s the most valuable service a company or self producing artist needs?

One of the strongest opinions was that PR is needed. A young company can handle

all sorts of things like social media, website development, poster design, etc., but what

they don’t have access to or know how to do easily is to get critics from prominent

papers to write about them. It’s not simply writing press releases, either. It’s finding the

person that has built the network to get what’s written printed. And main papers too.

For some, audiences are driven in by reviews. It was strongly suggested that you

spend your entire marketing budget on the right PR person.

Well, that’s not what I do. Also, I don’t think that all audiences rely on good reviews to

want to purchase tickets to the theatre. But, there is a point. PR is important.

A few other ideas?

Someone to help with evaluation of advertising and promotions.

Someone who understands the “opportunity” landscape. Someone who can point

them in the direction of the right briefs, grants, festivals, venues, etc.

Someone who is good at developing strategy, timescales. Someone who can help with

the long term marketing plan.

Someone to manage audience, get them to sign up, reach out, build a database…

But, how? Where do companies get audience contact information? Venues have their

mailing lists, but they can’t share them. (It’s illegal to share them.) So, how does a

theater company even start? Emails, great. Newsletters, fine. But how do you get that


I suggested a bit of JavaScript. Something that requires or at least suggests that you

submit your email. But it’s about collecting them, and not necessarily all of them.

A bumblebee came by and said that there are two different ways to promote your

company: by career and by projects. Career promotions are long term relationships.

Projects are, well, as long as the project. Career audience development is the practice

of what I call finding or developing your ‘super audience members,’ the ones who

come to all your shows no matter what, the ones that invite their friends and constantly

engage you on social media. The best way to promote to audiences by project is to

find partners. Look for relevant themes in your work and see if it speaks to audiences

who follow other organizations.

Some people qualified that what they needed as a producer, someone to handle all

the marketing, negotiations, funding…everything. Someone who can help them be


I can do that but I don’t really want to do all of it. I prefer to be more specialized.

Some artists worry about “selling out.” Marketing somehow makes them feel like an

object, like something to be sold. They don’t want to feel like someone is taking over.

They want a more human touch when it comes to marketing. And branding. Artists

don’t want to be branded. They want things to be more emotional, intimate, personal.

These qualities, however, these things are what major corporations are going for, too.

Maybe it’s just out finding the right language to speak, the best way to approach

problem solving when planning.

Moving on, when we talked about social media as a group, it seemed necessary yet

ineffective. Twitter was debated. Some complained or were concerned that “it’s the

same people talking more.” That, however, is a good thing, because you’re creating

super audience members, and those people have followers who are reading. The

other positive thing about working on the web and with social media is that you can

have the control over how you are seen online. It even helps you consider what you’re

doing, share what you’re doing.

People need help with developing this kind of work just like they need help devising

theatre, they need an outside eye. So, if an artist needs help with online promotions

and audience development, what would should I do and how should I charge? Here

are a few suggestions from people in the circle:

- Consider training people on website development and social media

- Help with maintenance, producing tasks that other producers or self producing artists

don’t have time to do

- Help build strategies for both career and project promotions

- Offer marketing plan surgeries, help people improve their plans

- Help with marketing analysis, help them understand if/how promotions are effective

In any case, the best way to be is to go bespoke. Meet once or periodically, such as

weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Have a wave form where your involvement crests and

falls. Draw upon all your skills and tailor hem to the needs of the individual or


And the last selling point, bill yourself as a business expense. You’re an investment in

their future. And a tax deduction!

Thank you to Kevin Shen, Sophie Besse, Sharlit Deyzac, Ashley Steed, Jung Sun Den

Hollander, and all the others who joined in on this conversation!


Marketing, Audience development, PR, online promotion, Audience Development, pr,

collecting data, audience development, emails, social media, promotion, marketing