Changing the Narrative

Why “Getting New Audiences” Isn’t the Right Answer

To be fair, getting new audiences is part of the answer, but it’s not the full answer, and that’s where so many arts organizations miss the mark. And that’s also why we’re starting this blog: to tell others what we’re working on, sharing information with our constituents, the community, and the orchestra world at large. For whoever is interested, really.

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Pictured: Music Director Donato Cabrera with the California Symphony after a fundraiser concert in June 2016. Photo: Lindsay Hale

“Most orchestras don’t have a problem attracting new people. It’s getting those people who give it a try once to come back again that’s a challenge.”

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Audience Segment: First Time Buyer

Definition: People who are brand new to the organization, or who have not attended in four or more years.

“The only next step we desire for this group of people is for them to come back again to another concert, and that’s the only thing we offer them…again and again with open arms.”

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Examples of first time buyer postcards, color coordinated to match the marketing for the concert they just attended. The message is always “Thank you for coming! We love you and we want you back again soon!”

Audience Segment: Multi-Buyers

Definition: People who have attended more than one concert in the same 12 months, and preferably within the same season.

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Examples of Multi-buyer thank you cards, designed to incorporate the musicians and maestro. The message is always “The Symphony keeps getting better; let us enhance your experience and help you form a habit of coming here.”

“We’re generating thousands of dollars in incremental revenue from these efforts and seeing an ROI of up to 800%. And that’s just in one year.”

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More to Come

This is a look at just two segments of our audience, and we hope you can see how the California Symphony has dramatically changed the way we think about these important groups over the last two years. For us, the call is not to “get new audiences;” it’s about how we can be laser focused on getting those newcomers to return again. We have plans like those described above for every audience member, including groups we didn’t talk about here like first time subscribers, renewing subscribers, first time donors, renewing donors, special event attendees, and the less fun segments of lapsed donors, subscribers and ticket buyers. Some of this we’ll share in future posts (update: like this one), as we have tons more data, tons more stories, and tons more ideas that we’re working on now as we’re looking to the future. The theme through it all is that we’re an orchestra doing a lot of things differently than we used to. We’re changing the narrative, and it’s working. More to come.

About the Author

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.

Working to change the narrative for symphony orchestras.

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