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  • Writer's pictureSamuel Biscoe

Your Audience Is Waiting For You

There is a lot of fear during social distancing measures around 'what if audiences will disappear?'. I can tell you that they're waiting for you.

Closure of theatres and arts venues has caused a lot of questions. The ifs, buts, maybes of when and how we 'reopen'. But with absolute certainty, your audiences are not going anywhere and you never closed, at least not online anyway.

The theatre industry has been hit by a plague of cancellations, particularly mid-scale producing theatres. Presenting venues, like the ones I work for have been fortunate enough to be able to reschedule dates to later in the year or further in the next year 2021. So now, our Autumn seasons will become more important than ever this year as you either face the challenge of having a lot of performances to sell and a packed calendar of rescheduled shows slotted in around what was already programmed, or you face a boney-still-unsure-of-what-will-be-left few months until Panto starts.

While social distancing has been in place, we closed our buildings and a lot of arts organisations have taken to that as being 'closed' completely and communicated that to their audiences. It's a worrying message to have communicated because although the auditorium is closed, our Box Offices remain open virtually, as do our websites. Our new patrons and loyalists need to hear that while the auditorium is closed, our mission to bring theatre and arts to our audiences remains that same. Business as usual in many ways for your Marketing and Box Office teams.

We understand that people may be holding on to their money right now, but engagement in arts and culture has never been higher. In a recent TRG 30 Virtual Roundtable we saw a Google Trends graph that showed a huge spike in Arts & Culture interest online in the US. Here is the UK version of the same interests graph:

As we can see interest in the arts is booming right now. From around an average of 25 to above 75-100 according to Google's stats. That's a huge increase and people at home probably don't even know that that's what they're looking for during social distancing butt hey know they need entertaining while there are no sports, no pubs or restaurants, and certainly, no leisure other than your government permitted daily exercise.

If you want to join in the TRG 30 Virtual Roundtables, register here.

Now we have the opportunity to build relationships with people that might be looking for 'their art' and let them know we're not closed, you can still book tickets and engage with us, and if you're a charity, importantly donate.

First of all, you'll need to get your shows back on sale. If you needed to take down your performances for a moment to get things rearranged, setas exchanged, customers contacted, etc, you need to get those shows back out to the public. Talk to the producers of the shows as they are close to getting back on sale and try to get some exclusive content - introductions read in by the star of your show, a preview of a famous solo, or even a previously recorded scene. If you're waiting to hear back from customers, continue to wait, you don't want to apply pressure to your customers who might just think'oh, I'll just have a refund then'. Allow them to make a decision, remind them if necessary, but don't force their hand. If you're able to lock out seats for customers who you're waiting to hear from that will be the best way of making sure you don't double sell that seat.

Make sure your website is up to date with the recent and most relevant information about your plans during the COVID19 crisis. Clear and concise information about your plans will be comforting to your customers, even though they know that things might continue to change. Check through your website for things like suggested shows on pages and upsells that may no longer be relevant. If you need to, point everything toward your Christmas show.

Keep up the conversations with your customers, whether that's via email, social media, or letters in the post. If you usually send a Friday round-up or a monthly newsletter, its really important that you continue to do so. You might need to be a bit more creative with content but nows the time to show a side of your organisation that perhaps you might not get to see if you're not a regular or loyalist. If your organisation has a big arts programme then perhaps ask your regular class attendees to join you on social media by creating some inspired pieces at home. Corn Exchange Newbury is continuing to engage with their Rhyme and Shine participants by providing a free online class, asking customers to register for the class through their website, thus obtaining the all-important data, and then inviting them to the workshop via Zoom. A fantastic opportunity to engage with new people and because they'll have booked through their ticketing system, they'll be able to learn about the people that are engaging with their digital programme.

Your loyal patrons will be the first people to say that they'll be back and they mean it, but this doesn't mean that you won't need to encourage them as everyone feels differently about when they think they'll be able to visit. If like many theatres, your core audience is people that are 55+ they may be worried about returning to soon which is worrying for sales. Even Autumn might currently be feeling too soon for some people. If you're a venue that launches shows as they come on board rather than by a specific season you might want to try and firm up the more distant shows and invite your more senior audience to engage with those shows sooner rather than later. With the Spring/Summer season for theatres now all but decimated we have the ability to change people's buying habits and push people to book further in advance, which as you'll know is music to any venue's ears. If you've got a golden nugget up your sleeve, then don't delay in letting your patrons know, even if it's an announcement that something will be on sale in a few weeks. I recently put on sale We Will Rock You and sold 2000 tickets in the peak growth week of the virus despite some reservations if people would actually buy during the pandemic. We encouraged early booking with a juicy special offer off of our top price seats (where most of our inventory is) that was only going to last 7 days to create some urgency in booking those tickets. For people that required accessible seats, including wheelchair-accessible spaces, we asked them to drop us an email and we promised to reserve spaces and get back to them as soon as possible.

Treat your customers like a thirsty plant. Don't let them go dry and keep them in the light and constantly topped up. As I mentioned before, your loyal customers will be your biggest fans and some of them won't even feel like they are and just see it as 'something they do'. This week on Twitter I clocked Northampton Royal and Derngate's CEO Jo Gordon writing letters to her biggest donors. Not a printed to trusts or companies that have sponsored or given grants but handwritten notes to the theatres most valuable patrons to thank them for their support. A simple but impactful gesture that will go a long way in cementing Royal and Derngate's relationship with their donors.

Your social media should be reflective of the message that you want to tell your customers, whichever route you choose to go down, but it must be consistent. If you're working for a charitable trust, all your messaging should include something where your customers can find out more about your situation. Maybe this forms part of an overarching campaign or perhaps just a page with your Coronavirus information with a clear message that shows you need your customers continued support. New Wolsey's website makes it very clear with a donation web component on their homepage asking people to make a donation relating to some online content that customers might have engaged with. If you're asking people to donate, make sure that your confirmation and automated thank you emails are up to date.

You might want to think about taking advantage of the collateral that you've already got. ATG has launched their 'The Shows Will Go On' campaign making the most of their advertising spaces they already had booked for their central London theatres, letting their audiences know that things will get better and that they want them to return to not only their theatres but all British theatre. If you have unused space, make sure you're making the most of it.

Rifco has made one of their shows available online, allowing fans to relive their favourite production, but also engage with new audiences who might not have seen their work. Mushly: Lyrically Speaking is a new play by Rifco who create work that reflects and celebrates British Asian contemporary experiences. By making their previous work available online they're able to showcase exactly what it is that the company does and potentially allows a new audience to engage with their work. If you have recordings of performances, this might be the key to introducing people to what your organisation will be doing in the future.

Watch Mushly: Lyrically Speaking here:

Your audiences are out there waiting for you, and you need to keep them engaged. Make sure that your audience knows that you're not 'closed', make sure that you thank people for their support and continue to engage them with social media.


Today's actions:

- Make sure that you let your audiences know you're not 'closed'

- Ask your customers to continue supporting you by booking tickets and/or donate

- Make sure that all your rescheduled performances are back online and let your customers know that they can book now for the future, give them some hope for the future.

- Thank your customers personally for their support

- Your social media should reflect your messaging about Coronavirus and let the audience know how they can help.

- Make the most of the advertising spaces you do have and make sure they're up to date as possible, even if that's with some generic print like ATG's campaign.

- Share previous performances if possible and remind your fans why they should continue to support you.

- Remember that your audience is waiting for you and remain positive about the future.


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