How can touring companies get their hands on audience data?

In a recent Guardian Arts Professionals livechat on arts data was a comment from Bridget Floyer who works at Oily Cart. There wasn’t a chance for anyone to respond at the time but I think it’d be a shame if the topic she raised were to go unaddressed.

She said:

As I’m sure is a familiar story for many touring companies, one of our issues is connecting directly with our audiences. Despite the 2005 Audiences UK (was it?) report, we’re still finding almost all venues aren’t set up to share data easily – it depends on the goodwill of the marketing departments to do what they can. The way that they handle collecting data means that we’re classified as a third party, so the audience members aren’t given the option to distinguish between giving data to us, the company whose show they’ve come to see, and any other organisation. I’m sure theatres are very careful as to who they DO share data with but as an audience member I can see why many would choose to say no. For example at one venue recently out of a week’s worth of audiences we only had the opportunity to get in contact with one person afterwards. Most venues are willing in theory to pass on an invitation to audiences to join our mailing list but in practice this quite often doesn’t end up happening – it’s great when it does!

I totally understand why theatres find it difficult to do anything about this on a one off basis for us – box offices have so much information to give and receive and our shows tend to be less straightforward for booking anyway – but it’s frustrating.

What’s the answer?

I know this is a very common problem. For my own part, I’m currently working with a dance organisation that presents work in other organisations’ venues and in non-traditional (occasionally public) spaces. We’re currently working on tactics they can use to capture more audience data.

Has anyone else come up against this problem? If so I’d be interested in hearing more about the situation and what solutions people have come up with (whether they’ve worked or not).

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

7 replies on “How can touring companies get their hands on audience data?”

  1. As you and Bridget point out, this issue is the most common frustration of anyone working in touring organisations. I feel like I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall on this front for the 7 years I’ve been at Hoipolloi! With the Arts Council increasingly keen for NPOs to take greater control of data and audience intelligence, it’s something that really needs tackling once and for all.

    I discovered last week that the team at Kneehigh have decided to gather together a whole group of touring organisations to lobby both ACE and venues about this. Perhaps it’s worth dropping them a line and adding the dance organisation you are working for to that list.

    Simon Bedford, Executive Producer, Hoipolloi

  2. Thanks Simon, that’s really good to hear and I’ll definitely pass that on. That sounds like it might start to address the venue-wrangling side of things (or at least pinpoint the particular issues).

    Beyond that we’re also looking at how we can collect data (thinking mainly contact details in the first instance) from audiences in non-ticketed public spaces and providing compelling reasons for people to sign up to mailing lists (via ticket on-sale announcements in particular).

    If anyone has any tactics that have worked for them that they’d like to share they may be useful to anyone else reading…

  3. I think the problem with non-ticketed stuff is, realistically, audiences don’t really want to give you their information. They don’t want to receive your e-comms, or be added to your mailing lists. It’s a necessary evil involved in buying a ticket but I can empathise with why, from an audience viewpoint, there isn’t a rush on anyone’s part to receive any more grey mail.

    The failing here really is that venues get the data and see absolutely no reason to share it, data is valuable, they get it as a matter of course, why should they share it? I really think that the only way to change this is for it to become a prerequisite to ensure ongoing funding or to be written into all touring contracts. Even then it’s going to take some enforcement as people will always hide behind the data protection argument.

  4. “realistically, audiences don’t really want to give you their information. They don’t want to receive your e-comms, or be added to your mailing lists. It’s a necessary evil involved in buying a ticket”

    I think this is absolutely the crux of it in the vast majority of cases, which is a shame because I don’t think it has to be that way.

    I’m signed up to a ridiculous number of mailing lists for research purposes (not on my main email, thankfully) and there’s really only a couple that put in the effort to make their stuff worth reading and forwarding to others. Even fewer do a decent jobs of selling me the benefits of handing over my details. It’s something I’m actively exploring at the moment – I think there are plenty of opportunities to stand out from the typical (very low) standard.

  5. Fair point, I have a ‘signup’ account and an ‘correspondence’ account so that I can keep the two separate, as you say the general standard of e-comms are so poor in terms of design/structure/benefit to the user. One company emails me twice a day, almost every day, I have never opened one of their emails yet am simply too lazy to unsubscribe – I would guess that this level of apathy isn’t atypical!

  6. Hello,
    This is currently an issue for us as a non-venue based arts producer. When we create work in collaboration with venues/producers or touring we have the same issue we cannot obtain audience data. Does anyone negotiate this within their touring contracts?

  7. Hello! I’ve only just seen this. I’m so glad you took this up – I think the live chat was geared towards a slightly different issue and so it felt as though it fell somewhat by the wayside. Glad Simon responded too – we’ve discussed this exact issue in the past! I was on maternity cover at Oily Cart and have now left so I’m not dealing with this kind of thing on a daily basis but would be interested to hear if you’ve had any further thoughts on it or heard of any progress.

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