If a concert happens and no one is there to hear it…

As we at Miller Theatre plan for the next performance season, we are eager to learn more about our student audience to ensure we are making smart decisions about what we do. If you have an opinion about what your campus performing arts presenter should be, consider joining us for focus groups in April and May.

So, why focus groups?

If you have ever put together a performing arts event you know that success relies heavily on one component: an audience. And capturing that key component is difficult. Why? Because when tight (or non-existent) budgets and busy marketing people meet saturated consumers, it really matters that resources and time are spent only on what works. We must connect with our audience. If we do not, they will not show.

It’s as simple as that, and it’s as hard as that.

While struggling artists and arts groups may not have billions to spend on major research projects—like UPC scanners or Nuerofocus—that does not mean we can give up learning.  Every bit of new knowledge can lead to some sort of understanding:

  1. Understanding of yourself (the way the art is perceived).
  2. Understanding of your audience and potential audience (the who).
  3. Understanding of how connect these two (the when, where, why, and how)

Surveys are one way to conduct research, but the usually end up only offering insight into numbers 1 and 2 above. Dialogues, meanwhile, have potential to connect arts preferences and attendance behaviors with what really matters when reaching, and I mean really reaching, people: attitudes, desires, motivations, and emotions. If you have been to Lunch With The Arts Initiative you’ve seen the benefit of two-way communication.  Here is another example of some great and unexpected outcomes of performing arts-related focus groups.

Also, the face-to-face element of focus groups mimics the physicality of attending performing arts events. Why not interact and learn in the same fashion that audiences do with your art?

Schuman Award Concert Audience, 3/27/10, by Inbal Abergil

Focus groups don’t have to be formal, they just have to be open-minded. And from there new ideas, real understanding, and smart decisions can grow. From there you test those ideas. From there, you can begin to craft an informed audience outreach plan to ensure that when performances happen people see (or hear) them.

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Christy Pill
Marketing and Communications Manager, Miller Theatre
School of Continuing Education ’10

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