Why Cultural Organisations Shouldn't Focus on 'Everyone'
Our audience is everyone.
It’s something we hear a lot from organisations we work with, big or small.
It comes from a good place – who wouldn’t want to be friendly, accessible, and open to all?
But targeting ‘everyone’ can have the exact opposite effect – attracting more of the same people and locking out those who have historically been less engaged.
Everyone is a dangerous word. Here’s why.
It robs you of curiosity
You’ve opened the doors and put a beautiful ‘welcome’ sign out front. Your marketing is top-notch and your programme is full of varied and exciting new shows and activities. You’re working beyond capacity to provide for everyone.
Any person who comes across your threshold adds to your audience target of everyone. Result!
Your job is done, so there’s no reason to ever find out more about who is visiting you…
Knowing that you have specific audience targets to meet will put the onus on you to find out more about your current audiences:
Become a detective and find out as much as you can from your existing data. Go one better and be a nosy neighbour. Talk to your audiences. Hang out in the foyer. Attend your own show. Ask other staff and volunteers for their observations and funny anecdotes. Most of all, be curious and be willing to challenge preconceptions about who your audience members are.
Think beyond demographics. Think about what else people are doing, where they are in their lives, how much time they have, what they love, what they hate.
Going beyond ‘everyone’ gives you the chance to truly connect with the people who love what you do. And the people who could love it too – but just don’t know it yet.
Even large corporations with millions of customers can’t say that their audience is ‘everyone’. Car companies don’t target people who can’t and won’t ever drive. They don’t even target people outside of specific countries and income brackets.
If your audience is everyone – ask yourself what you mean by that. An arts centre in Belfast might want to attract a diverse audience that’s representative of the city. This isn’t the same as attracting attendees from all across Europe.
‘Everyone’ is an unachievable goal. Targeting everyone means that your only measure of success can be increased audience numbers. You’ll never be able to understand who you are attracting, or where you have the greatest impact. Having specific targets will help you measure success and understand what’s working and what’s not.
It makes you stick to the status quo
In reality, targeting ‘everyone’ will most likely mean ‘more of the same’. For decades now, many cultural institutions have been attempting to diversify their visitors, often with limited success.
There are lots of one-off changes you can make to your organisation in the name of access for all.
- You can make ticket prices cheaper or free – but the data shows that this doesn’t get working-class audiences barging through the doors.
- You can make your venue step-free – but why would people suddenly want to visit when they’ve been excluded from your venue for years?
To run a successful family programme, to truly get local people involved in running your venue, or to create a space for older people to feel at home in – these all take time and commitment. You can’t do it all. You need to focus in on specific audiences and engage with them on a deeper level.
It puts your organisation at risk
The days of ‘build it and they will come’ are over.
Publicly funded cultural organisations must be sure that they are delivering for the right people – whether that’s a very large and diverse audience, or a specific, targeted one that can derive the greatest benefit from your work.
True audience development means taking an honest look at who is attending or participating and asking yourself tough questions about who you are serving.
The job at hand is hard. But the rewards are great – increased revenue, happier visitors, and an organisation that is dynamic and relevant.