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Churn, baby, churn
Attracting new audiences to your arts organization is essential, but 80 percent of them may never return.
…holding us in place is simply fear
of what’s already changed.
Sara Bareilles, from “Manhattan”
Arts managers spend a lot of time, money, and effort coaxing new people to purchase tickets or participate in their organization’s programs. But despite that effort (or perhaps because of a myopic focus on getting people in the door), the majority of those first-time attendees will never, ever return.
It’s tempting to believe that once audiences experience your work, they will be enthralled and hooked and eager to come back. Data suggests that’s dramatically untrue. In 2017, a JCA Arts Marketing survey of 40 arts organizations found that 66 percent of arts audiences were not returning. TRGArts has found even higher average attrition rates, commonly 75 to 80 percent. As they conclude:
With few exceptions, arts organizations over-prospect for new audiences and under-retain them.
“Churn,” also called “attrition,” is the loss of customers, audiences, or patrons. “Churn rate” is a percentage that captures the scale of that loss over a defined period of time. A 75 percent churn rate among new audiences means that three out of four new entries to your ticketing or audience tracking system from a previous point in time are not currently active. The higher the percentage, the greater the concern.
Churn can be driven by a wide array of factors. Some audiences don’t return because their context has changed – they’ve moved, their life commitments have shifted, their job or schedule or finances no longer allow it. Some don’t return because of an aspect of the experience – it didn’t resonate or connect; their peer or reference groups didn’t value it; they bumped into practical barriers like traffic, parking, or ticketing/event logistics; or, the organization’s thanks and invitation to return were too aggressive, awkwardly framed, or non-existent.
You can’t do much about changing life circumstances. But you can take steps to measure, analyze, and act to reduce experience-based churn.
Approaching first-time attendance as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end goal is an essential first step. Asking about and assessing the experience of first-time attendees is also important, especially since you and your team are longstanding insiders of the organization’s work. Identifying and removing practical barriers for a wide array of audiences also can help (yet another reason for a diverse and inclusive team).
Of course it’s essential to continually invite and welcome new audiences to the creative work of your organization. But it’s equally essential to ensure that first-time (and even long-time) visitors feel comfortable, confident, connected, and cared for in ways that will encourage their return. Or, at least, in ways that won’t turn them away for all eternity.
p.s. Want more Arts Management insight and inspiration? Listen to the new Gestoras podcast for compelling conversations with Latina arts managers from the north and from the south.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Sales
Sales involves designing, deriving, and capturing inbound revenue from goods, services, or access.
Framework of the Week: Capital Continuum
The durable resources required to build and sustain an arts enterprise come in many flavors, informed by the motivations of the donors/investors and the dynamics of the business.
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