Sharon Canavar - Can ‘old school’ marketing methods attract new audiences to the arts?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:20 10 March 2017

Sharon Canavar

Sharon Canavar


How do we reach new audiences?

As part of my role at Harrogate International Festivals, I give talks to various Rotary groups, the WI, Probus and a long list of other fine institutions often made up of older people. What always strikes me is that, after I’ve whizzed through the work of HIF in a 30-minute talk, which might include setting fire to our local park with Cie Carabosse or our weekly singing with young mums and their babies through our partnership with NYMAZ, the feedback I get most often is ‘I never realised how much work HIF does’.

I always ask them how they get their news; how they find out what’s going on. Their responses explain why we find it difficult to reach so many of our potential audience members. Very few take the local paper, even fewer listen to the local commercial radio and not many boast silver surfer status, rarely using the internet, Twitter or Facebook for information.

So how do we reach these potential ticket buyers and festival advocates? Charity organisations like us, which rely on ticket sales for 50 per cent of our turnover, need to reach out to people on our doorstep. They are our audience, but they don’t know what we’re doing or how to support us as a volunteer or donor.

With an incredibly small marketing budget and a heavy reliance on ticket bookers, we always look first to our most likely buyers before considering wider audience development plans, including the drive to engage new and younger audiences via digital routes. I believe, however, that we should also engage in ‘old school’ marketing techniques aimed at the large segment of the population who might react positively to a letter dropped through the door. While I take great pleasure in binning the pile of unsolicited mail that mounts up by the door each week, feedback from the groups I visit confirms that they would pick up a leaflet and read it, perhaps proving that print is still king for this age-group.

We live in an age where there are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18, and the number of centenarians has risen by 72 per cent over the last decade. Surely, this is a clear market for our festivals?

More than 36 per cent of people aged 65+ live alone, so there is a huge opportunity to combat loneliness through participation in the arts.

Thinking more commercially, older households contributed about £61 billion a year to the UK economy in 2013/14, with £6 billion from volunteering alone. This provides an amazing opportunity for a small charity team like ours to develop a volunteering database, giving us access to the skills, time and wisdom this sector has in abundance. The opportunities here are endless.

It’s exactly for this reason that I like to spend my evenings talking about Harrogate International Festivals. I get to meet people who have no reason to filter their opinion of the arts and, by talking to them, achieve a mini focus group that helps inform our work and plans for the future. Put simply, this is invaluable wisdom from a fabulous set of people.

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Latest from the Yorkshire Life