Partnerships Can Help Arts Groups Cultivate New Audiences, Study Finds

Partnerships Can Help Arts Groups Cultivate New Audiences, Study Finds

An unlikely but effective partnership with a local talk-radio host, combined with follow-up and marketing research, enabled Minnesota Opera to expand its audience to include women who were new to the art form, a report from the Wallace Foundation finds.

The study, Someone Who Speaks Their Language: How a Nontraditional Partner Brought New Audiences to Minnesota Opera (39 pages, PDF), describes how the Twin Cities-based opera company tested new ways to attract women between the ages of 35 and 60 through a partnership with local talk-radio host Ian Punnett. An opera lover, Punnett used his platform to make the art form seem accessible and exciting to women who had never been to the opera — indeed, so much so that they jammed the phone lines during his weekly ticket giveaways. After customers attended their first performance, the company followed up with an offer of a heavily discounted $20 ticket; those who purchased a ticket to a second performance were then offered a half-price ticket to a third performance, followed by a 25 percent discount on a regular subscription for the upcoming season, then a 10 percent subscription discount, until they became a regular patron. According to the report, after four seasons, of the more than eleven hundred households new to Minnesota Opera whose members had attended a performance for free — including an educational talk co-hosted by Punnett — 18 percent had bought tickets for a subsequent performance. 

The fifth in a planned series of ten case studies exploring new ways to engage audiences, the report also found that not all ticket giveaways were effective in engaging new audiences. For example, Minnesota Opera partnered with a local television station to give away single tickets five times a year to the studio audience of a local talk-and-variety show, but the effort never gained traction, the study found, because the hosts of the show didn't have a personal connection to opera and the giveaways were too infrequent.

"Here at Minnesota Opera, the generous Wallace grant enabled us to reach out to a specific audience (myTalk 107.1 listeners) and get them to the theater for the first time," said Dale Johnson, the opera's artistic director. "This was accomplished through ticket giveaways and then following up with recipients, encouraging them to make a purchase. The grant also made research efforts possible, which influenced our marketing strategies moving forward. All arts organizations are facing changes in their audiences, including their buying habits. We were able to use the grant to experiment with a new media partnership that proved to be successful and have applied this knowledge in new audience outreach initiatives."