Rachel Jeffcoat on A Night Less Ordinary
23 March 2011
On Monday I attended the final peer sharing event for Arts Council England’s A Night Less Ordinary (ANLO) scheme, which has for the past two years been giving under 26s the chance to attend the theatre for free using formats devised by each participating venue. The day was very much in the spirit of sharing successes and shortfalls honestly, warts and all - in this post I’ll be respecting that ethos with a general summary of my observations.
At &Co we’ve been involved in ANLO in two ways. My colleagues in the Consult team are delivering the quantitative research, a programme of work that is still underway, with flurries of surveys from ANLO attendees arriving every few months, and lots of complex aggregation of data from innumerate different box office systems. Their findings will be published, alongside the qualitative research being conducted by sam, later this year.
My involvement came during the latter half of the scheme, when initial findings were indicating that many venues faced crucial issues with their online box office systems not supporting free “transactions”. On behalf of Audiences UK, &Co Communicate managed the delivery of a new ticketing website which aimed to address this issue by sending potential attenders to a single, simple checkout process. The site has performed very well where it has been adopted – although not necessarily in the ways that we expected.
At Monday’s event, I was struck by the resonance of this theme throughout the day’s presentations and conversations. It sounds like “Marketing 101” to say that the key learning point from this scheme seems to have been to start your market positioning by consulting with your target segment. But it’s all too easy to start such a programme of work with an assumption of the target market’s characteristics – particularly when that market is such an amorphous and multi-faceted group as “under 26s”. Such a wide brush stroke, without consultation, can lead to generalisations which can patronise and alienate.
But a more open, blank canvas approach can lead to deeper mutual respect – it’s not just young people who need to engage with the theatre, after all; it’s the theatre and its current audiences who need to adapt and engage with young people for this scheme to have any true legacy.
We’ve certainly learned a lot from our involvement with the ticketing website. It was intended as a simplistic means to the end of booking tickets – the customer found the show on the main ANLO site or on the venue site, and clicked through to complete a transaction – but it quickly became apparent that people were using it in a different way. Linger times and page views per visit were higher than expected, and a quite surprising number of visitors were signing up for a free account, but not booking tickets. Initial feedback is starting to suggest that visitors wanted a single hub through which to find out what was on at a number of venues, make their choices and book their tickets.
So, we’re entering a period of consultation with the site’s users, with theatres and venues, and with other key parties to find out how to adapt the resource. At the end, we hope to find a solution which allows theatres to continue the momentum of the ANLO project, in a way which best suits the audiences who want to use it. The emphasis, of course, needs to be on understanding and providing for the needs of the audience – because without them, what are any of us in this business for?