Developing Classical Music Audiences in Lancashire

February 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Developing Classical Music Audiences in Lancashire

Lancashire Classical Music Collaboration (LCMC) is a partnership of three orchestras – Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Manchester Camerata - and three Lancashire venues - Preston Guild Hall, Blackburn King George’s Hall, and the Muni in Colne working together to bring world class orchestral music to the people of Lancashire.   This ground-breaking partnership project, the first of its kind in the UK, was brought about by a significant two year Grants for the Arts award made by Arts Council England which began in 2012. It was extended through to May 2015 in order to see through a number of successful initiatives.  The original partnership also included Lancashire Sinfonietta who sadly withdrew due to county council funding cuts and have subsequently ceased trading.

Lancashire has offered high quality classical music programmes through the three professional orchestras for a number of years.   However, audiences have reduced and the partnership was formed to identify ways to engage and develop new audiences so that more people experience and are inspired by classical music.


To reinvigorate lapsed and build new audiences for orchestral music in the region in order to build a more viable audience base for all the LCMC partners.

This would be achieved through:

  • Increasing audiences overall by 10% by the end of the project
  • To position the LCMC offer to grab the attention of new attenders; re-engage infrequent/lapsed attenders; turn current attenders into ‘word of mouth’ advocates
  • To recruit a range of partners to build a lasting legacy
  • To provide a range of value added activities

These objectives were translated into 9 strategies which LCMC pilot tested and refined during the project.  The strategies that we originally set out to test were: Season Subscription Development; creation of a bespoke Distribution Network; Test Drive; Segmented Communications; Coaches for Venues; Tourism; new ways of using PR/Media Advertising; Digital/Online; developing Audience Communities.

Season Subscription Development

2013/14 season we undertook a telephone subscription campaign using the services of a professional agency, to help drive renewal from existing subscribers, encourage new subscription from existing classical attenders at the venues, and crossover between orchestras/venues.

Whilst income generated for the 2013/14 season was less than the overall cost of the campaign there were a number of learnings:

  • We had not allowed enough lead time and briefing for the external agency
  • We discovered that customer data supplied to the agency wasn’t as robust as it might have been.

Based on learnings from the 2013/14 campaign it was decided that a more effective approach would be to undertake a repeat campaign ‘in-house’ in 2014/15.  As a result a professional trainer was employed to train venue staff to undertake the campaign.

The training provided staff with the skills to undertake similar campaigns in the future.  By using in-house staff with first-hand knowledge, subscription sales increased in the two venues that took part.  Preston Guild Hall was unable to participate due to lack of staff resource and a much reduced RLPO season which meant there was no formal ‘subscription package’ for 2014/15. Venues have committed to using the training to do an annual telephone campaign.

Distribution Network

To develop a list of new places to distribute the collective LCMC message using Audience Agency Heat Maps and postcode data tables as well as collective knowledge of the area/market. Print distribution was planned for four key points during the season beginning with distribution of a specially designed leaflet in August 2013, which included a ticket offer for tracking purposes.  The offer resulted in zero sales and there was no significant overall spike in sales.  The next distribution LCMC trialled a door-to-door leaflet campaign using Audience Agency research on a list of ‘top’ postcodes within the catchment area.  A more attractive ticket offer was made for tracking purposes.  Again there were no sales via the offer and no significant spike in sales in the 2 weeks after the drop.  As a result a more direct approach was taken with a door-to-door leaflet campaign placed within the weekend Guardian and Telegraph.  The resulting ticket sales were significant.

Test Drive Programme

We used a tried and tested audience development programme to recruit new audiences.

Pilot 1 trialled two schemes during the 2013/14 season:
  • In partnership with the Lancashire Evening Post (LEP) and Visit Lancashire. This pilot, in Sept 2013, began with significant preview coverage in print over a two week period prior to running a competition. The competition offered a VIP 1st Prize and 275 pairs of tickets to runners up. The paper also offered to review a number of concerts over the season.   Resulting entries were low (most were via Visit Lancashire) due to poor communication by staff at the LEP which had resulted in errors and omissions to the editorial.
  • A second scheme with Classic FM. Because of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s partnership with Classic FM they agreed to run a competition on air and on their website at no cost.  The competition which ran for two weeks offered a VIP first prize and 275 pairs of tickets for 'runners up', and resulted in an overwhelming response.  The scheme helped fill spare capacity at three concerts (one for each orchestra/venue) whilst also gaining significant profile for classical music in Lancashire in a national context.
Pilot 2 trialled two further Test Drive schemes in 2014/15:
  • Data sourced from Audience Agency Spectrum/Experian using a direct telephone survey approach to gauge interest. The Experian data was not as useful or reliable as expected but topped up with lapsed attender venue data resulted in 186 people attending their first concert free.  We then conducted a post-concert follow-up to gain feedback/gauge interest in future attendance/offers which resulted in 94 people being given a low cost ticket offer to a second concert.
  • Facebook advertising ‘Sign-up’ campaign – we used the LCMC brand, through Visit Lancashire’s Facebook page, to target specific interest groups/areas. People who clicked to ‘Sign Up’ were offered a chance to get 2 free tickets from a limited number available if they signed up for information.

We have continued to develop the audience who attended through these initiatives with further concert offers.  Take up so far has been limited due to the level of programming available and continued development will require similar or increased levels of concerts.

Segmented Communications

A number of direct marketing communications targeted at:

  • repeat attendance from existing classical/non-classical audiences at each venue
  • new audiences through data from bought ‘mailing lists’ and Visit Lancashire arts interest e-data.

We produced eye-catching printed newsletters with a collective LCMC message and brand featuring an attractive all-inclusive VIP package.  The campaigns showed a good level of sales and have given food for thought for development of an ongoing segmentation strategy.

Coaches for Venues

Research into Lancashire based coach companies resulted in development of a partnership with Moving People, Accrington.  We began by undertaking informal research with current audiences to gauge interest in a coach-to-concert scheme.  Feedback was largely positive. This resulted in a trial coach and concert package being offered for one RLPO concert as part of Moving People’s existing ‘Excursions' programme.  Whilst take-up was less than expected it was a good start and a survey of bookers done by Moving People has provided useful feedback.


A partnership set up with Marketing Lancashire (Visit Lancashire) has given some clear mutually beneficial benefits with some paid for elements but more importantly a range of two way in-kind marketing and PR support.  The principal element has been the development of a dedicated web presence on the Visit Lancashire site with a unique URL (

Online Advertising & Promotions

The ACE funding allowed LCMC to test a number of digital advertising campaigns aimed at attracting new audiences.  The most successful were targeted Facebook ads and ticket promotions with Travel zoo and the locally based Deal Monster. We were also successful in putting in place procedures to ensure the collection of customer data (not usual with this type of promotion) in order to develop an ongoing relationship with those who responded to the promotions.

Audience Communities

We investigated setting up an ambassador/advocates scheme but the cost weighed against the potential success of such a scheme was low.  We subsequently recruited 12 members of the current audience with a view to setting up an incentivised ambassador scheme. Consultation with recruits revealed that most didn’t want to make the commitment that would be required.  As a result we didn’t pursue this idea further.

Developing Insight through Research

  • An audience survey was undertaken targeting attenders at 3 concerts given by each of the orchestras in the 2014/15 season. The purpose of the survey was to find out more about attendance patterns, communications, programme, and motivation as well as demographic, age, gender information to help inform future planning and audience development.

“A truly wonderful and memorable evening.  A great band and a great conductor (Sir Mark Elder)”

“Venue a lovely surprise! Brilliant performance.” [Manchester Camerata, Colne]

  • Conducted a customer feedback survey aimed at Test Drive attenders (1 online, 1 by phone) to gain feedback on their first experience of a concert and to gauge interest in further attendance.

“[RLPO] Loved The Lark Ascending.  Other pieces very vigorous, and loved watching the facial expressions of the orchestral players and how passionate they were about what they were playing.  They must have been exhausted".

  • Tagged new audiences on venue databases, and collected a range of data for future contact by all partners.

Key Achievements or Outcomes

  • Audiences have increased despite the demise of Lancashire Sinfonietta, who were obliged to withdraw from the project. There were 2,323 new attenders overall between 2012 and 2015.
  • Successful initiatives included: a number of Test Drive’s testing new approaches to the established ‘Test Drive’ model (e.g. through Facebook, Telephone campaigns) resulting in 592 new attenders; Segmented communications offering special all inclusive ‘VIP night out’ packages resulting in over 1,600 tickets and, significant additional income; Guardian/Telegraph post code sector door drop campaign using targeted print and messaging
  • The opportunity to pilot test a range of initiatives has provided both partners with options and templates for future audience development
  • Enabled the collection of shared customer data across the partner organisations
  • Development of key partnerships – Marketing Lancashire (Visit Lancashire) who provided the LCMC web presence and a range of marketing support; Lancashire Music Hub, Moving People Coach Company and Lancashire Evening Post. They all played a part in the positioning of LCMC and classical music in Lancashire and nationally. It is expected some of these relationships will continue beyond the end of the project, in particular retention of the collaborative LCMC brand through web presence on the website.
  • LCMC was a shortlisted finalist in the Visit Lancashire Tourism Awards 2014: Cultural Venue/Organisation Award category
  • The level of co-operation the project has produced between orchestras and venues has helped establish excellent practice in sharing resources, working to common goals and has benefited wider practice. This was in no small part due to coordination by a strong Project Manager resulting in consensus and action throughout the project.
  • Sharing project achievements with other UK organisations - a number of the strategies pilot tested have been rolled out to other arts organisations (e.g. Welsh National Opera).
  • Trailblazing - LCMC was one of first Audience Agency clients to test and use Audience Spectrum data.

Conclusions & Recommendations

The Development Strategy going forward will be to build on the strategies or initiatives that have been successful so that they become part of the future audience development strategy of each venue and orchestra.

These will include:

  • Continuing to build on and commit to the relationship with Marketing Lancashire through in building audiences for classical music in Lancashire
  • To continue to develop a relationship with local coach company, Moving People Accrington with a view to building a sustainable Coach to Concert scheme for audiences
  • Venues will utilise subscription telephone sales training (specialised training was provided for in-venue staff) to put in place an annual renewal and recruitment campaign.
  • To undertake ongoing joint new audience schemes such as ‘Test Drive the Arts’
  • To build on successful communications to targeted audience segments, which will include a regular Lancashire Classical Music Collaboration ‘Classical Music in Lancashire’ newsletter for audiences.
  • To continue work with Lancashire Music Hub (launched in Mar 2014) to develop younger audiences
  • To integrate new audiences recruited through new audience campaigns into future venue/orchestra strategies.
  • To seek to work collaboratively with other Lancashire based arts organisations and Arts Council England Creative People & Places projects in Pennine Lancs (The Canal & River Trust) and Blackpool/Wyre (Left Coast).

Whilst there have been many successes the project has highlighted some resource based and infrastructural challenges.

  • Going forward it will be important that the limited functionally and uneven capability of box office/CRM software across the venues is seen as a priority.
  • The functionality of King George’s Hall box office system, in particular, was not on a par with the capabilities of the systems used by the other venues. This, despite willingness from venue staff to fulfil project objectives, resulted in issues in running customer data reports, extracting data and recording information.
  • As a result LCMC commissioned HD Consulting to undertake an audit of King George’s Hall box office system to help build the case for review.

The musical landscape in Lancashire has shifted significantly since the start of the project, with the future of the Manchester Camerata in Colne in flux due to local authority funding cuts.  Future resource therefore is likely to be less than it was and much of the ongoing audience development is likely to be incumbent upon the orchestras to instigate and maintain.

This case study can also be found at

Published by: Helen Dunnett in My Blog

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