#TBT: How to Drive Young People Away From Your Venue in Droves

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: How to Drive Young People Away From Your Venue in Droves.

I was reading Anne Midgette’s terrific article [2009] about the obsession with the development of young audiences by classical music organizations, and something Anne said led me to take the idea further.

Here’s the key tidbit from Anne’s piece:

“ … I think the idea of ‘a young audience’ is one of those fictive Holy Grails that has emerged into the conventional classical-music wisdom as a kind of theoretical quack cure-all … Well, I don’t think reaching a young audience is the answer. I think that we need to stop fixating on the young audience and focus on reaching an audience, period.”

Well, Anne, you’re right, but I’ll see you and raise you. It’s not that the young audience isn’t a “cure-all” for the problems of an organization.

It’s that the “young audience” doesn’t exist at all.

There is no group of people called the “young audience.” There’s no “young person” newsletter, and there are no club meetings. (At least, I haven’t been invited, but then again, I may no longer qualify … alas.)

It’s a niche-a-rific world. Trying to reach a “young audience” is like saying that you’ve created a product for women. Would that be women like the the 22-year-old UCLA student who’s on the field hockey team and likes to study at the beach, or the 53-year-old woman who has just sent her last child off to college and is considering hiring another employee at her PR firm, or the 36-year-old woman who just got back from Iraq and wants to move back to Ohio to be close to her family, or the 45-year-old woman who likes the outdoors and is the Governor of Alaska, or … ? Well, you get the idea.

In a way, even niches are insulting. What niche are you part of? The research firm Prizm gives you 66 choices: close-in couples, urban achievers, mobility blues, park bench seniors … blah, blah, blah.

They all have cute names, designed to flatter people supposedly in each group (and I notice there are no names like “Small Town Scumbags” or “Broke Big City Weasels”), but I bet that you have a similar feeling to mine when you look at this: I’m just me! I’m not any of this, though I might be pieces of several. Now leave me alone.

But when you set out to develop “young audience,” how much worse do you think you sound to the people you’re supposedly trying to attract? At least Prizm gives you 66 choices!

The real key is for your organization to Have a Meaning. What do you represent? What do you stand for? On the first day a new employee works for Goldstar, I spend 10 or 15 minutes talking with them about what a company means. Volvo means safe cars; Chevy means … well, nothing, and that’s the problem. In-N-Out Burger means delicious, authentic burger stand burgers; Burger King means … nothing. Cirque du Soleil means a spectacular modern circus without animals; the generic city arts center that does the same traditional performances year after year means … nothing.

And meaning “nothing” doesn’t attract and it doesn’t sell. Have a meaning and tell your story, and anyone who resonates with that meaning will be attracted to it.

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