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19th January 2017 Bea Udeh

Putting Audience First #ADA

Taking a closer look at yourself, your organisation, your audience is just the first layer explains Sara Devine from Brooklyn Museum.  

In my last post, I ended with a call to action: put your audience first. This is not a simple task, and I realize that. To be truly successful for the long term, an audience-first mentality should be embedded in the DNA of your organization. But don’t let that intimidate you. The good news is that this journey can start from anywhere in the organization, and it can (and should) unfold incrementally.
I’ve spent my career thinking about audiences, from my first job as a curatorial assistant working on special exhibitions to my current role in digital engagement. In my various capacities, I’ve used the same basic framework to help shape my thinking, which I share below with some tweaks related specifically to audience-building.
1. Who is it for? It bears repeating from my last post: be specific. Think critically and honestly. Note: “general audience” does not exist. The “general audience” for the Brooklyn Museum is not the same “general audience” for The Met. The bulk of our “general audience” are Brooklynites, where as the bulk of The Met’s are tourists. Huge difference. Get to know your specific “general audience” make-up and then for each project, be specific about which subset you hope to reach.
2. What are their unique needs? The more specific you are in answering the first question, the better you’ll be able to answer this one. If you answered “families with small children” for the first question, then unique needs would include everything from family-friendly content to easy access to bathrooms with changing tables and nursing areas. If you’re not sure of the answer, ask those folks directly.
3. Will they feel welcome? Meeting those unique needs will go a long way toward making your audience feel welcome. There is much to learn from the hospitality industry here about anticipating needs and providing for them in a seamless way. Disney, of course, is the master at this. If you’re unsure how welcome someone might feel, take a journey through your experience (if possible, invite an audience representative to join you) from beginning to end with that audience in mind with the list of needs in-hand. Are those needs met? Where and how? And how will the audience know?
4. Will they see themselves in your organization? This is a vital question and one that takes longer to execute. Really what you have to ask yourself is: does the diversity of your staff and your offerings reflect your audience? At the Brooklyn Museum, this means we have a diverse staff in all levels of employment and a collection that reflects the diversity of Brooklyn both in artists and subject matter.
5. Will they find relevance? AKA So, what? This is the most important question of all because you can do everything else right, but if no one wants what you’re offering, it’s moot. The key here is finding the overlap between who you are and what your audience wants/needs. In order to do this, you have to have a strong institutional mission and vision (i.e identity) and spend the time and effort to get to know your audience (current and aspirational). There is a school of thought that put emphasis on learning about your competitor’s offerings as well.
I encourage you to answer these questions for yourself, in your own capacity within your organization and for your own projects. Since change can come from anywhere, start where you have guaranteed impact: yourself!