The establishment of Edinburgh Arts and Entertainment, now EAE Distribution Ltd (EAE), in the 1980s satisfied one of the main service requirements, collaborative distribution. However, EAE’s decision to concentrate more or less solely on distribution left a wide range of marketing needs unfulfilled. Various attempts were made to establish an agency but the lack of funding was a major stumbling block.
The 1990s saw the rise in professionalism and understanding of the role of marketing in arts organisations and a growing network of agencies were established in England to assist organisations in meeting their needs for services and, more importantly the need for collaborative and sustainable audience development campaigns.
In 1997 the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) instigated a strategic review of theatres to address the complex and difficult situation facing the sector at that time. The outcome was the Edinburgh Theatre Strategy. One of the key recommendations of the strategy was for the creation of an audience development agency for Edinburgh. A working group was established to develop a remit and appoint a consultant who was responsible to the group to actively progress the creation of such an agency.
Through the actions of this group and the consultant, visual arts, museums and festivals were included in the proposed agency.
This action coincided with changes to the rules regulating the use of Scottish Arts Council (SAC) National Lottery funding which allowed, for the first time, a strategic award to be made related to such needs as audience development.
Through the development of an outline business plan a successful bid was made to the SAC National Lottery. This was supported with a successful one year funding application to the CEC, subsequently extend to a three year agreement. A structure of subscription fees payable by arts organisations was agreed, after much debate, all leading to the establishment of The Audience Business in July 1998.
Reflecting the diversity of subscribing organisations, expectations expressed as suggested activities were very varied, ranging from database management and advocacy to joint publications and an anti-clash diary, from campaign planning and management to training and market research analysis.
These activities were to take place across all art forms, with the principle of consultation with all subscribers clearly established as part of the agency’s operating methodology and with the added proviso, expressed by all those consulted, that the agency must provide demonstrable value for money.