Monday, April 11, 2016

When nobody comes to your concert or workshop – how to avoid or recover from a marketing fail

You’ve put all the time and hard work into publicising your next concert or workshop, but then hardly anybody turns up.

empty room

How do you figure out what went wrong? It’s all about the what, the when and the where.

I was going to call this post “When marketing fails: is it the what, the when or the where?”

They are the three basic elements that can help you work out why so few people have come to your event.

WHAT: Is what you’re offering of little interest (e.g. the theme and content of your concert)?

WHEN: Have you chosen a date that clashes with other exciting things in your area?

WHERE: Is the concert venue you’ve chosen hard to get to, or does the catchment area for your workshop have little interest in singing?

There are things you can do before the event to avoid these potential problems. There are also things you can do after the event to avoid making the same mistake next time.

do your homework

Before you start to publicise your event, make sure you’ve done everything possible to avoid any potential pitfalls.


  • what’s worked before? – if you’ve held events in this area before, what has worked best or has been most popular? You might choose to do the same or a similar thing, or something that contrasts.
  • other events in the area – look at the ‘competition’. What other events have worked really well? Rather than copying them (then you’ll be going after the same punters), think of doing something similar or contrasting.
  • do market research – ask local people; get some editorial in the local press; use your Rotary Club (or similar); put a questionnaire through people’s doors (or in the local library); ask people who attend other concerts and workshops. You can’t please all the people all the time, but you might get an idea of the kind of thing that a lot of people want.
  • look for a market gap – there might be loads of classical concerts in your area, or lots of pop song workshops. In which case choose something very different as there’s clearly a market gap and you can fill that niche.


  • Google future local events – this can be hard because you might be organising a concert a year ahead and other events might not have fixed their dates yet, but it can throw up events that tend to occur every year at around the same time.
  • is there a clash diary? – some areas have clash diaries to help choirs avoid programming concerts on the same days. Also consider whether it’s a good idea having an event a couple of weeks before or after a similar event, not just on the same day.
  • avoid (or choose) public holidays – people often have more leisure time on public holidays and want to do a workshops. However, that’s also the time that kids are off school and people want to spend more time with their families. Depends on who you’re aiming your event at.
  • what’s on websites for your area – most towns have a “what’s on” website for local events. Check out a selection to see what else is on.
  • regular classes – choir rehearsals, etc. The worst time to programme a workshop is on the rehearsal night of the local choir! Use your library to look up regular classes and rehearsal nights in your area.


  • accessibility of venue – there are many different kinds of accessibility and you need to consider them all: disabled access; parking; public transport (when’s the last bus/ train home?); ease of finding the venue (is the SatNav postcode accurate? is it down some dark country lane? can it be confused with a similar venue?).
  • catchment area – work out how far people will travel: audiences for concerts tend to be more local than those for one-day workshops. Make sure there is a sufficient density of population in your catchment area: a workshop on the Yorkshire Moors is very different from one in central London. Does your catchment area overlap too much with one from a previous event of yours?
  • where do your audience live? – there’s not much point in running a residential singing weekend slap bang in the middle of an area where most of your fans live. People want to travel (not too far) to somewhere different and attractive if they’re going to fork out for a whole weekend. Similarly, if most of you concert audience live in your own town, think twice about doing a concert in a different town as you won’t be known there.

learning after the event

You did your homework, but still people didn’t come! Was it the what, the when or the where?

Sometimes, with a bit of analysis, it’s really easy to find out what’s gone wrong. You clashed with an annual event that you’d not noticed; you hadn’t realised that the singing day you’d planned was in half term; the venue you chose was really inappropriate in hindsight.

In those cases, simply don’t make the same mistake again.

But sometimes it’s not as obvious.

If it’s important for you to run a similar event again (e.g. if it’s your choir’s annual concert or a big annual singing festival), then you’ll need to do some work.

  • do your homework again – and make sure you’ve not missed anything out.
  • get feedback – from the few people who DID attend your event. Reach out to their friends who maybe wanted to come, but didn’t. Ask around the usual suspects who you expected to attend, but didn’t. Ask people on your mailing list.
  • change one thing – but not too drastically. Change one of the what, the when and the where, e.g. the theme of the workshop, the concert venue, the date. Then if it doesn’t work out the next time, change one of the other elements.

apply the same rules to publicity material

Your publicity material might have been amazing, but didn’t reach the right people.

Consider the what (posters? Twitter? emails? design?), the when (a week before or a month before the event? time of day?) and the where (local or national press? local or national what’s on website? through people’s doors or in the local library?).

If you don’t feel your publicity worked, then follow the same suggestions as in “learning after the event.”

I’m sure I’ve missed loads of things out. I’m certainly no expert: many of my events sell out, but also some are very poorly attended. It’s hard to figure out why!

Do let me know about your own fails and how you’ve learnt from them. I’d love to hear from you.

Chris Rowbury



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