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Interview with the head of data strategy at Audience Agency

Analysing information about theatregoers is increasingly important to the arts industry. Georgia Snow finds out how Lee Sharrock from the Audience Agency can help.

What does your job involve?
I work on the insight tools and the platforms that we have been developing at the Audience Agency. The purpose of them is to help organisations grow their audiences and become more sustainable, based on having a better understanding of who their audiences are. We have made great strides in the last few years in terms of what is available and the insight tools we use. Developing those has been a key area of my role. I manage a team that runs and develops that. Recently, I have been working on data protection and data protection advice for the sector.

How important is it to understand the make-up of audiences?
I think it’s crucial. We see this in other sectors and other industries far more, where other organisations will very quickly see the power within data. I think the cultural sector has not been as quick to embrace that, but it is starting to realise how key it is to all organisations – especially in the economic climate we are in. Using all of the resources and information available is the direction that things are going in, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Do you work with new organisations?
We do, quite often if there is a new organisation being proposed. The Factory in Manchester is a good example of where we have used a lot of our tools to do some of the market assessment and impact analysis to be able to understand how a new facility might fit into an area.

What is your career background?
I have always done this kind of work since I graduated. When I started, we were at a very elementary stage of all these audience analysis tools. It was all very desktop-based and worked on a case-by-case basis. Getting access to data used to be where all of your time and effort was spent, but now it’s shifting. The onus is not on getting hold of it, it is what needs to be done with it, and how to turn analysis into real, practical actions.

Have you always liked the arts?
Absolutely. When I was at university I studied English and sport science, and fell in love with Shakespeare. I went on to do a masters degree in Shakespeare studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was fantastic. I suppose my first job in the arts was when I worked as a cleaner in the Other Place theatre. I did anything to get a connection with theatre.

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