Marketing for youth recruitment

Circuit is a four-year national programme connecting 15-25 year olds to the arts in galleries and museums working in partnership with the youth and cultural sector. Led by Tate and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, it provides opportunities for young people to steer their own learning and create cultural activity across art disciplines.


The principles of our marketing approach

From the outset of my work with the Circuit partner galleries, we explored ways to adopt the principle of understanding your target audiences’ needs and desires; understanding what you have to offer them; and arriving at compelling communications to the target audiences through a combination of adjusting the offer to meet their needs, desires and expectations, and adjusting what, where and how you communicate your offer.


Much of the emphasis for my support is focussed on the Circuit Festival that each holds in turn – festivals that hope to attract large numbers and a wide diversity of young people. However, such a festival audience cannot be conjured from nowhere, so it was important for galleries to build relationships, networks and profile through each of their activities leading up to their festival – and beyond – as well as building up an increasing number of closely-engaged young people.


Through creative workshops aimed at getting to know those target audiences, gallery staff started to understand the nuances between different types of young people, and what they might respond to. As the young people involved in Circuit came to realise, galleries need to develop their offer, messages and communications in different ways, to make them of interest to the diverse motivations young people have.


“I think it might be easier to recruit people within this age range from a wider range of backgrounds if we pitch it more as a band that will perform regularly as opposed to a sound art project or ensemble.”


“The main barrier to effective marketing has been in the conception of events; the main objective of each event needs to be clearly understood by everyone … The team needs to consolidate and clearly state the offer for each of the target audiences so that we meet their needs and expectations.” 


“Film Nights will be revisited with a clear marketing / recruitment purpose. The offer needs to be attractive to our target audiences and this may require some investment / commitment from the wider resourcing/staffing.” 


“Priority partners have had to be established over the past year due to staff changeover and less is known about the needs of the young people. Further collaborative working is essential to better understand the needs of the young people from priority partners and adapt programme accordingly.” 


“This kind of activity [planning meetings etc] is not as attractive to the younger end of the Circuit age range, or to young people who have had less access to the arts. Over the last six months we have experienced a higher number of first time attendees who did not return for a second session …compared to the previous six month period.”


“Whilst our recruitment for this project has been successful it has also presented challenges of how we now engage, work with and bring together this wider demographic of young people: from those at school with little knowledge of art and perhaps less confidence, with those who are almost ten years older and have studied art to BA/MA level.”


Other blogs on the Circuit website also muse on this:



The learning loop

This has been a steep learning curve, which is best supported by a process of reflection after each activity; for example about whether the activity had attracted those young people the gallery and Circuit team had hoped it would – in both numbers and ‘nature’ of young people drawn to it. Also, whether those people attending had got from the experience the things they had come for – ie whether it lived up to (or even exceeded) the expectations raised in the marketing of the activity. That kind of reflection is useful for both the programming and the marketing decisions that follow activity, but for marketing in particular, it is also important to reflect on how people had heard about the event or activity.


For Circuit, these insights can be drawn from regular statistical profile surveys attenders are asked to complete; from the more creative, qualitative research undertaken by the Circulate members (young evaluators) at each gallery; from other embedded creative evaluation methods; and from observation and informal conversations.


“A series of focus groups, informal meetings and presence with motivated young people ‘on their own turf’ [will be held] – likely to be from the older end of the age range…’ 


“Young people are telling us that we are making a difference to their confidence as young adults and participating in the programme is enabling them to develop a professional skill set that potential future employers will recognise as valuable experience. Evidence has been captured through questionnaires, survey data and anecdotal feedback.”


“Interestingly, the group works much better in the more informal environment of the office seating area, rather than the meeting room. They seem much more relaxed and able to volunteer ideas and discussion when in the office.”


“… data collection is ongoing until the end of the project season. We will then also collect experience evaluation which will inform future programming and scheduling for the group(s).”


“We also address individual support needs through this group: meeting with individuals beforehand to help orientate themselves within the building being in contact with parents, teachers and … through ongoing conversation we are finding the best ways in which to support them.” 


“Our new questionnaire covers enjoyment of experience, what channels of communication are most effective, visiting habits, ideas for projects and comments, age, sex, language and postcodes…It will be key to monitoring how well our recruitment process is going, and where to focus our efforts.” 


“We also need to…understand what this new group need from us: What are their motivations for attending? What factors are conducive to attending? What factors encourage young people as repeat attenders? And addressing this in the content, timing and duration of programming. We are conducting questionnaires with all of the young people taking part in the Summer Project as it comes to a close.”


These two other blogs on the Circuit site also reveal many insights:


Galleries aimed to develop this approach to marketing together with the members of their ‘core’ youth groups – the regularly-engaged young people who would be involved in developing the peer-led strands of Circuit activities.


In the best practice examples, galleries have set up regular sessions where staff from departments (including programming, learning, communications, front of house, catering, retail etc) and their ‘core’ group, can reflect together on the experience the young people had on past occasions and how that might be improved and expanded on for the next occasion.


“It has been really important to continue to analyse the programme through conversations, evaluation and forward planning. Cross departmental meetings and discussions with the collective about the value young people get from their engagement with us, allows us to make decisions that ensure the programme we are delivering is ambitious and of high quality.”



The empathy gap

Over time, with trial, error and reflection, one realisation Circuit galleries have reached is that ‘young people’ REALLY aren’t a single target audience! They have as many differences, groupings and inflections as any other audience or any age group in the population. So the idea that Circuit decisions are ‘peer-led’ starts to beg the question “whose peers?”


Circuit’s peer-led strands rest on the belief that young people will know better what other young people want to see and do, and will be more effective in communicating about it. But if your ‘core’ youth group leading on Circuit is itself made up of broadly similar young people (such as older, arts degree-students or recent graduates) then how authentically and well can they really reflect the wider diversity in the younger population?


To address this, galleries have used two adjustments:

  • a combination of building empathy skills among their existing core Circuit groups, so that they are AWARE of their own potential for bias and practice ways of thinking from inside the experience of other sorts of young people. Often this process has been kicked off through workshops I am leading for the young people in each gallery, but insights from Circulate, conversation-research the core groups have initiated with other young people in their own areas, or feedback from involvement in partnership strand activities can all be added to the mix.





“It has been essential to include the collective in focus groups and increase their understanding and commitment. It has enabled them to be more active in supporting the youth sector, and creating marketing materials that will appeal to a much larger audience than their direct peers. Post-festival our young people will be involved in establishing contacts and developing relationships with youth sector partners.”


“The focus groups will take place quarterly, targeted depending on diversity targets, and with a view to them becoming peer-led with Circuit participants talking to the groups.”


  • Applying the model of adjusting both the offer and the communication of it, to change the focus of recruitment to their ‘core’ groups, in order to attract a greater diversity of young people to join the peer-leading team.




Some examples

Interestingly, not all galleries face limited diversity of the same sort – which goes to show that as in all arts marketing and audience development there is no off-the-peg solution but a need to really research and listen to your own, actual catchment pool of potential audience members. Here are some brief case studies of their responses:



At the beginning of the programme, members of the core group tended to come from the lower end of the age range and, when meeting together for sessions, lacked confidence to put forward ideas for projects. They were more likely to enjoy participating in creative sessions than instigating and leading on new ideas.


“It is not known whether this reticence is unique to this particular group, many of whom are aged 18 and under, or whether reluctance to take the initiative is indicative of a cultural trend that reflects youth culture in the region. This is an issue that that we will consider and observe over the next 6 months as we focus efforts on recruitment.”


The team realised that much of the effort had been focused upon the existing core group with a view to them initiating recruitment ideas and events. This prompted a revision of the recruitment plan to attract more motivated, possibly older, members. One particular challenge for them was to get the message out and recruit in such a rural location, where the general population is much older, and where young people face barriers in simply travelling to Llandudno.


“Over the next six months our recruitment plan specifies a 50% increase in core group membership: 50% more 20-25 year olds, 25% more males, and that we set representation of young people in disadvantaged areas of Conwy at 10%, and representation of young people with disclosed disabilities at 7%. … and we need take into consideration points of contact, and the atmosphere of the group in order for it to ‘come to life’ when people first join. At each event we need to consider the next, in order not to lose those we engage.”


Along with a change of name for the group from Cylch (which in Welsh has connotations of a younger age range, and was difficult to pronounce and spell) to GLITCH (chosen by the young people, after a series of workshops and consultations, as having a more relevant appeal to the target groups), the group created an updated visual identity, and the offer has evolved to include:

  • An umbrella group to cover a range of individuals that are working on specific projects. There will be a particular emphasis in the recruitment process on opportunities through GLITCH to enable members to deliver their own projects.
  • A structured approach to new members joining the group through different entry points, with touch-points monitored and recorded
  • Social events on a monthly basis both to introduce potential new members both to the gallery and to GLITCH and to always have something planned ahead to point people to from one event to the next. These will be based around music and have ambitious performances as well as links to the gallery programme.
  • Taking the group to a range of outside events, to increase their experience and promote ideas.
  • Workshops focusing on skills building and personal development, with mentoring and the chance to work alongside arts practitioners.


The ways in which this will be communicated are also evolving to be more effective with people at the older end of the age range:

  • Appealing and explanatory information packs for lecturers and tutors to encourage them to pass the word on.
  • Week-long off-site projects in nearby towns with larger populations of young people.
  • A series of focus groups with people in the target profile, not yet engaged, to understand their motivations as well as recruit them as advocates and enthusiasts.
  • The MOSTYN website now has a dedicated GLITCH page with changes to the wording.
  • Social media, including Facebook and Instagram, is now being used widely by the group to promote and share events. Twitter is being used more to communicate with potential influencers and interest groups.


“As we recruit more confident, motivated participants we anticipate being able to delegate, with guidance, some of these activities. We would plan to put together a marketing sub-group who would meet outside of regular sessions. The integration of marketing planning with project planning is key to this.”



Tate London

In 2014, Tate Britain and Tate Modern’s ‘core’ youth group called ‘Tate Collective London’ included many young people studying arts and culture or regularly involved in the arts. Due to a gap in recruitment (due to staff capacity and changeover) many young people were in the upper age bracket 21-25 years, with years of experience as Tate Collective members. Many of their programme choices were reflective of the groups’ make up, appealing to other confident arts-aware young people.


In 2015, the Young People’s Programme team ran ‘Join Tate Collective’ which built on existing relationships with young people recently engaged the programme, through partnerships, local schools and other youth sector organisations. There was a specific focus on recruiting in target boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth and Westminster to recruit a new and diverse cohort. All on the doorstep of Tate Modern and Tate Britain, these areas have high levels of economic and cultural diversity compared to other boroughs in London (A New Direction, Economical and Cultural Diversity in London, accessible online:


Join Tate Collective was specifically targeted at 15-21 year-olds to attract younger members and ran during the summer holidays from 11.00-16.00 each day. Young people were invited to take part in a free 4-day multi-art form project led and hosted by Tate Collective who invited artists to run a range of fun and accessible activities spanning art, music, fashion and performance. Efforts were made to de-mystify Tate with staff introductions across departments including art handling, curatorial, information and learning for example. All materials and food were provided to reduce barriers to inclusion, along with travel on request.


“Profile data indicates we successfully recruited a younger group …15yrs: 9%, 17yrs: 4%, 18yrs: 30%, 19yrs: 17%, 22: 4%, 24yrs: 4%. There were also a high proportion of BAME young people”


Tate Collective fed into the design of the flyer and came up with the idea of a mind map containing words they associated with Tate Collective such as ‘social,’ ‘friendly,’ and ‘makes you feel good.’ This peer-peer message was extended through visits to local schools and other youth sector organisations by the Young People’s Programmes team and Tate Collective.


Timing of Join Tate Collective was problematic for some young people. For example, for one partnerships group this project was a big step from programmed activity during term time.


“Recruitment was unsuccessful due to timing – it is difficult to get hold of students in the summer holidays, when we wouldn’t usually have contact with them.”


The Young People’s Programmes team in London recognised the importance of understanding your audience, clear and accessible messaging along with strategic timing – all factors to take into account when programming.


Kettle’s Yard and Wysing Art Gallery

The existing older, often art-student membership of the Cambridge ‘core’ group were largely busy with putting together their festival in Autumn 2015, but reflection meetings pinpointed a need to attract a younger and more diverse membership.


“ …when the core group is focused on preparing for and programming big events, in particular the festival, this takes up a large proportion of core group activity – meetings, conversations, planning sessions, concept development, site visits.”


They realised this was less appealing to younger new members, so amended the programme in two ways: they put on more, regular workshop sessions led by artists for people to explore and improve techniques and mediums; and they held a Gallery Takeover day at Kettle’s Yard just before it shut for redevelopment. Attendance at this event achieved the younger and more diverse profile they hoped for (34% of the audience was aged 15-1 and 44% of the audience was aged 18-22), both of which greatly exceeded targets for the event. And from this broader attendance base, 7 new members were retained in the ‘core’ group, because their initial engagement had been more fun.


Nottingham Contemporary

After consultation, staff confirmed the main motivation for young people to join a ‘core group’ within the Circuit programme structure, was for tangible skills development and improved CVs and job prospects as a result.


The Circuit offer was therefore broadened to include a ‘Young Advocates’ scheme, through which young people could gain practical experience in running several aspects of a gallery, completing eight ‘steps’ according to their own interests and gaining a reference from the Gallery. The advocacy project provides a double function of developing young people’s skills and building their knowledge of Nottingham Contemporary- giving more exposure of the gallery’s general programme on young people’s platforms and endorsing relevance of the gallery to young peers.


This advocacy project is sustainable, as the collective carry out initial meetings with interested young people. It is one path amongst several routes to engage with the gallery on an ongoing basis.


Other ways include the Collabor-8 collective and for those who want greater commitment, a steering group. Meetings are held at different times each week to accommodate young people who attend after school and others who work evening shifts but can come in the daytime. They ensure everyone is kept up to date with developments through a private blog and videoing of meetings.


“Our core group has now grown to 13 regular committed young people, who are much more diverse in age, race, background and ability than before the Circuit programme was introduced. The regular attenders also include young people originally involved through youth sector partnership connections, including one young person coming from our partnership with the refugee group Ncourage.”


As the Young Advocate project has become established with over 100 young people asking to start the project and 8 completing it, and becoming understood by teachers, youth sector workers and others, a more diverse range of young people are becoming aware of the scheme through these trusted ‘signposters’, and from focus groups that Circuit staff and Colloabor-8.


The Collabor-8 collective are now skilled at programming for other young people. Building on knowledge from attending focus groups, they do not programme just what they are interested in themselves – their aim is to attract more diversity in youth audiences.

An experience


Tate St Ives

Tate Collective struggled to attract people of school age and from the local population of St Ives and Hayle. A particular issue was how to have a peer-led membership group that allows for seasonal patterns of when young people do or don’t live in Cornwall, are taking exams or are maximising their seasonal income.


An annual, ongoing group of young people was a less realisable ambition in this context, added to which the difficulties of public transportation (particularly during winter when weather is bad and buses run on a lessened timetable), resulted in a rethink.


They looked closely at the pattern of young people joining Tate Collective, with influxes in September, January, June; and who was joining at those times. The offer is now conceived as Seasonal Projects, with each having a beginning and end date, culminating in a Young@Tate day. This defined time-frame is proving popular with young people – 16 signed up for the first session, approximately 80% of whom were local young people, with 5 signed up as a direct result of school visits.


The main recruitment is now locally through schools for the 15-17-age range in May and September, identifying local young people likely to be within the area over summer, and who do not have to travel long distances to attend in winter. This recruitment takes the form of short presentations and Q&A’s during usual Assembly and/or art/creative lesson time. This is followed up by carefully-timed invitations to take part in one-off projects, as a way of taking the next step – such as an artist-led workshop about curating, timed for the Easter holidays.


Meantime, the natural influx of Falmouth students to the group in January/February will be supported by marketing and activity at Fresher’s Fayre in September, and through a standing invitation for the Circuit team to give a Professional practice talk each January/February to Falmouth BA Fine Art students.


In marketing terms, the face-to-face, in-assembly and class contacts have been the most powerful way to attract participants and they to build on this model for recruiting festival planners too.





Some common themes have emerged from this period of learning across all the galleries, such as the splitting of roles so that young people with different interests and aptitudes can all find an appealing fit; being very overt and clear about the professional development, transferrable skills and CV enhancements that involvement will afford; and offering a range of commitment levels, so that people can first get a sense of what the group involves through drop-in sessions and a taste of fun and the social side, before they can more slowly get involved in the real ‘work’ of being a peer-leader.