For Want of an Audience.

As 2017 draws to a close, I look at my middle-age spread and realise that most of my leisure time is spent either eating or drinking. I love good food and a nice pint; I enjoy both in a place with good service, great atmosphere, and most importantly with good company.  This year I have been lucky enough to have sampled tea on a London bus, dined at the Ritz and a club in St. James’, indulged my love of oriental cuisine in the Nepali heartland of Aldershot, and enjoyed luncheon and supper in my two favourite local gastropubs.  Indeed, only last week I had a lunch meeting with a very good friend at one such hostelry, the Foresters’ Arms in Church Crookham.  In a three hour conversation, one particular topic stood out for me though: Cherished and long-established organisations searching for a new audience, and in the process being prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Our love of military history, specifically the Great War, is our common bond.  We are both keen visitors to the Western Front battlefields and have an interest in how that conflict is seen.  We bemoaned the way in which three organisations in particular had recently revised their ‘offer’, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Imperial War Museum, and the National Army Museum.  In each case, in the hunt for a new, younger audience each organisation has, to differing extents, abandoned what it was that made them attractive to their traditional older audience.  The most notorious of these is probably the National Army Museum which, following a multi-million pounds refurbishment, has re-cast itself to tell the social history of Britain through a lens of the British Army.  This apparently, will bring in people who aren’t really interested in the Army, but who are interested in how the Army developed alongside society.  In short, in the hunt for an audience, the National Army Museum, and the other two to a greater or lesser degree, has ceased to be a military museum and, like so much else, a museum which reflects social change which may or may not have coincided with war.  War, that disastrous, human activity, has become something which we as a society can only discuss in hushed whispers, through a politically correct medium; War is, for my younger readers, something like the Dark Lord Voldemort, we know what it is an what it isn’t but we never speak its name.

I understand the problems facing museums and other ‘heritage’ organisations, revenue is tight and their natural audience is getting older and, in fact, dying.  Indeed, this year  saw the closure of the Durham Light Infantry Museum which told the story of that fine Regiment in which many of my ancestors were proud to serve.  The Museum closed because finance was tight and the audience was static, in short it could not pay its way.  The problem here is threefold, first in chasing a younger demographic by pursuing social history, one alienates the older demographic seeking military history, leaving them disinclined to visit and commit revenue. Secondly, we are all getting older, that’s physics, in fact we, as a society, are getting older at an accelerating rate; people come to heritage as they get older, so Q.E.D  an aging population represents a growth market for museums, Finally, perhaps it isn’t the museum that is wrong but the location or quantity, in other words it is the delivery model that is broken not the subject matter; in the case of the Durham Light Infantry museum it sat in a country park on the edge of the historic city of Durham, away from its cultural heart and within a landscape of numerous military museums within a thirty mile radius, The Green Howards at Richmond, the Northumberland Fusiliers at Newcastle, and the Historic Dockyard at Hartlepool.  In short, there is still a demanding and lucrative audience, but we must learn to deliver to it rather than deciding to take our ball away to play with the cool kids in a different neighbourhood.

And so to the meat of my blog, apologies for the delay, it is Christmas! Chapter Four of ADP Land Operations talks about the importance of knowing your audience and communicating your message in the all new concept of ‘Integrated Action’.  At the same time, in a rush to recruit from parts of society which have not been traditional recruiting grounds, the emphasis in the Army has become one of diversity in recruiting, this would be a dangerous strategy at anytime but is even more so at a time when recruiting amongst the traditional audience is falling.  Instead, the Army should look to the problems with the model: Why is it failing to recruit amongst the young in the urban North? What is it about the Army that puts off teenage boys?  If we can find the answers to those two questions, and engage with children from a young age and society as a whole, even on a commercial level, we can solve the recruiting problem.  Looking for recruits in different demographics is not going to answer the problem, it will just drive away the traditional audience, neither will appealing to humanitarianism, we must not wrap War in a euphemism or shield it with tender images.  If we want to improve recruiting we must re-connect with ‘the scum of the Earth’, improve the offer by giving the audience what it wants, and concentrate on the business of closing with the Queen’s enemies, rather than navel-gazing over a new logo or strapline.

And now I’m off to my favourite little pub in the world, The Anchor at Lower Froyle, near Alton in Hampshire for a pint and a bite to eat.  The management at The Anchor know their audience, there are no gimmicks, they give us what we want and we reward them in turn.  Not for them a new image or an appeal to a different demographic, build it and they will come one might say, they did and so did we!!

Cheers all and a Merry Christmas.




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