Engaging Young People in Culture

The perceived dangers of the outside world and the increased popularity of media use at home have curtailed levels of activity outside of the home. By understanding the barriers and motivations to attendance and participation hopefully you can persuade the young people in your area away from the computer and TV towards engaging and participating in your activities and events.   

Back in August 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) conducted and published a research report on attitudinal barriers to encouraging young people in ‘Positive Activities’ in the volunteering, sports and leisure sectors (which includes Arts and Culture). The report drew on existing research, academic journals and direct surveys and analysis conducted by a number of different charitable and governmental agencies across the UK.

The research and findings provide an excellent insight into the barriers, perceived and real, that youths face to engaging in ‘Positive Activities’ which would include arts and cultural activities and events. It also outlines some key recommendations on how to effectively use your marketing to communicate with this potential audience group.  

The full report can be downloaded and read by visiting the DCSF website, I have also summarised the most important aspects and conclusions of the report and the practical advice given in relation to these conclusions, which can be downloaded from the HI-Arts website.  

Below I have outlined the points that the report covers. 

Barriers to Participation  


 Physical Barriers

  • The perception that positive activities are time consuming.
  • The lack of cheap transport particularly for those living in rural areas and young disabled people.
  • Quality of facilities and buildings.
  • Timing of activities is a major barrier.

What often seems to be physical barrier is actually an attitudinal or perceptual barrier. The important message is that whether these barriers are real or just perceived that an efficient communication campaign should reassure young people that their fears and concerns are sometimes unjustified.  

Attitudinal Barriers – Internal and External Barriers   

 Even when an area provides good quality, reachable and affordable activities, some young people will still refrain from taking part in any activity, there are other restraints which hold people back that can’t be addressed only by removing the physical barriers.  

Attitudinal barriers can be divided into 2 groups – Internal barriers (those which manifest from the individual) and External barriers (the influence of opinions held by influential figures in a young persons life). These barriers include:  

  •  There is a general feeling among young people is that there is simply not enough to do.
  • Confidence and a fear of rejection are hugely influential in determining participation.
  • The values and priorities held by young people.
  • The role of external figures (parents, friends, role models, teachers and schools) in the lives of young people.
  • Accessing cultural activities or events depends a lot on the individual or team delivering the activity.
  • Negative peer pressure and the ‘not-for-me’ attitude is often shaped by external factors and reinforced by peer relations.  
Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth

  Marketing Your Message  

It is important to develop a succession of messages aimed at involving young people, to be followed by other messages to make sure that your new audience remains engaged. Highlighting the immediate short term benefits will initially will grab their attention, and once they are involved in an activity or event, further motivation can be given by providing opportunities to engage in other activities or events.   

Developing your Communication Strategy – You are going to be communicating a different message to young people under the age of 10 years (in fact you’ll be communicating to their parents) then you will communicate your message to teenagers. You can’t treat young people as a single audience; rather they are a number of separate audiences with different needs, interests and desires.  

Developing Your Message – It is more effective to focus your message on the experience on offer to the young person, rather than highlighting your core message or vision. You should try to combine all the different attractions for young people; having fun, making friends, doing something interesting and exciting, something different, unique and funky.  

Slogans can be a powerful way of communicating your message and be easily remembered, it has the added benefit of creating a recognisable brand. Involving young people in the creation of a slogan or brand is a really effective way of creating a message perceived by young people as authentic and powerful.  

Language and Tone – Keep the message simple. The more information an advertisement tries to communicate the less it is likely to succeed, particularly among young people who tend to have shorter attention spans. A motivating message can be buried under other information that could be communicated at a later stage. Websites enable you to communicate as much information as you like at a later stage.  

It’s important that you are careful not to appear condescending in the use of language styles. Attempts to make a message seem ‘cool’ can be counter productive, try to avoid appearing patronising or to be talking down to young people.  

Using words which entail young people’s empowerment and respect for their views, such as ‘it’s your choice’, ‘it’s up to you’, ‘you decide’, can have a strong and positive effect. Other words that make participation more attractive for young people are; fun, make friends, meet people, help, challenging, competitions, cool, enjoy, exciting, experience, free, funky, interesting, reward, skills.  

Media – Once you have defined and refined your message or messages it is important to choose which medium or combination of media to use to communicate this to your target audience. Young people’s interests change frequently, therefore it is important to regularly update your message and the medium you choose to market that message.  

Some of the key media platforms recommended are:  

  • Magazines
  • Social Networking websites (facebook, twitter, bebo)
  • Blogs
  • Radio – local and national
  • Text Messages
  • Viral Marketing (any activity which encourages people to pass on a marketing message to others through the web).
  • Websites
  • And of course Face-to-Face marketing. 

Creativity – Most obvious, but most importantly, don’t forget to be creative when engaging young people. If you’re trying to engage people in the Arts and Cultural sector, then play to your strengths, and that is your creativity. Consider offering something extra to promote your events and activities, young people appreciate items they can take away and use, pencils, stickers, stamps, wristbands, temporary tattoos. While flyers and posters are important in communicating information, this can be done through your website too, a gimmick or gadget will spark a young person’s interest and attention, and give them a sense of ownership, and is far more effectively then a flyer or poster.  

You can read my abridged version on the HI-Arts website,  


You can read the full report from the DCFS here.


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