SPONSORSHIP: Feeding the angels

So where are the arts sponsors? In June the Art of Sponsorship conference organised by the Showcase consultancy invited marketing and communications directors from companies ranging from American Express and Barclays to Ford and Penguin Random House to hear what could be a key evaluation by one of the world’s leading consumer measurement agencies, Repucom – that while companies are still fixed on sponsoring sport, their customers are more interested in the arts

In an already complicated interface between business and the arts in this country, the collapse of subsidy and the unknown consequences of Britain leaving the European Union has added new complexities.

The arts funding system in the United Kingdom was a model for the world of how a mixed cultural economy – an amalgam of subsidy, earned income and business or pri- vate support, the famous “three legged stool analogy” – can work. Since 2010, and the double blow to arts sub- sidy of cuts in both national and local grants, the model has lost its natural balance. The previous Chancellor had a late epiphany, declaring with his last Budget in March that, with the creative industries contributing more than £80 billion a year to the national economy, cutting the arts subsidy would be a false economy.

In June the consultancy Showcase, which brokers both arts and sports sponsorships, put on its first Art of Sponsorship conference at the National Theatre (pictured), with an invited audience of commercial and marketing directors from business, 73% of whom said they came to find out about “the potential benefits of the arts as a mar- keting/sponsorship platform”. It showed that corporate business was at last contemplating switching its allegiance from sport.

The background to the conference was work by the international re- search organisation Repucom and its head of research Mike Wragg which showed two key findings: that sup- porting the arts – going to theatres, museums and concert halls – is now embedded in our national character; and that, compared with sport, the cultural sector is far better value for money.

“Sponsorship is growing very fast” Wragg said, “significantly outgrowing at the moment the overall advertising and marketing budget growth. At the moment a huge pro- portion of all sponsorship dollars are focused on sport and that in no way reflects the breadth of interest people have and the breadth of associations and other brands outside sport that people are interested in.”

What Repucom has discovered is that 90% of us trust peer-to-peer recommendations, and that while sponsorship has grown by 64% in the last five years, advertising has gone up by a mere 24%.

It looked at our levels of interest and found that people are intensely interested in fewer things than before, generally interested in more, giving a much wider scope for access than had been thought.

“We’ve been delivering some really interesting insights around the arts audience, motivations around arts goers that I can deliver to brands and rights holders” added Repucom’s managing director Jon Stainer. “We see the world of the arts as being an economic and social benefit to the UK marketing landscape”.

And where businesses have gone into arts sponsorship they have found a valuable resource. “What we like about the arts is that it gives us a chance to go both for breadth and depth” said Heather Laverne, vice- president of brand for American Ex- press, a member of the on-stage panel, “so we can address skill in terms of audiences, giving them pre-sales tick- ets, getting people to come and expe- rience things. It allows us to inspire through content so that we can get really unique content for digital and also through events and so on.”

More alive to the possibilities of sponsorship over advertising than ever, boards – still very much domi- nated by men – have become used to putting their money into sport out of habit, even though the arts are bet- ter value in terms of outlay, audience penetration and the extent of the po-

tential, said Nathan Homer, global head of sponsorship for Barclays. “There’s a sense that there’s an eager- ness to explore the opportunities that in other industries have already been exploited” he said, “and you get a feeling that in the arts they probably haven’t”.

But the arts also have to work harder at presenting well to potential sponsors, according to Lisa Burger, the National Theatre’s executive di- rector. Though becoming very adept at collaborating creatively, organisa- tions in the sector are still not good at getting together to share experiences and ideas on how to get commerce to see the benefits of committing their sponsorship to them rather than sport. “It’s all about understanding” she said. “We want to tell a story, we want to communicate, and so do sponsors. It’s just a matter of finding a commonality, a good fit”.

There is to be a second Art of Sponsorship conference later this year, said Showcase’s managing director Peter Welch, larger and including the cultural sector as well as business guests. “It will provide an opportunity for the cultural sector to showcase and also gain a better understanding of business and the best approach to develop partnerships” he said. “When the panel were asked about their impressions of the cultural sector from a business perspective, the comments were ‘snobby’ and ‘a failure to under- stand the business perspective when looking to develop a partnership’”.

Summing up, the conference’s presenter, the broadcaster Susannah Simons, said that exploiting the potential in arts sponsorship was a matter of co-operating on both sides. “It’s about working together, it’s about finding those shared values, those shared ethics” she said. “There are creative risks involved in engaging with the arts but those creative risks can also bring huge rewards for the right sponsor when you are working in partnerships.”


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