UKSA Sponsorship Case File 5: Arts & Culture

Arts Sponsorship doesn't attract the kind of big money that flows into sport, popular music and media. But areas like theatre, opera, museums, art galleries and cultural festivals still have a key strategic role to play for a wide range of brands. Report by Andy Fry

While the Arts sector isn’t best-placed to deliver mass eyeballs (like the English Premier League or Coronation Street, for example), leading institutions do attract significant levels of traffic across the course of the year. They also create the conditions for drilled down engagement with high value business partners, employees, the education sector and any other stakeholders where a one-to-one or one-to-few relationship is required. In the UK, recent arts sponsorship headlines have been dominated by BP’s investment in the sector, but the reality is that there are numerous other leading brands engaged in some form of art-based strategy. Finance, automotive, alcohol and fashion brands are among the biggest supporters of the arts, though the extraordinary range of events within the sector means there are opportunities for all.

Key Players In Arts Sponsorship:

The big name in UK arts sponsorship is, of course, BP. The oil giant has partnerships with a range of leading cultural institutions including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company. A new £7.5 million deal, signed in July 2016, means it will be attached to all the above institutions until at least 2023. Another key player is Hyundai, which signed an 11 year partnership with the Tate in 2014. Under the terms of the deal, Hyundai is supporting a series of site-specific installations by contemporary artists in the Turbine Hill (something Unilever did previously). Coutts is a strong supporter of the arts, and has backed arts platforms such as The Royal Court Theatre and the Grayson Perry: Who Are You? Display at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). Travelex has had a massive impact in the arts sector through a cheap ticket partnership with the National Theatre. This is reckoned to have delivered more than 1.3 million cheap tickets since it launched 12 years ago. Last year’s Arts category at the UKSA Awards also showcased some terrific work. The winning campaign was Alexander McQueen; Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski (entered by the V&A Museum). Campaigns involving Ray-Ban, AXA PPP Health Tech & You, The May Fair Hotel, Samsung and Linklaters also made the final. The latter involved support for the British Library’s Magna Carta 800 exhibition (showing the potential for links through relevant subjects). Another brand with a proven arts track record is Hugo Boss.

What Is An Arts Sponsorship?

One of the most exciting aspects of arts sponsorship is the flexibility of its offering. In an excellent survey of the sector last year, The Guardian estimated that sponsorship packages can range in price from as little as £12,000 to £500,000+ - with a series of significant price brackets in between. The lower price will buy usable assets like private tours, queue jumping passes and discounts while the higher price suggests a year-round partnership with prominent branding onsite, online and in marketing material (posters etc). The prices in between cover situations where a sponsor decides to back a specific exhibition, performance or installation – either because it is a good fit or because the timing works well.

Differences between the UK and US Markets:

A couple of years ago, IEG estimated that the US arts sponsorship market was worth around $927 million and had been growing since 2010. There is no recent estimate for the UK arts sponsorship sector but it certainly wouldn't be in this ballpark. One advantage the US arts sector has over the UK (in financial terms) is that it has many more naming rights deals at cultural/artistic venues. In the UK, naming rights tend to be more prevalent in the field of prizes (BP Portrait Award, Man Booker Prize) than venues. Exceptions include The Sage and The O2 – though it’s not accurate to describe either as “arts” venues since both of them hold a wide range of popular events.

Benefits of Arts Sponsorship 1:

Clearly, brands can come to their own conclusions about the value of the head count that passes through an arts institution (and its website). However there’s much more to arts sponsorship than the headline audience. The first point is that the arts tend to attract specific demographic clusters that may be hard to reach through other channels. Free events at museums, for example, are a magnet for families; while big ticket cultural events skew towards upmarket audiences – with either money or influence. In addition to this, the nature of the arts is such that it can be used to build positive attitudes among consumers by linking the sponsor’s brand with innovation, culture and creativity.

Benefits of Arts Sponsorship 2:

The arts are a great way to engage with staff and to help them establish new skills and mindsets. They have the ability to take people out of their comfort zones and place them in contexts that enable them to explore new perspectives and ways of seeing themselves and their business. Arts-based initiatives can shine a spotlight on the profile of a business and helping explore business issues through the prism of creativity and social intelligence.

Benefits of Arts Sponsorship 3:

Arts organisations often have excellent outreach activities. This can provide the platform for businesses to connect with local communities in a meaningful and effective way. Brands that incorporate the arts into their CSR strategies can strengthen their reputations for good corporate citizenship. The arts also provide a legitimate and credible tool for communicating with schools nationwide. Clearly arts sponsorship is also a superb corporate hospitality avenue, opening up performance and venues to key partners.

Benefits of Arts Sponsorship 4:

The UK’s leading cultural institutions are global brands with global ambitions – a point that some sponsors have recognised. For example, 2016 saw the RSC embark on an international tour – supported by financial services group JPMorgan. Not only did the tour introduce the RSC to China, Hong Kong and the US, it was an opportunity for JPMorgan to open some interesting doors.

Regional Strength Of Arts Sponsorship:

It’s easy to assume that all major arts institutions are London-based. But there is a wealth of opportunities across the nations and regions. Earlier this year, for example, Creative Scotland showcased several of these via the Arts & Business Scotland Awards. An example is CalMac culture, the umbrella brand for a series of West Scotland cultural events that are supported by ferry service provider Caledonian MacBrayne. Other award winners included A1 Toys for its partnership with Children’s Classic Concerts. The strength of the relationship between Scottish business and arts is replicated in other hubs such as Northern Ireland, Wales, Birmingham and Manchester (not to mention the eclectic array of arts festivals up and down the British Isles). In Manchester, for example, Manchester Airports Group has been a long-term backer of the arts. In 2014, it ploughed £340,000 into arts sponsorship – backing venues such as Bridgewater Hall, The Lowry and The Royal Exchange. The money also benefited organisations on the outer rim of Manchester such as Bury Met, Bolton Octagon, Oldham Coliseum and Wigan Jazz. There are a couple of interesting take outs from the above. Firstly, sponsors can create a big media impact by sponsoring across a range of arts institutions. Secondly, arts institutions should look at forming networks that can take advantage of sponsorship by offering brands a compelling mix of platforms to work with.

Digital Extensions:

One of last year’s Arts category finalists at the UK Sponsorship Awards was the Samsung/RSC partnership RE:Shakespeare. This centred on an app for Android devices designed to inspire students about Shakespeare, both in and out of the classroom. The first of its kind, the RE:Shakespeare app uses videos and interactive games to bring Shakespeare's work to life in different ways. The video content was filmed using 360-degree cameras for the first time on an RSC stage. This means that the app can make full use of a phone's gyroscope technology to create a fully immersive experience. The RSC has also collaborated with Google on social media and streamed performances. In the past, telco BT partnered with the Tate Museum’s online platform while Credit Suisse worked with The National Gallery on an app that allowed the public to view an imagined recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s studio.

Immersion Opportunities:

One of the beauties of the arts is that you can create bespoke activities that go beyond tickets and tours. In terms of corporate hospitality, the FT ran a story in 2015 that began like this: “How about dinner on the stage of the latest production of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), surrounded by sets and props? Or perhaps a walk-on part in a film? Otherwise, you could meet some of the world’s most talented orchestral players or have a gallery named after you. These are among incentives offered to potential sponsors, both corporate and individual, by theatres, orchestras, museums and other arts institutions. In an age of austerity, the challenge for organisations is to be all the more creative in wooing patrons.” The point is that arts institutions have some of the world’s most amazing talent and venues at their disposal – so it makes sense to use it. Possibly, this kind of highly-personalised programme looks a little more like patronage than sponsorship. But creative thinking by arts organisations can play into brands’ education, CSR and corporate hospitality strategies.

Linking Art To Popular Events:

The vast majority of individual decision-makers and organisations have a soft spot for culture – but they still need to be persuaded there is value in supporting the arts. One way is to try and link artistic activities to larger events that already have significant budgets attached to them – echoing the approach taken around The Olympics. Although the Olympics itself is a unique scenario where sponsorship rights are carefully policed, there is nothing to stop arts organisations from seeking to network with high-profile sports clubs, leagues or events – in the hope that they can deliver some kind of cultural expression off the back of sport.

Arts-Friendly Media Outlets:

The BBC is the biggest provider of UK arts content in the UK. Clearly there are limitations on what sponsors can do in this area – but there’s nothing to prevent a sponsor backing an event that then secures BBC coverage. Sky Arts is also an important platform for arts coverage and performance – making it of interest to sponsors. Worth noting is that Sky Arts also runs a £3m Amplify Fund, designed to encourage “arts organisations and production companies to pitch collaboratively for up to £1 million on new TV ideas”. There’s no reason why this kind of initiative can’t also involve brands. Also important are the arts sections of national newspapers, which carry increasing amounts of video. Here again is a chance for brands to tap into the cultural zeitgeist.

Challenges and Concerns 1:

As BP and partners have learned, arts investment can lead to a backlash from lobby groups that are unhappy with some aspect of the brand’s business profile. So crisis management skills must be part and parcel of any such relationship. That said, brands and arts organisations shouldn't let concerns about a vocal section of the population derail their plans if they feel that there is a larger section of the population that is likely to support their endeavours. One person’s ‘cynical PR ploy’ is another person’s ‘financial lifeline for the arts’. Each arts-based organisation needs to find a balance between its own values and the benefits of building business links.

Challenges and Concerns 2:

Arts organisations have seen a welcome boost of revenues from philanthropists and individual patrons. But they need to ensure that they don't pursue this money at the expense of relationships with business. Not only is the business sector a crucial funding source, but many enterprises can provide benefits that go beyond cash – such as marketing and logistics support and operational expertise.

Further Reading: Try taking a look at the following sources:

The UK Sponsorship Awards is the leading awards event for Arts Sponsorship. For companies interested in entering the 2017 edition, follow this link for more details:

View the 2019 Winners

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