Commercial sponsorship of the arts was worth nearly £80 million last year and continues to rise. But why do organisations put money into art exhibitions, music festivals and theatre workshops, instead of marketing and PR? Probably because arts sponsorship is a fairly subtle form of marketing with a 'feel-good' helping of philanthropy.
Advertising is a smack in the mouth, while sponsorship is a gentle stroke, argues Colin Tweedy, director general of the Association of Business and the Arts (ABSA). 'It gives you the chance to speak to your audience through the words of others and ally your business with success, innovation or achievement,' he believes.
Predictably, leading accountancy firm Ernst & Young has a carefully calculated sponsorship strategy. By sponsoring the 1996 Cezanne exhibition at the Tate Gallery, for example, it was able to build client relationships and 'brand' awareness and involve its partners and staff. And to support the arts? 'We also wanted to bring the visual arts to a wider audience,' affirms marketing manager Catherine McCormack. 'Over 400,000 people visited the show, including 17,000 schoolchildren.' The project took 'a very big proportion' of the organisation's marketing budget, but with media credits valued at some £500,000 it was money extremely well spent.
While some organisations go for the big, flashy project others have a small but highly focused target. Gordon and Keenes estate agency sponsors local London artists, galleries and school groups. 'Arts sponsorship should be seen as an awareness opportunity, not a productive commercial campaign,' claims its proprietor Gassell Gordon.
Elsewhere, Elf Exploration balances the two approaches. It supported the recent acclaimed Raeburn exhibition in Edinburgh and London and also has a policy of sponsoring low-key events which contribute to the communities in which it is involved, including its 20-year support of Orkney's little-known St. Magnus Festival. 'Without it, we wouldn't have an orchestra,' says festival chairman George Rendall, 'which, for a music festival, would be quite a gap.'.