From Patronage to Partnership - Sponsorship as a two-way street

WHO: Gus Sharp
FROM: Creative Capital Acts Trust

The traditional view of arts sponsorship is more closely aligned with charity. It’s motivated by community spirit or love of the art form. However, looking at sponsorship through this lens can blind both sponsors and artists to some mutually beneficial opportunities. To really get the most out of the sponsor/artist relationship, we need to shift to a business-to-business mentality. We need to look at sponsorship as a commercial relationship, with commercial value on both sides of the transaction.


Start with the proposals
This shift in mindset needs to start with producers. Producers can view sponsorship as a bolt-on, where they ask sponsors for additional money to support an activity that is going to happen either way. This is often not particularly compelling for potential sponsors. Sponsorship proposals need to go beyond the altruism of the sponsor, and articulate their value in terms that make business sense.

Of course, producers don’t magically know what makes sense for sponsors. They need to talk to sponsors early on so they can not only tailor the language they use in the proposal, but tailor the proposal itself. Part of this is using accepted marketing metrics to articulate who you are talking to, about what and why.

A good example is a telecommunications company providing branded mobile phone charging stations at an event. This provides value to current and potential customers, in a context that makes sense (using their phones).


Engage early, engage often
However, getting to this level of engagement isn’t easy. Sponsors often want a more fully-realised proposal before making any decisions.  The question then becomes a closed yes/no - take it or leave it. This is not efficient, because a producer doesn’t really need just a “yes” or a “no.” Rather, they need to find out what it would take to turn a “no” into a “yes.” Engaging early with sponsors helps to flesh out what they need, and in turn helps producers tweak proposals in small ways to fit them to sponsors’ needs.

This also solves the problem of producers thinking of sponsors as a black box - pitching a full proposal, with no room for changes, then waiting for a result.

Getting engagement early is hard. One way to get attention early is to spell out how sponsors could financially benefit from the arrangement (if possible).

CubaDuba Brew
Let's look at an example from CubaDupa (full disclosure, this is an event I run). CubaDupa is an arts festival in the streets of Wellington. It celebrates Wellington’s unique Cuba St precinct over two days at the end of March. Sponsorship is constantly top of mind for us; finding new sponsors, maintaining relationships with the wonderful sponsors we have, and finding new ways to promote our event and our sponsors.

The CubaDupa brew is one of our success stories.  This is a beer developed specifically for CubaDupa. Not only does it give us something unique to offer, it also helps a local brewer promote their brand. We work with the brewer on the design and marketing, and hook them up with the bars around Cuba St. We also pour the brew in our own bars during the event. Past brewers include Garage Project and Tuatara.

The awesome thing about this collaboration is that it helps everyone. We get publicity and a branded product in the hand of potential attendees and our sponsors have a natural channel to launch a new product.  We work with our brewer to make sure that the beer is as extraordinary as our event, and, Wellington being Wellington, our audience loves trying a new beer. The potential for this collaboration is limitless. If the product is a hit then the brewer can keep brewing it and we can keep promoting it.

Sponsorship is a two-way street. The producer gets financial and in-kind support and the sponsor gets something that they can't buy off the shelf or from a media supplier. But it's also more than that - sponsorship is a mutual support of each party's activities that shouldn’t begin and end at an invoice, a logo on a poster and a mention in collateral.

Disclosure: Gus is passionate about the arts and, in particular, about the business of the arts (having no artistic talent himself). Gus has a history in music promotion and hospitality and used to be a lawyer in a previous life.  Currently the Chief Executive of the Creative Capital Arts Trust, Gus is responsible for the delivery of the New Zealand Fringe Festival and CubaDupa.

Disclosure: Brian has had the pleasure of working with Gus through our mutual appreciation of the Arts and LBQ burgers. He looks forward to experiencing the next episodes of both CubaDupa and the NZ Fringe Festival under Gus’s leadership.

InsightsBrian Steele