MARKET FOCUS: Artful communication

Companies are getting maximum PR ROI out of their sponsorship dollars.

Companies are getting maximum PR ROI out of their sponsorship dollars.

It's not unusual to attend a corporate-sponsored event in a corporate-sponsored stadium, featuring a halftime show sponsored by the company. If you're enjoying an event, whether live or on TV, it is most likely brought to you by corporate-sponsor advertisers. Fortune 500 companies now have philanthropic arms and designated bodies to decide where sponsorship money should go, and how it should be used. Such giant corporate sponsorships most frequently bring to mind sporting events, long a favorite target of beer, fast-food, and technology sponsors (Budweiser, McDonald's, and AT&T are companies that have high visibility in such spaces). However, ballet, theater, and arts events, such as a special art exhibit, are also heartily paid for and marketed via corporate sponsorships. Arts events are a good option. Unless the exhibit is very controversial or avant-garde, art exhibits are considered to be educational, wholesome, and a worthwhile financial beneficiary. Besides offering good visibility on the CSR front, sponsorships can now earn additional ROI by including benefits for both entities via community, employee, and educational communications efforts. But companies want to see their investment pay solid PR dividends as well. "I think there was a time when we would agree to sponsorships and not look for an ROI," says Jane Crawford, chief public affairs officer for Pennsylvania-based chemical company Atofina, which has participated in several sponsor partnerships. "But these days you have to get it. You just have to." Brand-building opportunities Not only are arts sponsorships strategic, but they also create and prime new audiences for brand-building. By looking at how two art exhibits decided on a sponsor and executed programs that served their financial and/or marketing needs, one can see - both from the arts organization's point of view, and from the sponsor's - how each thinks, and gets exactly what is sought. "Sponsorships of fine arts festivals are about the artists. First and fore-most, a sponsor must fit," says Carol Romine, president and CEO of The Washington Mutual Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Florida, speaking of the need for an event to have a sponsor that evokes a similar set of values or caters to a similar target demographic. "Ours has the reputation of being a fine arts festival, in comparison to a crafts show. The appearance of the show is all high quality. Everything is in perfect form, and our letterhead and business cards carry the logo of the title sponsor." In the case of the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which has taken place just south of downtown Miami for three days in February over the course of the past 40 years, the event is big enough to necessitate the use of several sponsors, and as in many such situations, a system has been set up to designate the size of the contribution and the benefits allocated to those who choose to contribute at gold, silver, and bronze levels. With an estimated attendance of 700,000 over the course of the event, Romine estimates that 77% of attendants are between the ages of 25 and 54, 75% of attendants have a household income of $50,000 or more, and they will spend approximately $4.8 million on art created by 340 artists from all over the US. The Coconut Grove festival's appeal to sponsors is further cemented by the fact that the artists themselves chose the event as the top fine arts festival in Sunshine Artists magazine. From the festival's perspective, sponsor money allows organizers to execute programs such as their visiting artist program, in which nearly half of the artists who exhibit at the show teach an art class at a local school. "The artists get such a benefit. In turn, the kids bring their parents to the festival," says Romine. One year, festival artists went with managers from sponsor company Pizza Hut to teach the children about art, enter them in a contest, and bring some of their product for lunch. The children each painted themed pieces of pizza, and finalists had their drawings displayed on the scoreboard at a Florida Marlins game. The winner's grand prize was a trip to Disneyland. "What we like to do is take an opportunity to do that with our sponsors, and let them be as creative as they want," Romine says. In turn, certain programs are put in place to make sure that sponsors not only receive brand recognition and exclusivity within their product sector (for example, Pepsi is the exclusive soft-drink sponsor and wins the right to be the sole soft-drink presence on the grounds; Washington Mutual has finance and ATM exclusivity), but they also receive professional development opportunities. At the festival's sponsor summit, the MDs of the 30 sponsors in each category get to network. "Deals are being talked about between all of the sponsors, some of which are members of the media," says Romine. "They rotate from table to table, and hopefully see a return on their investment." But how do the artists feel about corporate sponsors presenting logos next to their creations? "They're very much aware of the fact that because of our corporate sponsors, we can give them amenities that we wouldn't be able to provide otherwise," Romine says. "There's no show without the artist." Degas and the Dance Atofina Chemicals, a company with headquarters in Paris and Philadelphia, has a foundation that addresses the many requests for sponsorship that come its way. Primarily, the company filters them by tending to sponsor events that advance science education, but when the Philadelphia Museum of Art approached the company last February about sponsoring its exhibit of Degas' ballet-themed works, Atofina decided to break with tradition, and saw the offer as an opportunity to emphasize the company's history. The company saw the sponsorship as a launchpad for an internal relations program for its 1,200 employees in the area. "We wanted to unleash employee pride," says Crawford, who is also president of the Atofina Chemicals foundation. "Employees can be so much more proud when they say, 'My company promoted this.' Word of the exhibit was everywhere, and employees understood that they were involved." When negotiating the terms of the relationship, Crawford says, everything that the sponsorship will achieve was compiled into a three-page document that states where and when the corporation's name will appear. "It does outline clearly that your name will make over a million impressions," she says. "They outline that very specifically. Then, whatever night you want to have an event, you get to pick the dates." Atofina picked a date for an event in which the museum opened exclusively for employees and their families. "Because Degas painted [female] dancers, people brought their daughters," explains Crawford. In addition, Atofina used its time at the museum to hold events for customers and the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). "We also had customer tie-ins, and linked with CAPA to donate some of our products and host them at the museum," Crawford says. The program was a success with employees. "Overall, it was very positive," says Crawford. "They liked the chance that they could see the show privately." When conducting post-program measurement via survey, 35% of employees and customers responded and gave nines and tens, the highest marks. In the end, Crawford was pleased with the branding and name recognition that the company received, but disclosed one pitfall: media outlets skeptical of corporate sponsorships. "The Philadelphia Inquirer won't divulge the sponsorship in editorial content. It is amazing to me that they go out of their way to cut the sponsors out. It's very unfortunate," Crawford says. "We did get coverage elsewhere, but you have to find another hook that's worthwhile." ----- More than a logo Building on the basics Sponsors no longer just fork over money to just get their logo in the program. "What we do uniquely is give the sponsors a menu of sorts that they can choose from," says Carol Romine, president and CEO of Florida's Coconut Grove Arts Festival. Editorial tie-ins, PR-related activities, and additional programs also ensure that arts organizations benefit as well. Benefits for arts organization
  • Financial assistance for marketing
  • Artist hospitality events
  • Employee events Benefits for corporate sponsor
  • Name or logo listed in editorial content related to event (depends on location), event program, editorial space in program, and print ads.
  • Acknowledgement in radio spots and PSAs.
  • Mention in media and PR releases.
  • Name or logo on boards, banners, and event website.
  • Booths at event.
  • Joint promotional opportunities, including media and press sponsors.
  • Presence at preview parties, opening breakfasts, awards banquets, hospitality locations, children's events, community events, educational events.
  • Exclusive presence for your sector.
  • Networking opportunities.

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