I was recently interviewed by a student about her dissertation on cultural sponsorship – the key questions were around new trends, innovation and the changing nature of sponsorship. I don’t believe that the sector is currently undergoing a massive paradigm shift in the way it engages with businesses, but there are some excellent partnerships that are leading the way with innovative projects that stand out.
One of the most noteworthy examples for me is the case of BMW and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), which last weekend performed live for free at Trafalgar Square. The square was filled to capacity (but well monitored) and the thousands of people were spilling out from all corners. The atmosphere was buzzing, everyone was well behaved and if most people hadn’t been standing already, there would have been a few standing ovations. What struck me most, other than the sheer volume of people it attracted, was the kind of people it attracted. Mostly young people, groups of friends, some with young children and most seemed to be there by choice, not just coincidentally walking by (standing for 2.5hrs requires a level of commitment). It had a festival feel to it and I couldn’t help but draw parallels with some research I’m currently conducting in that area, particularly in terms of the drivers of attendance, which are primarily centred on the atmosphere, the community feel and the love for live entertainment.
According to the same study, an unsurprising majority of music festival goers expect sponsors to bring something to the table rather than just have a presence through logos and badge sponsorship. Businesses therefore need to do more to show brand fit and encourage affinity – they need to add value.
In the case of BMW and the LSO, it is also worth noting that through this partnership they addressed the “quality”, accessibility and educational agendas for the arts. And judging by the rest of the crowd that left happy and content and also by the clearly sign-posted but discreet presence of BMW, I believe I wasn’t the only one who was grateful to them and look forward to the next show of the series. No one can begrudge them for their motivations behind this partnership or their own profit-driven objectives (if any) – ultimately they gave something back and that’s all that mattered.
But the researcher in me also wanted to know more about the kind of people that attended – how did they hear about it? Had they seen/ heard the LSO perform before? Were they planning to go afterwards or return to one of the other performances of the series? My guess would be that the majority of the people there had not heard the orchestra live before (or any of its contemporaries), loved it, and would go again (money and weather permitting). Therefore this partnership also did much to open up the artform and increase reach and engagement.
And other businesses are capitalizing on these opportunities and playing a large part in democratizing the arts. BP set up public screenings of Royal Opera House shows (there was one only yesterday), Aviva facilitate broadcasts of National Theatre performances and Google has partnered with many of the world’s greatest museums and galleries, allowing virtual access to artworks in 40 countries.
The current “all-about-access” trend therefore seems to have businesses carving a niche for themselves and adding value – is it ironic that at the same time they are proactively and very successfully contributing towards ACE’s mission of providing “great art for everyone”?