Have you ever thought about your company sponsoring a certain activity? Have you come to the conclusion that associating your brand with an event or project developed by a third party is beneficial for your business purposes? Have you decided which field would be the most suitable: social action, environmental action? Sport? The culture?

Brands, in the process of communicating with their audiences, emit signals. That is to say, they make obvious features or notes – which they have by themselves or because they have incorporated them – to make themselves known or distinguish themselves from other trademarks (see “signal”, DLE, RAE). And these signs can be of a very diverse nature, from your logo or your corporate identity; to the architectural style of its headquarters or the tone of its advertising campaigns. Going through their sponsorship programs. Because with each and every one of these options, brands communicate with the world: their actual and potential customers, the different interest groups; with society at large.

Within the field of sponsorship, the possibilities of defining and implementing it are very varied. As we said at the beginning, from social responsibility in its widest range of options, to the defense of nature or the environment; going through sports. All the way to the culture.

Cultural sponsorship as a communication tool

This communication “tool” is very old. Perhaps the first historical reference to this resource of associating a brand with the development of artistic creation is that of Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, in the first century B.C.; And it’s clear that in this case it was a personal brand. From then until today, in history we have encountered the recurrent action of great institutions (from the Church to large business corporations) and eminent personalities (princes, magnates, philanthropists) who have supported with their money the development of the artistic and cultural genius of many creators. Although it is true that the appearance of companies in this process is very recent, it is no less true that in all decisions to allocate part of their economic resources to the sponsorship of culture, a common purpose appears: to associate their image, their brand, with an activity socially accepted as prestigious and considered relevant for the development of the community.

Is this common – and in many cases practically the only – reason for associating the brand with the prestige of the cultural action enough for the decision to sponsor a cultural action to be the right one?

As it is a business matter and, therefore, related to sales, profitability and the survival of the entity, the question is whether the signals we choose to communicate are the right ones. That is, if they are going to produce the expected result.

The When of Cultural Sponsorship

And how can we know if they are going to do it?: trying to ensure that all actions aimed at communicating the brand are consistent with the very essence of it. In other words, we will only be able to do so if we start from the clear definition of the values and attributes of the brand, on which we build a positioning that materializes in its own personality; and, in turn, that it operates in an appropriate brand territory. Only if we follow this process will we be able to establish the principles from which a brand’s communication policy will have the best guarantees of success. Success that will also be a consequence of the adequacy between what we want to communicate and the tools chosen for it. Because it is also well known that when it comes to defining a communication policy we will find a variety of actions, alternative or simultaneous, among which we can choose for our ultimate purpose, to communicate the brand “to make it known or distinguish it from others”.

If we have come to the conclusion that there is the necessary fit between the positioning and personality of the brand and cultural sponsorship, we will now have to ask ourselves other questions. The first derives from the interpretation of the concept of “culture” in two possible aspects: culture as “creation”; and culture as “diffusion”. So, what will we support with sponsorship: scholarships and awards; or exhibitions and editions? The second issue is to establish the unavoidable relationship between the action to be sponsored and the interest group to which it is directed, or which will best perceive its signals. Do we want to communicate only or primarily to our customers, or will the action reach a wider sector of the market? Is the young segment of the population – and our clientele – the same as that of adult consumers? And – let’s not forget – the signals are emitted to make the brand known or to distinguish it from the others; Therefore, it is necessary to analyse in detail what other brands – like-minded, competitors, leaders, etc. – are doing in this field. Are we going to share the same field of action, or are we going to differentiate ourselves? Or are we able to come up with a new approach to presence in a field that is already occupied and, therefore, more mature?

And all this without taking into account, in addition, another necessary reflection: should the brand undertake the sponsorship action itself, or should it be associated with a prestigious cultural agent that develops its activity in this field and for whose purposes it collaborates?

Plan a cultural sponsorship

Only at the end of this analysis process will the best decision be reached. From this point on, the definition of the cultural action to be sponsored and its scope, the remaining phases are identical to those of a sponsorship of any other nature: adequate economic resources will have to be allocated; design the sponsorship activation plan; and identify the criteria that will determine the return on action and set the analysis and monitoring processes.

 

In short, what we intend to conclude with these reflections is that the decision to sponsor a cultural activity must flee from improvisation, intuition or the personal taste of the decision-maker. This statement seems obvious, because no one would think that the decision to manufacture a new product, expand the business to a new country, go into debt to undertake an investment or change the computer platform are decisions based on improvisation, intuition or the personal taste of the decision-maker; And they are usually not, because they are considered business decisions. But the fact is that many decisions about the suitability of a sponsorship – which are also business decisions – are made on a whim. I’m not going to deny the existence of a relationship between intuition or improvisation and success, because they exist. But if given a choice, I prefer decisions based on analysis and reflection. And the procedure described is nothing but an aid to the decision thus informed.

Success Stories in Cultural Sponsorship

There are, without a doubt, countless success stories in the definition and implementation of cultural sponsorship, but I will allow myself to mention one that seems paradigmatic to me: Iberdrola’s decision to build an art collection. It is clear that the uniqueness of the action does not lie in its nature, since there are thousands of companies that do it. What, in my opinion, makes this action somewhat different is the logic of its construction, which corresponds almost perfectly to the proposed scheme.

The purpose of the action is to contribute to the creation, knowledge and dissemination of art in society. The way to differentiate itself from how many companies do something similar is how it has structured the action in parallel with the history of the company through the different brands that have been merging to give rise to the current Iberdrola. Thus, they have distinguished three milestones, which give raison d’être to three different categories or natures of the collection: Firstly, in the origins of the company, Spanish pictorial works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and as a consequence of the origin of Iberduero, greater weight of works by the great masters of Basque art). Secondly, taking as a milestone the opening of the interconnection of the national high-voltage grid, the orientation of the collection to Spanish creation from the mid-fifties to the present day, with the merger between Iberduero and Hidroeléctrica Española already taking place at the end of the twentieth century, which resulted in the birth of Iberdrola. In addition, as a result of the company’s internationalization process since the beginning of the 21st century, the collection has opened up to new forms and new artistic trends, especially from the countries in which the company has expanded (Scotland, Germany, the United States, etc.). And finally, in the search for a link that would give conceptual coherence to the collection, it is made up of works that deal with what Iberdrola ultimately does: work on natural resources through engineering to produce energy. Nature, knowledge, light.

The way in which Iberdrola has decided to contribute to the development of artistic creation is shared by most of the companies that sponsor art. Like them, Iberdrola also exhibits its works, lends them to exhibitions organised by third parties and contributes to their merger in other ways. But Iberdrola has introduced a differentiating approach that makes its signal stand out from those broadcast by other brands: in addition to helping emerging artists in markets that are new to the company, it has decided that the collection will serve to build the personality of its brand. Last week, during an event at the headquarters of the Loewe Foundation on the occasion of the celebration of ARCO, Rafael Orbegozo, director of the collection, when asked if they intended to build a museum that would house it and serve as a focal point for its dissemination, answered no, because the purpose of the collection was, In addition to the usual ones, that all the company’s employees and all the people who interact with it at its headquarters see in the works a reflection of the challenge that the future means. That they would get used to living with those proposals. Contemporary art as an invitation to challenge the rules and invent the future.

In short, a shining example of a cultural sponsorship based on a rational process, perfectly structured and anchored in the definition of its personality. The business decision, the result of analysis and reflection.

 

Ignacio Muñoz

Consulting Partner at Branward®

Photos: Shutterstock