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Suzi Williams, director of BT group marketing and brand, addresses how to make a partnership more than a basic arts sponsorship deal

3 min read

For me, the key to a successful partnership hinges on three things. First, there must be a brilliant brand fit between the company and the arts organisation in question. Secondly, there must be a desire from both sides to collaborate and work together as one team. Gone are the days when a company will sign a cheque and back away. And finally, there needs to be trust and passion, not just for the art itself and for the commercial objectives, but for the journey the two organisations are taking together.
Honesty is key. From the outset both partners need to be open about their objectives and ambitions. The company should be able to articulate clearly why they want to be involved with a particular arts organisation or artist and what results they’re seeking to achieve. But a smart commercial organisation will recognise and respect where they need to leave the artist free to deliver on his or her vision and take some risk.

The arts organisation should recognise that securing board buy-in for an arts sponsorship in today’s economic climate is difficult, and they have an important role in the creation of a robust business case and sharing the risk with their commercial partner, identifying measurable objectives and targets.
After being involved with several successful arts partnerships as part of our broader London 2012 Olympic partnership, I recognise the contribution the arts sector can make. Our Road to 2012 project with the National Portrait Gallery is a great example of how a true partnership can deliver for both parties. We first began talking to the gallery back in 2008 and quickly realised that we shared an ambition – to make a creative, meaningful and lasting contribution to the London 2012 Games. What resulted was a truly unique partnership.
Road to 2012 was launched in October 2009 to coincide with 1,000 days to go to the start of the Games. Over the three-year project, the BT and gallery teams worked closely as one. The gallery understood our priorities – to help tell the stories of the people in the commissioned portraits and to showcase the project to the widest possible audience.

As a result, the gallery brought in a digital-video specialist to amplify the storytelling and online elements of the project, and we worked with the gallery to take a selection of the portraits on tour around the UK. The gallery now retains a full-time videographer as a result of our partnership – a fantastic legacy from which other corporate partners will benefit.

Securing board buy-in for an arts sponsorship in today’s economic climate is difficult

Sponsorship has changed considerably over the last ten years and companies are keen to develop projects from the outset, not simply slap their logo on the finished project, exhibition or production. The arts sector can learn a lot from the sports industry here. Companies receive exciting proposals on a regular basis from sports organisations, governing bodies or teams, the majority of which detail the opportunity clearly in terms of return on investment and brand positioning.
But, if I had to sum up what moves a basic sponsorship deal to a successful partnership, it really comes down to two words: mutual respect.

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