Don't bite the hand . . . The pros and cons of sponsorship

Edward Barrett, 4 October 2012

Don’t bite the hand . . . The pros and cons of sponsorship

Called by: Ed

Present: Ed; Marie; Alice; Mary; Tricia; Martin (others arrived later).

Ed: I’m a big fan of Nicholas Hytner’s work – he’s artistically and intellectually very impressive; but, when I heard him calling for the continuation of tax-breaks for charitable donations, I found myself wondering if the National Theatre’s reliance on rich donors compromises their ability to look critically at the current status quo.

Having said that, I recently saw his excellent production of Timon of Athens, which is overtly critical of bankers . . .

So where does the balance lie, and what are the potential pitfalls of accepting corporate sponsorship?

- We need to be able to trust the art over funding.

- Are there any sources we wouldn’t accept funding from, eg a tobacco company?

- Do I like the brand?

- Does their ideology align with ours?

- Does Arts and Business still exist? .

- Theatre companies have to get funding from somewhere. There’s more integration between artists and business in other countries.

- Though when I hear people referencing ‘the American model’ I shudder!

- I’ve heard of people being paid for a year for ‘thinking’ to improve business. .

- Sponsors need to approach you – that’s far more successful.

- How do you make contact with the right person in the corporate world?

- We need an intermediate to negotiate between artists and corporate.

- How do we say ‘we can help you in this way’, but also remain flexible and be able to meet the sponsor’s needs?

- Best to go in with some sort of scale – what the organisation will do in return for various levels of sponsorship. Then if the organisation wants something else, you can compare it to things on that scale. You’re not going to impress anyone by saying ‘Give us some money and we’ll do what you want’!

- Effective use of resources – it takes time to search out sponsors.

- The private sector is also facing cuts, so advertising and will go. Even established companies will struggle to find support.

- There’s a danger of the support infecting the art.


- Better to be able to rely on subsidy as well as revenue.

- Get a company on board and they can advocate for you.

- Quality of work can be enhanced.

- Can help build for the future.

What’s in it for the business, and how do we approach them?

- Companies like the National have the profile .

- Build your negotiation skills.

- Ask questions.

- Be resourceful and direct.

- What can you offer? What might they get in return? Make it concrete.

- See where your & their needs meet.

- Create a personal link with funders.

- Creative people tend to avoid business because they think it’s not an area in which they have any expertise – but you can be creative in solving their problems / needs.

- Small-scale can be good.

- Perhaps asking for small amounts from a large number of potential sponsors is preferable, though you’d probably need to ensure they aren’t direct competitors.

- There aren’t necessarily any off-the-shelf solutions – an organic approach needed.

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