An emphatic drop in arts funding over the last decade has forced public funded organisations to re-think their commercial strategies in a bid to remain profitable. The ever increasing pull of the purse strings, combined with an overcrowded marketplace has lead theatres across the land to seek sponsorship in order to keep up. Yet with most discerning customers around who cannot be fooled or cajoled, the trick it seems, is bagging the right sponsor.
Barriers to entry for sponsors within theatreland have come from different directions; firstly, many see sponsorship as a taboo that can drive away the younger audience, and therefore brands trying to reach this demographic. Secondly, scepticism from the industry plays a vital role, with many wishing to retain ‘artistic independence’ from sponsors, choosing ones which don’t undermine the ethics they promote. However, over the past ten years with the ever increasing need to adjust, and with the need to attract new audiences, there has been an increase in more corporate sponsorships – has this brought the right brands in and has it benefitted the industry?
Subsiding theatre tickets in order to bring in a younger, and larger crowd has been the corner stone of many partnerships in recent years. Travelex’s sponsorship of the National Theatre has lasted for over ten years, offering over 2 million reduced priced tickets, 360,000 of these have been to first time theatre goers. Travelex themselves may not be recognised as the most desirable sponsor, if you only remember them as taking a large commission off your holiday money at the departure lounge; they do, however, offer a break from a corporate dominated market. Whether you like it, don’t like it or are ambivalent, there is no denying that PWC’s investment in The Old Vic has had a considerable impact on the theatre, especially their investment which focusses upon nurturing young talent. Accenture have also been big supporters of the National, choosing to support more grass roots theatre, and showcasing their tech credentials by designing a touch screen behind the scenes tour of the theatre.
Sponsorship by corporates such as Shell and BP, have attracted plenty of criticism over the years with the feeling that this positive publicity is only there to service their corporate image, shining the spotlight away from their environmental records . BP has come under considerable criticism with their sponsorship of the Globe, which has famously been undermined by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company who regularly publicise BP’s global mishaps.
Sponsorship is part of today’s theatre makeup, and its clearly better off for it financially; however, if their objectives are to be attracting new, younger or more customers then surely they should be looking for brands which represent this. Travelex is a step in the right direction, and shows this can be built by creating more engaging campaigns.