How to be an artist: Corporate Collection and Sponsorship

This is a post for artists about the often mysterious area of Corporate Sponsorship – how do you fund a show, approach a potential sponsor or even know who to approach.

Carolin Wagner (formerly of  Christies and past Managing Director at Chelsea Art Museum – NY ) gave a talk about how to grab sponsorship opportunities or plainly just how to ask for it.

This is especially relevant in the light of the ‘arts cuts beating’ proactive group of artists who I am working with to raise funds for the Orange County Museum exhibition in December/Jan  (see how we’re fund raising and how you can join in here)

My bullet pointed notes on what she said and what we discussed as a group following the talk below:

  • We talked about both corporate art collections & Corporate sponsorship. Carolin highlighted some of the big corporate collections – Deutche Bank, Monsoon, Hiscox, Axa, BA, JP Morgan, Simons and Simons.
  • Most companies have a sponsorship budget and a CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative. The lesson – it never hurts to ask, and what to us as artists seems like a big ask and a little cheeky, to them is just a drop in the ocean. We just have to make sure that our proposal resonates with them and makes them see it is worth investing in above others.
  • Companies like to present themselves as supporters for the arts – it makes them look good so don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Sponsorship is essentially a branding opportunity for corporates – and conversely we would only want to be sponsored by something that also stands for what we are, so it’s worth being focused and only approaching companies that are aligned with what you are doing. (In terms of their ethos / outlook / values)
  • Typically they want to have the chance to: have logo/branding on the catalogue / flyer / eflyer / website / at the event. They want high exposure and footfall, and to be associated with something contemporary, current and successful.
  • TIP: Check out the sponsor logos on any catalogues / art fairs / exhibition leaflets you pick up –  useful source of info / inspiration on who had a sponsorship budget / an interest in arts
  • We need a positive attitude – as there is plenty of Money around, just not enough good projects to invest it in.
  • Have the courage to approach them, just put the Q out there.
  • It’s important to make the creative link for them – eg how there could be an interesting connection between the theme of the show and their products and how they could help (for example)
  • You can start with a brief phone call followed by an email. It does not have to be a full proposal, just ‘sounding them out’ to start with
  • Following this you may need to send around 5 follow up emails – be polite but persistent. Each time you could include more info to show it’s an exciting and growing event – eg. ‘just wanted to let you know we have now secured press coverage from x’ or  ‘its just been featured on this blog’ or ‘we’ve gained this sponsor too, theres still time for you to come on board’
  • There needs to be incentive for them – eg is it a good PR story, how does it make them cooler, differentiate them from other companies? What press coverage will there be? What press agency are you using? How big is the database that it’s going out to? What is the cause? What demographics will get to see them associated with it (i.e. are these people who’s attention they want to grab? Potential customers for them?) How many collectors are there going to be there?
  • It can be hard to approach as an individual, but you can learn and grow as a collective – it is easier as you are involved in something bigger.
  • Following approaching a company as part of a collective, this gives you leverage in future to contact them as an individual.
  • It helps to be focused with who you approach – 5 well researched potential sponsors who are a good fit is likely to be less work with more results than sending out 100s en mass.
  • Always think longer term – this is not just about this sponsorship but a potential long term relationship
  • Whilst we discussed mainly the big corporates, I know for a fact that even the  smaller companies I’ve worked with have a sponsorship budget as part of their marketing or Public Relations – so it’s worth approaching any companies that you’ve worked with or have any contact with. It’s also worth proposing to companies of friends, local businesses, workplaces of those we know.
  • Carolin pointed out that you have to have a good base for your artists work, this includes proof of practice (website etc.) and a good CV. Corporate businesses will not hand out funds to anyone. It definitely helps if they like your work! Carolin also talked about how some business that you don’t expect to invest in Art like Deutsche Bank do, so never overlook anyone – it never hurts to ask.
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