Eduardo Kobra paints a series of murals for Rio Olympics, 2016

Bringing Brands and Arts Organisations Together

As the government coffers dry up, arts organisations need to get better at talking to brands, and brands need to wake up to the art opportunity that they’ve been missing out on. Neonormal’s Karen Monaghan has some matchmaking advice.

Brands need art organisations and arts organisations need brands. However, servicing brand partners is an intensive activity and often lean artistic organisations lack the resources to deliver on this promise. Likewise, CMOs have enough on their plates without having to weigh up the merits of aligning with cultural events or businesses. This is where agencies come into the equation.

Agencies have long played the role of middleman between consumers and brands. It’s a similar relationship between arts organisations and audiences. With a recent study highlighting how 98% of Australians engage with the arts, (the highest percentage being 15-24 year olds), it’s become a target too difficult to ignore for CMO’s. A platform to engage in if not to gain the attention of those increasingly difficult to capture younger audiences, then to reach the population at large – in short, every marketer’s dream. Agencies are adept at bridging the gap between these two camps. But it goes deeper than that.

In truth, most people who go into creative industries are themselves frustrated artists. Talk to just about anyone in an agency and they will tell you they love to paint, write or make music. However, they also need to pay their mortgage. We might be frustrated artists but we are commercially minded. We don’t like to think of it as selling out. Instead, you could say we have a lower commercial threshold. Whichever way you look at it, this is a skillset arts organisations, and brands, can benefit from tapping into.

Traditionally, arts organisations looked to brands as a linear revenue stream – you provide us with this much cash and we will provide you with some tickets and logo placement. And if you pay us enough, your VIPs can meet our opening night speaker, too.

With more competition for budgets, there has been a shift in brands providing contra or goods and services rather than cash. For arts organisations that have very little medium to long term funding, this impacts future planning which in turn limits the ability to forge ongoing brand-building partnerships which ultimately diminishes the value for a brand.

The smart operators on both sides of the equation are instead looking for relationships they can grow allowing time to deliver on a joint brand-building platform in a meaningful way. This is perhaps more evident in the philanthropic space than corporate partnerships at the moment but it’s definitely moving in this direction on both fronts.

Arts organisations have typically had many smaller partnerships but this is also changing. Savvy organisations are now looking to invest in fewer but deeper relationships. Organisations that have already gone down this path are seeing a positive flow-on effect to budgets because servicing partners is resource intensive, no matter the size.


A marriage of more than convenience

The Australian art community’s unique relationship with the government puts art organisations in a difficult position when it comes to financial support. As this pie gets smaller and smaller, arts organisations are needing to get better at engaging brands.

There is good news for arts organisations: corporate brands are looking to build strategic partnership portfolios.

But in many instances, agencies are the gatekeepers and brand experience agencies tend to hold the keys to brand partnership portfolios. That is because we know what our clients are looking for and the types of partnerships that align with their brand.

The strongest partnerships have a shared understanding of what’s in it for me. They have a clear understanding of the alignment between the organisations and know exactly where the sweet spot is. They move towards completing each other’s offer, providing a more compelling experience for the audience.

Where there is great alignment, the reasons an arts organisation needs a brand partner are the same – build credibility, community, engagement, reposition, reinforce values and appeal and, of course, increase revenue while allowing for innovative programming and growth.

With this in mind, organisations that approach agencies in the first instance have a better chance of achieving cut through. A tailored pitch guided by people who know the brand gives you better odds than a generic proposal going out to seven different car brands, sometimes with the name of the last brand approached still on the document. Similarly, agencies can help CMOs to discover artistic businesses and events that not only match the needs and values of their brand but actually elevate the organisation.


The value of alignment


Audi’s support of the arts in Australia through its partnerships with Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art as well as the Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Companies is a great example of a brand communicating its message to a carefully curated audience. Through these partnership initiatives, Audi has become known as a great supporter of the arts while extending its reach outside of the dealership as it gets cultural consumer’s bums on seats and hands on the wheel of the next car they had not realised they wanted.

As in the case of Audi, the right fit for a brand is one that sees mutual alignment with the aesthetics, style, perceptions and values of each entity. The partnership can then build credibility with a community whether it be an emerging brand that is building awareness or a mature brand that is repositioning, relaunching or in need of reputation management.

The value for the employees of each partner in the equation is not to be underestimated. Creativity feeds creativity. When teams from diverse organisations collaborate strategically, creative thinking escalates, productivity improves, energy lifts and teams are more likely to think beyond the executional demands, put themselves in the shoes of the audience, articulate and measure the real outcomes.

Agencies then come into the equation to help with the heavy lifting allowing arts organisations to do what they do best – push boundaries in creative programming providing inspiration, enlightenment, nurturing, challenging and rewarding experiences – and brands to reap the benefits.

It can be tough out there for arts orgs, particularly when they’re going up against more commercially-led events such as music festivals. Equally it can be difficult for brands fielding, vetting and weighing up the value of getting into bed with arts organisations. Agencies are often the best weapon to get over this hurdle because I’ll let you in on a secret: agencies love working with art organisations just as much as they love working with brands. It’s the perfect intersection as it gives us an opportunity to flex our creative muscle while calling on our commercial minds. For teams of frustrated artists, you can’t go past that.

This article originally appeared in Marketing Magazine. Read the article here.


Karen Monaghan – Client Development Director
By Karen Monaghan

Posted August 25, 2017

Karen Monaghan loves to get her hands dirty cooking up collaborations between brands and arts organisations through her roles at brand experience agency Neonormal and as a board member and Chair of Marketing Committee at Melbourne Writers Festival.