Arts Sponsorship’s Secret Sauce

I’m watching sports marketers try to crack the code of arts sponsorship. It’s inspiring and it’s also a little amusing. Their approach is downright Flinstonian. Same blunt instruments, same command-and-control attitudes toward the consumer. The problem is that the entire social landscape is shifting, dude. The sponsorship model itself is up for revision. After all, why should sponsorship be any different from all the other traditional media in crisis?

Seems the old dogs need new tricks. But who will lead the way? I see the sports-marketing enthusiasts at IEG, now owned by gargantuan WPP, have whipped up product that addresses the rising power of the cultural consumer. (Guess the sports fan has had his day.)

The nuances of the cultural consumer psychographic makes sponsorship difficult to scale. There’s no denying that poses a challenge to mass marketers. Still, there are tangible benefits, which have significant value and cost pennies on the dollar compared to notoriously over-priced sports packages. But it’s the intangibles that comprise the Secret Sauce: authenticity, creative essence and cultural enmeshment. Scaling is facilitated by new media, cable and viral passion.

Having spent years researching and translating the value of arts sponsorship to corporate sponsors, I can tell you the approach is specialized and the language is unique. While I am encouraged that the sponsorship marketplace is at last showing signs of evolving in this direction, I wonder if sports marketers will succeed in crossing the chasm from the sports fan to the cultural consumer using the current mind-set? Believe me, I welcome it. But the plain truth is that success hinges on having thought leaders who are a little more “open-source” than the current players. Open minds and open hearts will rule this new realm. The dominant voices in the sponsorship industry have cloistered it, keeping marketers insulated while consumer culture changed without them. Now it’s a catch-up race. May the best colleagues win.