Arts patronage 2.0

Brands and the arts: making creative partnerships work – trends, best practices and insights into successful collaborations.


Several high-profile examples of relationships between companies and the arts show the media appeal of cultural collaborations. But how can truly creative communications emerge from these unlikely partnerships?

Image: Swatch Art Peace Hotel / Photo: Swatch Ltd.

5 rules of successful brands and arts collaborations

  1. Assess whether the collaboration makes sense: Companies should get involved only if they are ready to commit a significant amount of time and resources. It is also important to assess potential risks as sponsorships by companies from certain sectors might face scrutiny from consumers and activist groups. Effective partnership is a matter of having a strategy and gradually expanding the company’s relationships with the art community, so it becomes part of the brand’s value system.
  2. Go beyond logo sponsorships and look for meaningful and systematic ways of engagement and creating memorable experiences: Mere “logo” sponsorships have become a thing of the past. Successful creative partnerships need effort to make it a mutually beneficial engagement.. The brand’s contribution should go beyond just giving a financial grant. Companies have connections, knowledge, and expertise that can assist artists in their work or help art institutions to become more sustainable.
  3. Initiate and co-create, but give artists creative freedom: In art collaborations, loosening control and giving artists creative freedom to do their work is key. It might seem too risky, but only then will the partnership result in a real artwork.
  4. Make your employees the ambassadors of your programme and get senior management on board: Effective art collaborations start by building the understanding of the creative partnership and its goals within the company. It is important to engage employees, so they can transmit their excitement externally and become brand champions and ambassadors. The success of brands and arts collaborations also relies on the management, who should be aware of partnerships goals, progress and business impact.
  5. Storytelling and engagement matter: As much as a brand or a company invests in establishing a true creative partnership, they should also put sufficient effort into telling its story. Digital media provides many opportunities to engage the public in a conversation about art and culture and gives them a deeper experience of creative collaborations.

Consumers are becoming more demanding, and, as many recent surveys show, brands need to go beyond merely providing a quality product or service to win customers# hearts and minds. They need to create memorable experiences and engage target audiences around their points of passion and interests, with art being a key way to do that. At the same time, with public funding of museums and other cultural institutions facing constant cuts, they start to look into establishing corporate partnerships with the goal of making their operations more sustainable. When implemented in a smart way, collaborations between companies and cultural organisations have the potential to invigorate the brand’s communications while filling a widening gap in the art world. However, to be successful, such initiatives should be based on a clear long-term strategy, take into account each side’s sensibilities and goals as well as engage a variety of internal and external stakeholders.

With the goal of determining what makes creative partnerships work and what trends are driving their future, we conducted an international study - Brands and the arts: Making creative partnerships work. Trends, best practices, and insights into successful collaborations - which included the analysis of more than 40 corporate art programmes and interviews with consultants and managers responsible for engagements at major global brands such as Absolut, BMW, Cadillac, Davidoff, Dior, Hennessy, Swatch, to name a few.

Beyond logo sponsorship

Our research shows that successful art collaborations require significant commitment in terms of time, effort and investment. One-off projects based on stamping an artistic image on a product, or a brand’s logo on a press wall at a sponsored cultural event, could potentially do more damage than bring benefits. Such superficial involvement could demonstrate that the brand lacked the effort needed to properly understand the arts community and communicate with it in a meaningful way. To be effective, brand engagement with the arts should go further, and many long-time corporate art supporters are constantly reviewing their programmes to try out new approaches and to make existing initiatives more strategic, systematic and sustainable.

Anastasia Elaeva

Anastasia Elaeva is the head of corporate communications at the Moscow office of global public relations agency Grayling. In this role, she is responsible for communications strategy development and implementation for international corporations and foreign Embassies in Russia. She also advises her clients on creative partnerships with arts and cultural institutions