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April 7, 2008

Sarah Farrugia: A bluffer's guide to event sponsorship

“Do you know Morgan Stanley?” someone asked me recently at a cocktail party.

“I can’t place the name,” I answered, “what does he do?”

“It’s not a person, it’s a bank,” came the reply. “My friend’s father is the chief exec of Morgan Stanley’s new emergent territories division?”

“Oh that Morgan Stanley.”

Everyone has some story about a business like Morgan Stanley. Well he, I mean they, sponsored the First Emperor exhibition at The British Museum – you know the one with the clay soldiers, some 2000 years old that defend the First Emperor’s death chamber in Xian in China.

It’s a big event, shipping priceless artefacts around the world; very expensive and needs pots of cash to do it. So MS got involved. Or rather MS put their name to the event. Well, perhaps they got involved or perhaps they just forked out the cash. I don’t know. But what I do know is that MS is just one of a large number of businesses that supports the arts or sponsors big events.

When I was walking around the exhibition I took my mind off the clay for a moment and wondered what MS get out of it? Very few, if any, of the general public will know of or about MS, so it can’t be for awareness. We don’t know what they did for The British Museum or the Terracotta Army, so they aren’t building any sort of story about the brand or building/changing perceptions. I expect they had a few opening night tickets with canapés for their clients, so it’s probably a corporate hospitality thing.

There are any number of brands doing it, from Whyte & Mackay to Lloyds TSB. I think it’s critical for the wellbeing of a healthy live events and creative arts landscape to get support from wealthy patrons – investment is essential to support a diverse range of entertainment activities that aren’t entirely run for commercial gain.

However, what I’m advocating is that MS and other sponsors could join up the dots a bit for me, the visitor. If this fits into their educational programme/strategy or if they have supported the Chinese exporting arts and bringing understanding about Chinese culture to us or something meaningful I would be interested.

There’s a vast distance between gratuitous, exploitative brand marketing and tasteful explanation. Anyway at the very least I could bluff about it with your friend’s Dad when I meet him at the next cocktail party.

Sarah Farrugia is director of branding, events and research specialists Sarah Farrugia & Co.

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