Top five rules for brands collaborating with art and culture

Business and culture have long shared a mutually seductive rapport. Few major works of art would have been possible in history had it not been for the financial backing of kings and queens and the church. Today, the transaction may be similar, but modern creative patronage comes in multiple forms and with some strict guidelines. Car brands BMW and Hyundai, for instance, sponsor key contemporary shows at the Tate Modern. BMW also dips its toes in Art Basel, Frieze Art, Artsy and the London Symphony Orchestra. The coveted annual architectural Serpentine Pavilion would have been impossible if not for financial support from investment bank Goldman Sachs.

It should be a question of corporate citizenship – for companies to see what they can return to society which then enables businesses to flourish. It is also about building long-term partnerships rather than relying on headline-grabbing short-lived events. The reality is, brands benefit incredibly from endorsing the arts, and the creative world needs their financial support. So, what are the top rules of engagement in the modern brand world?

2016 Serpentine Pavilion by BIG

1. Choose your partner wisely

When selecting an artist or a designer, make sure the relationship is based on curiosity and shared values. Do your own research and keep up-to-speed with what is happening in the wider world of creativity. Don’t rely solely on an outside agency to make a decision for you. It sounds logical, but often businesses will team up with the wrong creative, a popular artist or someone selected independently by an agency they work with. The project may receive temporary media attention, yet in the long-term random art projects show a lack of insight with often a negative impact on your brand.

2. Commission relevant work

Collaborations need to have historical, cultural and brand relevance, without which they will be perceived as vanity projects. A great example of a successful creative scheme is MINI Living. The maker of the quintessential urban run-around has been involved in a housing project to find progressive living solutions for young urbanites. The company has been working with visionary architects, staying clear of big names, for some exciting alternative living concepts. In the process, the car brand MINI is examining its role in the future urban landscape. This is a genuine project with real long-terms goals.

'The Gallery' inside Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

3. Be brave, get involved

The project will feel genuine when the company and artist work alongside one another. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, a beacon of traditional luxury, has worked hard in the last decade to reinvent itself for the modern world. This means partnering with creatives who will endorse this goal. The Phantom Gallery, for instance, is one the most original bespoke propositions offered by any contemporary car company. It is also the most technically-complex construction which only a brand with a history of intricate craftsmanship can pull off. Rolls works directly with the artists in creating these bespoke options, and these are exciting artists who help promote the brand’s mission to be relevant to a younger, more progressive audience. It is a win-win situation.

4. Be selfless

However, occasionally it pays off to let the art speak for itself; it can show a great deal of brand confidence. The BMW Art Journey with Art Basel or Goldman Sachs Serpentine Pavilion, for instance, prove that you can support artists without much creative involvement other than financial support. If chosen wisely, and this is the key, this seemingly selfless act will do wonders for promoting your brand.

Fujiko Nakaya's fog sculpture at BMW Tate Live

5. There is a fine balance

More and more companies are taking this philanthropic path, thinking and hoping the association with the arts alone will elevate their brand to new culturally-enlightened levels. The consumer is wise though, and brands need to be aware of the complexities of partnerships. It is a little like a good recipe: all the ingredients need to work in harmony for the final dish to be delicious. And it cannot be stressed enough; make sure the end project meets your highest standard, as there is nothing more damaging than a shabby creative project.

Nargess Banks (images subject to ©. From top Serpentine Pavilion by BIG, Rolls-Royce Phantom Gallery, Fujiko Nakaya BMW Tate Live and MINI Living Beijing)

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