In the last few months, I’ve encountered protestors camping outside a number of attractions, lobbying visitors in the queue lines to try to persuade them to boycott the attractions because of a specific sponsorship tie-up.
Although they’ve been peaceful protests and sometimes interesting, it’s obviously not a good thing for attractions customers to be exposed to this kind of pressure.
The industry attracts protesters for the same reason it attracts sponsors – it’s high profile and extremely engaged with its audience. The numbers are also compelling – attractions capture high levels of footfall and do so in a provable and segmented way, so sponsorship spend can be targeted and analysed to a degree that isn’t possible with many other types of sponsorships or marketing.
With a growing desire to invest in corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporations view attractions as being on a par with sport as an investment area that achieves CSR objectives, while also being safe in terms of image and powerful in terms of association.
Today, sponsorship is a global business ranging from Disney’s tie up with Coca- Cola to Sotheby’s sponsorship of MOMA in New York. The industry couldn’t run without it and commercial sponsorship of attractions – particularly the arts, culture, museums and heritage – has enabled decades of excellence that would simply not have been possible otherwise.
But times change and sponsorships which were once acceptable to the public can – over time – become less so. London’s National Portrait Gallery was once sponsored by British Tobacco, for example, but that kind of arrangement would be unthinkable today.
One of the most famous benefactions ever is the UK’s Tate – now a network of four museums – originally made possible by funds from Henry Tate, one of the founders of what later became Tate & Lyle the sugar refiner and processor.
Today, sugar is acknowledged as one of the health scourges of modern times – toxic, addictive and with little nutritional value apart from empty calories. It’s one of the major contributors to the global obesity crisis.
But associations between Tate & Lyle and the Tate galleries faded long ago in the minds of the public, so that’s one protest that has been rendered redundant by the passing of time.
In such a complex and ever changing situation, it’s important the industry keeps all sponsorship deals under review, walking a realistic line between listening to protests and giving them fair and due consideration and robustly defending sponsorship relationships where they feel the accusations are unfair or not born out when tested against public opinion.
Liz Terry, editor, twitter: @elizterry