Showcase is an agency that works with corporations, cultural organizations, and governments to create partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships. Focusing on sponsorship of non-profit projects, Showcase allows its corporate clients to reach affluent opinion leaders in the cultural world while also driving revenue for institutions in the art world. We spoke with London-based managing director Peter Welch and Milan-London based co-founder Isabella Brancolini and owner of online photography platform nineteensixtyeight.com about their position within the world of brands and creative culture.
I’d like to ask, first of all, if you can share the Showcase story. What was it that you saw missing in the world when you decided that this was what needed to be done?
Peter Welch: We recognized that there was an opportunity for the cultural sector to specialize its fundraising. The sports industry has been so successful at generating income from sponsorship, and I thought that by using the techniques and the approach that the sports industry has used, we can help museums and other organizations maximize their income streams. The cultural sector is hugely undervalued by potential sponsors. The cultural and sports fanbases in the UK and US are pretty similar in number, but the cultural sector has a much more interesting group of people in the sense that they engage, they're wealthier, they're more curious, there is better gender diversity. They have a whole range of characteristics that are really not appreciated currently.
You've mentioned that the cultural sector doesn't understand audience segmentation, the metrics and data analysis that would allow sponsors to have more confidence in the sponsorship.
PW: The cultural sector has not invested in evidence-based research, so it’s difficult for corporations to justify the investment. The sports sector has a huge analysis of and data on its audience base. This is an issue that does need addressing. We do significant analysis of where the cultural sector audience is. But, having said that, it’s also up to the industry to also invest to understand the interests and brand habits of their fanbase.
Isabella Brancolini: And this is where we specialize, to give direction and help create a balance between these two worlds, and have the cultural sector develop more possible approaches for sponsorship.
Do you typically represent the art institution or the business side? Is it possible to do both? And how do you kind of balance any potential conflicts in those relationships?
PW: Companies come to us because they know we have a large portfolio and industry-wide knowledge of what's going on in the cultural sector. About 60% of our work is with cultural institutions. It tends to be FTSE 500 companies that come to us to search out opportunities in the cultural sector, companies that do not have large marketing departments. We can be their ears and eyes into what's going on. Working with organizations in the cultural sector, we go through an intensive process of understanding what they do, an audit and discovery process. From these insights we create a number of sponsorship packages within their total offer that enables us to approach different segments of the market.
IB: The discovery process actually is very interesting for the client as well. During the process, which usually takes the form of a number of workshops, our clients better understand our work and also discover valuable activities within their organization that were not so obvious. There is always hidden value. There are treasures within the institution or company that are not fully visible, or not valued as highly as they should be. It is through this process of open discussion and exchange that they can suddenly become visible, a priority to be developed.
It's so interesting speaking with you because a lot of the brands that we've profiled, especially in fashion and consumer products, are treating contemporary art as content that they're using in marketing campaigns. They're finding artists and producing an installation or experience or video or exhibition. From your perspective, thinking on behalf of a business, in what scenario might you want to think about engaging in a broader sponsorship project, and in what scenario might you want to instead commission an art-oriented campaign?
PW: Our approach is about trying to understand what the sponsor is looking for. A lot of what we do is looking to help brands add personality to their offer. For example, wealth management organizations are largely very similar in their approach, so by finding the right partners we can create opportunities for them to engage with different segments of their customer base. Recently, we created a program to bring photography into schools, using photography to explore the environment for an international real estate business. This sponsorship program enabled the company to tell a very different story about itself and create real difference from its competitors. It built up a portfolio of interesting images taken by students and put its brand into schools and universities in a very engaging way.
IB: It’s very different from a straight forward advertising campaign, it’s multi-layered - our clients benefit from a depth of experience gained over many years. We provide a 360 view of the cultural market place, it could be where contemporary art intersects with the fashion industry or working with young people in education, community programmes or an international environmental photography prize. All this information is then filtered to support our clients across their various communications platforms increasing visibility and sophisticated, targeted outreach to their customers.