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Priya Ganapati | September 25, 2003

When last year, Chaali, a group of contemporary dancers drawn from Kerala and Bangalore toured over 15 small towns in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Pondicherry, its performances were made possible by an unlikely sponsor: TI Cycles, which is known for its BSA brand of cycles.

TI Cycles offered a sponsorship package of Rs 300,000 for the programmes -- all because the company felt that the programmes targetted the same small-town audience that the brand was looking at.

"Chaali aimed to bring contemporary dance to small towns. It was the same audience that TI Cycles wanted to reach out to. So they thought sponsoring the programmes was a good branding exercise for themselves," says Arundhati Ghosh, executive, Institutional Development Unit, India Foundation for Arts, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to support various art forms.

Welcome to a new form of corporate sponsorship, where supporting art is no longer about charity. Now, it is a hardnosed exercise in branding and with few pretensions to anything else.

And helping corporates get the right art form that matches their brand value is the Bangalore-based IFA.

Run by major grants from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, IFA tries to support the arts by assisting in raising funds, giving grants for new perspectives and directions in the arts and focusing on neglected art forms.

Initially, like every other NGO, IFA based its appeal for donations from corporates on the principle of ' 'philanthropy.' But they soon realised that arts did not have as much of an emotional appeal as many other needy causes in India.

"We realised that the number of causes that can be supported and the number seen as fundamental are many in this country. 'Arts and culture' is low on priority," says Ghosh.

IFA then came up with the idea of tying in an art form's values to that of a brand, which ensures greater visibility for the corporate and the brand.

For instance, the sponsorship for Chaali's dance performances came not from the philanthropic kitty of TI Cycles, which is a part of the Murugappa Group, but from the marketing budget of the company.

At the dance performances, TI Cycles got pride of place on all the pamphlets, the stage backdrop and even a stall at the performance venue where the local dealer displayed the latest cycles.

Corporates need to be given a strong business reason to support the arts, believes IFA. So it has developed a corporate partnership strategy that will link activities or fields in the arts with the brand values, product profile and target audience of companies.

"We will tie up with a corporate in cases where the audience targeted by us for a particular art form is the same as that of the corporates," says Ghosh.

Part of this strategy includes organising high profile art events where the audience matches the target profile of the sponsor and establishes the product as an up-market one.

Which is why when IFA organised a concert of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor in New Delhi in 2001, tobacco-major Godfrey Philips and the Park Hotels jumped in.

Pandit Sharma's concert was also to be a fundraiser for IFA. Godfrey Philips offered Rs 500,000 as sponsorship fees and Park Hotels offered its hospitality for free.

The two earned their money's worth when the event was attended by the crème de la crème of Delhi's society.

So what divides IFA from event managers who bring in corporate sponsors for the events they organise?

A thin yet clearly visible line of intent, says Ghosh.

"We do it for a cause, which is to help the arts and the artists. In turn, the corporates get name, promotion and branding. An event manager can do something similar but here it is tied to a cause," she says.

This mix of business and pleasure means that corporates are not milked for every penny in the name of sponsorship.

IFA works to find out the best fit for the corporate by understanding the brand, its values and looking through its files to find what art form would suit the brand best.

"Corporates find it easier to deal with us than with event managers because we look at a long-term relationship that will help both the arts and the company. We give them quality, advise them on the best form to support and also where and how to do it," says Ghosh.

Last year, IFA did two shows, one with Kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas in Delhi and the other with Bhartanatyam danseuse Alarmel Valli in Bangalore.

Alarmel Valli's programme was sponsored by liquor major McDowell & Co.

IFA is also playing to a company's constituency by suggesting art forms that could find a synergy with the company's labour force.

Consider VST Industries Ltd, which is one of the largest manufacturers of cigarettes in the country with brands like Charms and Charminar.

After preliminary discussions with IFA, VST agreed to sponsor an art form in Andhra Pradesh, where the company is headquartered.

IFA gave a grant to Dastkar Andhra, an organisation that planned to document the traditional designs of the cotton handloom weaving industry of Andhra Pradesh.

"Much of VST's workforce in Guntur is drawn from the same weaving community. So with the project they were looking at not only gaining employee confidence, but also fulfilling their responsibility as a good corporate citizen. They can also put such activities on their annual report so it is quite beneficial to the company's image," says Ghosh.

But getting corporates to agree to associate with an art form, even in the name of marketing and branding is not easy.

IFA approached Pond's on the eve of Women's Day with the idea of Pond's sponsoring a woman artiste or offering a grant for a research study on any women's issue. But Pond's did not seem too interested.

"That does not dishearten us. We see failure only as a means to show that we are not trying hard enough. So we will go back to them next year and try to convince them," says Ghosh.

But if IFA's last event is any indicator, such persuasion is going to get easier.

IFA's last big event was a huge success, both for itself and the sponsors. Along with actor Naseeruddin Shah it put up the play, Ismat Apa Ke Naam. Brooke Bond and Taj Mahal tea were the principal sponsors and Titan Nebula, the co-sponsor. Brooke Bond alone offered Rs 700,000 in sponsorship.

In return its logo was on every brochure handed out and every poster put up. Considering the immense response that the play found, partly due to the star value of Naseeruddin Shah, Brooke Bond seemed to have got its money's worth -- and it was all finally for a good cause.

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