Corporate Culture

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`Museum piece" usually is not a compliment when used to describe a piece of technology, but GE Transportation-Aircraft Engines is thrilled that a component of its GE90-115B jet engine is featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The museum, which re-opened last month after a major renovation, has a four-foot-high, curved black fan blade on display in its architecture and design collection. The unit of General Electric Co. donated the $50,000-plus blade to the museum and trumpeted the fact with full-page ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

"For years, people have made the comment at air shows in Paris and London that `We'd love to have this in the living room. It's like a piece of art,' " said Rick Kennedy, a GE Aircraft spokesman.

With its MOMA relationship, GE is taking part in a visible trend among b-to-b marketers of using arts and cultural events for marketing purposes.

GE also seems to be practicing what Gary Beckner, director-global event marketing for consulting firm Accenture, preaches must be done to take full advantage of any arts and cultural sponsorship: "Leverage it to the hilt."

Like many b-to-b marketers, Accenture spends much of its events marketing budget on sports. The company sponsors the Accenture Match Play (Golf) Championships in the U.S. and Formula One automobile racing in Europe. But the company also pours some of its events budget into sponsorship of arts and cultural events.

Burnishing brand esteem

A Brand Asset Valuation conducted by Young & Rubicam indicates that a company's social responsibility is gradually becoming more important to the level of esteem its brand has, according to Paul Fox, Y&R senior VP-brand strategy. While sports marketing is generally aimed at men, social responsibility, which can include arts and cultural sponsorships, appears to have a greater effect on women.

"Preliminary results would suggest that among upscale females [social responsibility] may be more of a driver of brand esteem, and it also impacts brand differentiation as well," Fox said.

In 2003, Accenture sponsored the exhibit "Manet/Velazquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Accenture used the opportunity not only for branding but to entertain customers and prospects. "The Manet [exhibit] counted for one event, but we had six or seven black-tie events around it," Beckner said during a presentation at a recent Business Marketing Association meeting in Chicago.

For Beckner, the face-to-face character of events and their test of logistical skill make an event's execution a critical reflection of Accenture's ability to manage complex projects-which, essentially, is what the consulting firm does. He said that the events Accenture is involved with must go smoothly, and all bumps must be dealt with quickly and efficiently, for the company to gain the full value of events marketing.

Additionally, Accenture used its affiliation with the Met and the Manet/Velazquez exhibit to display its technology skill. The firm helped build the Web site for the exhibit, which had an interactive map showing Manet's journey through Spain and a comparison of 38 French and American paintings side by side with the Spanish pieces that inspired them.

IBM Corp. also views its alignment with arts and cultural institutions as an opportunity to demonstrate its capability on a business level. For the past decade, the company has opted against simply donating to arts and cultural institutions. "We sponsored banners at exhibits and events, but we decided we would try to find a better way for us to use our technology to benefit the cultural organization," said Paula Baker, IBM's director-corporate community relations.

IBM's art business solutions

These days, IBM donates equipment and employee time to help these institutions with technology challenges.

Over the past several years, IBM developed a system of scanning documents and images for the Vatican Library; created a Web site, complete with scanned artwork, for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; and used 3-dimensional imaging technology to help create a digital map of Michelangelo's "Florentine Pieta" sculpture.

The idea is to show IBM's technology and consulting skill in action. "I would say the business purpose for all of our corporate community relations, in particular with cultural institutions, is to demonstrate our technological and innovative capabilities," Baker said.

One of IBM's more recent efforts is Eternal Egypt, a Web site chronicling that country's cultural heritage. The company may move ahead on a similar project for China, Baker said.

Exelon Corp. this year accepted a cultural sponsorship opportunity that featured China. The Chicago-based electric utility sponsored "Splendors of China's Forbidden City," an exhibit at the Field Museum that featured 400 artifacts from Beijing's Palace Museum.

Exelon used its sponsorship to host an event at the museum, to which 200 guests were invited for a preview of the exhibit and a brief talk from Exelon CEO-President-Chairman John W. Rowe. Among the guests, of course, were a host of Exelon customers. "It was a way to get John out in the community," said Steve Solomon, Exelon's director-corporate relations. "We used it as a way to thank our customers."

`operation homecoming'

Boeing Co. is supporting "Operation Homecoming," a National Endowment for the Arts program that encourages armed forces veterans to write about their experiences.

"What really sold it to us is that ever since the first Iraq war ... personal accounts were being lost," said Patricia Riddle, director-advertising/branding for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

"It's not like when Ken Burns went back to do his research for the Civil War documentaries and he had all of those letters. People don't write letters anymore. They send e-mails or call on cell phones, and none of that is captured for history." 

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