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A mix of art and golf that appeals to the money men

ANYBODY WHO thought that accountants and other professional advisers were shy retiring types has obviously not been to many cultural or sporting events lately. You do not have to look closely to see the logos of the likes of Ernst & Young and Andersen Consulting where not so long ago there might have been nothing at all.

Ernst & Young, sponsor of this year's Monet extravaganza at the Royal Academy in London, could be regarded as having upped the ante when it put its money behind an exhibition devoted to Picasso back in 1994, repeating the trick with Cezanne two years later and Bonnard last year.

But others are not about to be outdone. Having dipped their toes into upfront marketing with campaigns that have led to their names emblazoned across billboards, companies like KPMG have sponsored rugby teams and other sporting interests.

So is this "me-tooism", or are tangible results to be had from this sort of activity? Nick Land, UK chairman of Ernst & Young, seemed a bit vague when asked how much the Monet deal - the firm's largest sponsorship so far - was costing his firm. But having backed other, admittedly lower- key arts events, he presumably feels there is a benefit to be gained.

At Andersen Consulting, meanwhile, they are somewhat less circumspect. According to James Murphy, the firm's global managing director for marketing and communications, the "overall events strategy" is based on solid research.

Though it does not come as much of a surprise to learn that senior US business executives put playing and watching golf close to the top of their leisure preferences, Andersen put the notion to the market research test - and that is why the PGA World Golf Championships teeing off today in San Diego, California, bears its name.

Andersen reckons the series of three tournaments a year featuring the best 64 players in the world battling for first prizes of $1m will be enough to lure even the most workaholic of executives out for the day.

In much the same way that the Andersen Consulting advertising is carefully targeted at the sort of publications and television programmes that senior executives might read and watch, the firm's sponsorship programme is highly selective.

Moreover, with Andersen increasingly keen to work with the biggest global players, the sponsorship strategy has gone global, too - which is another reason for choosing golf, since the sport is becoming almost universally popular.

That said, Mr Murphy stresses that the firm acknowledges differences in local interests, so that in Australia, for example, it has sponsored the prestigious horse race, The Melbourne Cup, while in Britain it has backed a team in the Formula One motor racing championships. Always, the key is whether the event is the sort frequented by top executives the firm seeks to influence.

As Mr Murphy explains, there are two reasons for such a strategy. First, it makes a great impact - certainly, Monet must have helped enormously with Ernst & Young's name awareness. Second, it lets the firm demonstrate to potential clients its personality and what it stands for.

But Mr Murphy says the organisation - which has also sponsored important arts events including the acclaimed Van Gogh exhibition that did a stint in Washington last year - does not expect a quick payback.

"It's like image building," he explains, adding that the sort of services a firm like Andersen offers are costly and take a long time to deliver. "It's not like selling an automobile."

Nevertheless, firms need to bear in mind that sponsoring sports events is about a lot more than arranging tickets to an in-demand event for a few favoured clients. Such occasions also have to be run very well. One accountancy firm famously issued instructions to staff on how to deal with their guests at the hospitality it was laying on.

But the pressure goes further than that. As Mr Murphy says, if you cannot run a golf tournament it is going to be a little hard to persuade a client that you can run a major project.