Allied and the RSC - what a performance

Alcohol, said the porter in `Macbeth', `provokes the desire, but takes away the performance'. Could this prove an ill omen for the sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company by the drinks conglomerate Allied Domecq? Meg Carter enters, centre stage...

Lord David Puttnam and Adrian Noble, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, will rub shoulders with Tony Hales, chief executive of Allied Domecq, and WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell when representatives from the worlds of arts and business meet in London next week. Their agenda? To discuss how they can work more closely together to benefit each other's businesses and society as a whole.

The one-day event has grown out of the wine and spirits company's sponsorship of the RSC. "Three years ago our sponsorship was little more than a hospitality opportunity for suits. It wasn't making the best use of what is an expensive association," says Ian Oag, AD's corporate affairs manager responsible for relations with the RSC.

"Corporations tend to use arts sponsorships only at a surface level - to publicise a brand," he explains. "We now believe there is significant scope to develop true partnerships - enabling the deployment of arts organisations within the corporate sponsor to stimulate creativity."

Encouraging greater creativity in the workplace has become a key issue for British businesses eager to better manage and motivate their staff and see innovative thinking having a direct effect on the bottom line. The trouble is, few organisations understand how to unlock the creative resources they have within and even those that do, often fail to use them constructively.

"In the past, the world of business and communications have spoken very different languages," says Alex Mckie, senior consultant at the Henley Centre for Forecasting. "The old industrial world was all about control and hierarchy. But as we enter the information age, new relationships are required." Companies need to focus more on the realities of their customer's everyday lives, she adds. "The pursuit of this emotional side of the company: customer relationship has more in common with the arts than science."

William Weston, general manager for the RSC, agrees. "The starting point for most creative people is an `everything is possible' mentality," he says. "While the challenge for many artists is to better consider budgetary constraints, the challenge to companies is to push the boundaries further and think more creatively." Both sides could work more closely together, Weston adds. "The benefits to the arts organisations go beyond money. As for the company, well, if they don't work their arts sponsorships harder they're not realising the value of their assets."

AD and the RSC are now attempting to do just that. Actors from the RSC have already been involved in management training for AD staff. RSC representatives have also been involved in AD brainstorming sessions addressing a range of issues affecting the business.

The idea behind next week's conference is to get a range of arts organisations and companies together to discuss how to move forward together, Mr Oag explains. "There's a fundamental lack of understanding amongst many arts organisations about the role business can play. There's a feeling that public funding for the arts is at best going to stand still and that business will fill the gap. But the fact some businesses do is more happy coincidence than intent. They must not take companies' involvement for granted and must consider what else they can offer in return."

Meanwhile, Nineties corporate culture is grappling with the need to unlock the full potential of human resources. A study into company profitability and productivity published at last month's Institute of Personnel Development conference in Harrogate underlined this point with a call for UK employers to focus more closely on improving employee satisfaction and motivation if they want to make money. It might sound altruistic, but in the Nineties business environment there is a growing desire among corporations to be seen to be putting something back into society.

Arts organisations have much to offer through their experience of performance techniques. It's not just about presentation skills, it's about team working, unlocking individuals' creativity and cultivating a work environment conducive to responding to and acting on business thinking that goes "outside the box" to challenge conventional thinking, Mr Oag says.

"The conference is saying to Government make your plans according to these arguments," he adds. "It will say to businesses, disregard preconceptions of what sponsorship can be. And to arts organisations it is saying abandon the idea that partnerships with business are a necessary evil for your survival."