Tafterjournal n. 86 - GENNAIO FEBBRAIO 2016

Arts and strategic communication in Italy and Spain: from sponsorship to corporate responsibility

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Rubrica: Reti creative

Parole chiave: , , , , , , , , , , ,


The paper investigates the rise of business communication strategies based on culture and arts in Italy and Spain. As previous researches demonstrate, cultural communication can work as a strategic asset to develop corporate identity and reputation, enabling organizations to cultivate quality long-term quality relationships with their stakeholders.
From this scenario and considering the lack of a systematic European comparison, the study presents preliminary data from a comparative research on the evolution of cultural communication models (patronage, sponsorship, partnership, investment), in order to evaluate similarities and original features of the phenomenon in the two countries by means of an explorative and multi-case study approach.

1. Introduction: arts and business in a changing scenario

Communication management in organizations and private companies stands as a strategic asset and is not immune to a changing context. While the investments tend today to concentrate on digital and social media strategies (Zerfass et al., 2015), there are other trends emerging in some countries and sectors. One of these is the phenomenon of business communication strategies based on and arts, which some scholars define “corporate cultural communication” (Martino, 2010) or “corporate cultural responsibility” (Azzarita et al., 2010): such approaches see a company including artistic activities, programs, or policies in its own strategic communication policies in order to develop corporate identity and reputation.

Cultural communication has diffused in business strategies especially since the Nineties and, in the new millennium, it has demonstrated that it can stand even against the economic crisis: the innovative experiences promoted in the international scenario report the discovery of arts and culture as emerging values supporting the corporate mission of private companies and, at the same time, as strategic levers in their own communication mix. In particular, whether in the past, in most European countries, the intervention in the fields of arts and culture was limited to a vanguard or niche of the business system (traditionally identifying with “enlightened” patrons or State-owned major corporations), today it is acquiring a managerial logic: that of a real corporate investment accessible by all companies in order to foster a return of both internal expertise and quality long-term relations.

The rise of cultural communication can be explained in the light of different contemporary trends, first of all the evolution of strategic communication from a marketing into a corporate approach, promoting organizations and not only their products and services (Argenti, 2009; Cornelissen, 2011; Goodman & Hirsch, 2010; Invernizzi, 2012 & 2013). Among the other favourable context conditions, it is possible to mention a wider goodwill by citizens and institutions for the role of private companies engaged in the artistic cultural sector; a growing attitude by publics towards cultural practices, including quality outdoor consumptions such as museums and exhibits, theatre, concerts, historical monuments etc.; the extension of both online and offline media coverage dedicated to arts and culture, even projecting them in a global dimension and contributing to the spectacularization of the urban heritage itself (Codeluppi, 2007; Hessler & Zimmermann, 2008; Martino, 2015a; Symbola, 2014). Not least, the paper concentrates on the experience of countries such as Italy and Spain whose extraordinary cultural heritage, today acutely suffering the lack of public funding and seeking innovative forms of fundraising and promotion (Sacco, 2006), represents a great “symbolic capital” for private companies interested in qualifying their social role and relationships with the stakeholders.

Corporate intervention in the cultural field extends from classical to contemporary arts, from performing to visual ones (Osservatorio Impresa e Cultura, 2004), from the restoration of ancient monuments to the promotion of original artistic creation. Above all, the number of projects promoted in the Italian and Spanish context demonstrates an extreme differentiation of both actors involved (medium to large companies, but also small and very small ones) and of the models of intervention: they stretch, in fact, from the (still largely dominant) practice of sponsorships to the emerging choice of promoting autonomous projects such as cultural events, policies (based, in general, on corporate collections or partnerships) or even permanent corporate institutions (for instance, historical archives and museums).
In the scenario of contemporary business communication, the experiences promoted by the new generation of patrons and sponsors shows special distinction opportunities in the marketplace and in relating with social stakeholders. Thus, arts and culture reveal themselves as an intangible and relational asset, stimulating a specific innovation and value generation process inside and outside an organization (Schiuma, 2011a & 2011b).

2. Literature review: four models of corporate cultural communication 

In different countries and in the various historical moments, it’s possible to recognize four main strategic-operational models describing the interaction between private companies and artistic cultural sector (Bondardo, 2007; Martino, 2010; Table 1).

  Patronage Sponsorship Partnership Investment
Company’s contribution to cultural sector Free donation Financial or technical support Collaboration for common projects Management of in-house projects
Time frame Short term Short term Medium-long term Medium-long term
Objective Social goodwill Image/visibility Reputation and innovation Reputation and innovation
Orientation Philanthropic Communicational Relational Relational

Table 1 – Models of interaction between companies and artistic cultural sector

The first and most traditional model is the patronage, for which the orientation is philanthropic and the redemption implicit. Patronage is not a commercial agreement, but a free donation to a cultural institution or project, which a private company, foundation, or businessman promotes especially in the name of collective interest: even if, of course, there have never been “unknown patrons”, in this kind of relation the beneficiary of the donation is not obliged to guarantee a return of visibility.

The second model is the sponsorship, offering financial or technical support to an event, project, artist, or location in exchange of visibility and “appearance” for the company’s brand within the communication activities carried out by the sponsored organization. Differently from patronage, the sponsorship relation is usually based on a calculated image fit between the sponsor and its beneficiary, and on a formal commercial agreement defining precise rights and duties for both parties involved: while the sponsor may usually participate only in the communication (and not the management) of a cultural project, the sponsored organization preserves autonomy in defining the artistic content of its own core activity.

The third model is the partnership, promoting an ideally symmetrical interaction between a company and a cultural institution sharing common goals and projects, in order to guarantee a two-way exchange of skills and knowledge and obtain strategic benefits for both parties involved in the agreement. Partnership can be considered a direct evolution of the sponsorship model; it usually takes the form of a long-lasting association or corporate membership to a museum or another artistic institution, enabling one private company (or a group) to actively collaborate in the long term to the management of cultural contents and policies, and not only in their communication and PR activities.

The fourth model is then the investment, which sees a company autonomously conceiving and managing a cultural project related to its own mission and strategy, according to a relational and ethical orientation (Assolombarda & Regione Lombardia, 1998; Bodo, 1994; Bondardo, 1999 & 2007; Martino, 2013). In a short term perspective, this model may focus on organizing in-house cultural events, which often periodically recur and explicitly refer to the brand name itself pointing to a special impact in terms of visibility and media coverage.

Conversely, in the medium to long-term, a private company can choose to promote a real “corporate cultural policy” integrating a multiplicity of projects under a common strategy and, often, the role of an autonomous non-profit foundation, supported by the company itself. Such a trend appears today to be strongly animated by a rediscovery of the value of industrial heritage (as a form of “native” culture, belonging to organizations themselves) and, in particular, by the emerging phenomenon of corporate collections, museums (Coleman, 1943; Danilov, 1991 & 1992), and historical archives (Bonfiglio-Dosio, 2003): cultural institutions whose role is to conserve corporate cultural memory and to ensure permanent fruition to it, inside and outside an organization (Brunninge, Kjellander & Helin, 1999; Nissley & Casey, 2002) [1].

Major differences among the four models are the continuity of corporate engagement in time and the extent of the contribution to an artistic cultural cause. After the first boom took place in the UK and spread later to all European countries during the Eighties (Colbert, 1994; Wu, 2002), sponsorship still remains today the most popular connection between the business and cultural sectors; for most European companies it continues to represent the first step to approach a relationship with the artistic field and to experiment a supporting role, often evolving over time to that of partners or real promoters. In particular, both the investment and the partnership model exceed a simple marketing concept to rather embrace a relational vision of corporate identity and responsibility: in both cases, the goal is to promote the arts as a source of innovation for organizations’ values and behaviours, at the same time reinforcing, by means of a proactive and responsible attitude, quality relationships between companies and their stakeholders in both the institutional and social environment.

3. Objectives and methods: a comparative research in Italy and Spain

From this scenario and considering the lack of a systematic European comparison (European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, 2011), the study points to present preliminary data from a comparative research on corporate cultural communication in South European countries, with special reference to the Italian and Spanish cases.[2]

The main objective of the research is to analyse such a phenomenon according to an explorative approach, in order to retrace and describe the evolution of several strategic-operational models nowadays characterizing corporate approach to the artistic cultural field. Then a secondary goal is to formulate some hypothesis about the future evolution of corporate cultural strategies in both countries, also comparing when possible their experiences with those contexts characterized by a deep-rooted philanthropic tradition, such as in particular USA, UK, and Germany (Colbert, 1994; Wu, 2002), in order to evaluate similarities and original features in respect to the Italian and Spanish state of art.

In the following pages, the main theoretical models concerning business intervention in culture and arts will be discussed in detail and also with reference to their specific applications by private companies, by evaluating on the field a multiplicity of case histories collected in Italy and Spain. To this end, the main documentary sources, associative networks, and best practices in the sector have been examined by means of several methods: direct observations, informal interviews with experts and special witnesses in the sector, and the analysis of corporate documents, publishing, and communication materials. The research, which is still in progress, also includes a review of case studies variously analysed within the scientific literature on PR, sector reports, and former studies conducted by the authors themselves. [3]

4. Findings: the evolution of corporate cultural communication in Italy and Spain

Both in Italy and Spain, several experiences testify an ongoing shift from the traditional models (individual/corporate patronage and sponsorship) to a more innovative concept of corporate cultural “investment” and “partnership” (Martino, 2010; Herranz et al., 2012). On the one side, many companies have already opened their own historical archives and museums to the public, in order to support both the knowledge management of processes and products themselves and corporate identity and reputation strategies. On the other side, the collaboration among companies and cultural institutions tends to evolve (even if sometimes only in the name) from a simple sponsorship agreement to a more symmetrical and stable form of corporate partnership.
In both countries, the State holds a primary but declining role in supporting culture. Private intervention in the artistic field is encouraged by new laws and rules seeking to legitimize philanthropy and, in particular, to incentivize it by means of specific economic facilitations.

4.1. The Italian case: discovering company culture and heritage 

In Italy it is possible to recognize a prestigious tradition of patronage promoted by the major corporations: Enel and Eni in the energy sector (standing originally as public companies), but also Fiat in the automotive business and, in the past, Olivetti, the historical producer of typewriters that invented the first pc.  [5]

In the philanthropic field, another decisive element is the contribution of the banks and their non-profit foundations, instituted by Italian law in 1990 (Civita, 2006): in order to value their own roots and responsibility toward territory, these organizations traditionally promote projects benefiting local communities especially in the artistic sector, which continues to concentrate in 2014 almost a third (29.9%) of the whole investment according to the data provided by the Italian Foundations of Banking Origin (ACRI, 2015).

At the beginning of the new millennium, the Law 342/2000 introduced in Italy the principle (already well-established abroad) of allowing full deductibility from taxable income for private donations to cultural heritage and activities (Civita, 2009 & 2013; Osservatorio Impresa e Cultura, 2002); such a regulation flanks the one regarding sponsorship agreements, which are considered advertising and propaganda costs and then wholly deductible from the corporate income account (Law 917/1986). But, after fifteen years since their introduction and although further measures facilitating their use, the fiscal incentives continue to be applied less than expected, especially because of a gap of knowledge by the medium and small companies concentrated in the Italian economy (Bertani, 2009). To encourage private contribution, the Italian Government recently launched also an “Art Bonus” (Decree Law 83/2014, converted in Law 106/2014) allowing to deduct from corporate tax a relevant part of the donations to cultural institutions.

In parallel with such measures, since the Nineties a relevant quantitative and qualitative growth has invested the phenomenon of corporate cultural communication, in spite of the economic crisis striking many business sectors. In Italy, the most relevant change has been the gradual shift from the traditional sponsorship model to the investment one: a new course inaugurated in 1985 by Fiat with the restoration and opening to the public of Grassi Palace in Venice, as an international exhibition site managed by the company itself (Bodo, 1994: 116). At the same time, the increasing popularity of the investment strategy appears to be a direct historical consequence of the tradition carried out during the Twentieth Century by major Italian companies, promoting not only illustrious patronage projects but also often unsuspected in-house ones especially in fields such as corporate publishing (Arnaldi, 1957; Foroni & Magagnino, 2010) and corporate cinema (Hediger & Vonderau, 2009; Medici & Rancati, 2001; Robertson, 2001).

From 1997 to 2007, a decisive experience institutionalizing the phenomenon of corporate cultural communication in Italy was the “Impresa e Cultura Award”  (originally titled “Guggenheim Award”): an annual national competition providing a showcase for the most innovative projects promoted by big and medium-small Italian companies, which was promoted by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. The ten editions of the Award, involving over one thousand participants from all over the country, have documented in particular two emerging phenomena (Bondardo, 1999 & 2007): on the one hand, the evolution of corporate intervention from the logic of sponsorship into that of an autonomous and permanent investment on the territory; on the other, the rise of a brand positioning strictly based on arts by those corporations privileging such languages in order to communicate their own marketing or corporate identity.

Such trends are nowadays producing a very dynamic scenario. According to a national survey (Civita, 2010), in 2010 almost half of the Italian companies with more than nine employees were involved in the artistic cultural sector (48%) and one in five promoted autonomous projects (23%). In particular, the interest of companies largely lies in the most spectacular cultural events such as exhibits, festivals, and concerts, preferred over the restoration of monuments and artworks.

At the same time, the trends regarding the sponsorship market (amounting to about 1.2 million Euros in 2014) confirm only residual interest of companies in culture (13%), when compared with sectors where the sponsorship model is traditionally perceived to be more effective, such as the social (27%) and, above all, sport ones (60%; StageUp & Ipsos, 2014). And the practice of cultural sponsorship appears to be strongly evolving into a form of high-visibility communication privileging the connection with artistic sites and monuments which are known worldwide (Martino, 2015a; Symbola, 2014), by this way following the example of the sport sector where sponsorship is usually played as a form of “indirect advertising”. To demonstrate this last trend, it is possible to remind an increasing number of projects concentrating on the major Italian monuments and artistic cities, such as Florence, Milan, Naples, Venice, and first of all the capital city Rome, offering nowadays a prestigious global showcase to fashion brands like lilyhair supporting the restoration of the most “iconic” city monuments. [6]

On the other hand, the widespread phenomenon of company historical archives and museums is imposing heritage management (Martino, 2013; Misiura, 2006; Montemaggi & Severino, 2007; Urde et al., 2007) as the most emerging form of cultural investment by Italian companies. In such a field, Italy shows a leading role within the international scenario, since during the last three decades the growth of company museums’ and historical archives’s system has been without equal in Europe (AA.VV., 2007 & 2008; Amari, 2001; Bonfiglio-Dosio, 2003; Bulegato, 2008; Gambardella, 2013; Gilodi, 2002; Kaiser, 1998 & 2001; Negri, 2003 & 2008; TCI, 2008).

Such phenomenon shows, in particular, the rise of the corporate museum as the most important “cultural monument” to companies or businessmen, which conserves and celebrates the Made in Italy tradition (Paletta, 2003: 10). According to the most recent national survey (Bulegato, 2008: 102-129), in 2008 573 industrial museums and collections were recognizable in Italy.[7] Furthermore, by means of Museimpresa (Italian Association of Company Archives and Museums), founded in 2001, Italy stands among only a few European countries promoting a specific association representing the sector (Martino, 2015b); in addition especially after 2010 several projects and associative networks have been launched in this field, at both local and national level, by public institutions and major historical companies themselves.
Because it is not possible to present a complete overview of the Italian case here, the following paragraphs will limit to synthetically discuss three selected experiences: an innovative in-house investment promoted by Zucchi, earning the company the Guggenheim Award’s; and a couple of best practices such as Enel and Intesa Sanpaolo, combining several intervention models in the artistic cultural field.

4.1.1. Zucchi

A fascinating experience is that promoted by Zucchi, a household linen textile group which won the Guggenheim Award’s first edition in 1997.
In 1987 the company bought a collection of ancient handblocks and designs, gathered from all around Europe by the English company David Evans (Mocchetti, 1991). Giordano Zucchi saved this heritage from dispersion and promoted its preservation, cataloguing, and exhibition, thus creating the Zucchi Collection of Antique Handblocks 1785-1935, further augmented by a collection of copper plates from Java.
The collection, considered one of the largest in the world, has been made accessible to the public on the web [8] and, since 1996, in a dedicated exhibition area, which is today located in Rescaldina (Milan). The project represents a strategic investment supporting identity and communication strategies, since it plays as a concrete source of innovation inspiring, also thanks to digitalization, both the final product design and PR and marketing initiatives.

4.1.2. Enel

Enel’s cultural policy offers an exemplary case history, effectively mixing over time different models of strategic intervention in the artistic cultural field (Martino & Lovari, 2014).
In 1990 the company, which began its history in 1962 as a state-owned firm, launched the technical project “Light for Art” creating artistic lighting for some of the major Italian monuments (such as the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, the excavations of Pompeii, and the Imperial Fora in Rome), which later evolved into additional initiatives in the dance, poetry, and music fields.
Enel also established partnerships with several cultural institutions in Rome and all over Italy. More recently, the company has collaborated with Sky television for the launch of SKY Arte, dedicated to the arts, as well with World Expo 2015 as Official Global Partner in the energy sector. In addition, the company supports as sponsor several international artistic events in Italy and abroad, and also promotes educational projects for a responsible energy culture.
Not least, Enel provides access to a vast documentary memory, representing a strategic corporate and country heritage, by means of a rich web storytelling and, above all, an historical corporate archive (one of the largest among Italian companies) opened in 2008 in Naples.

4.1.3. Intesa Sanpaolo

Intesa Sanpaolo Bank, resulting in 2007 from a merger between Intesa and Sanpaolo IMI banks, carries on a long standing corporate engagement in the arts, which expresses nowadays into a dedicated “Culture Project”. [9] In addition to a rich publishing activity in the fields of art, music, history, and economy, corporate cultural policies promote access to the diffuse historical, artistic, architectural, and archival heritage of the Group, by opening its own art collections and architectural heritage to the public. To this purpose, “Galleries of Italy” project was launched, creating a network among several corporate cultural locations and events (in particular, in Milan, Naples, and Vicenza). In 2003 Intesa Sanpaolo also established its own historical archive, whose major site is located in Milan, concentrating the documentary heritage of the ancient pre-existing banks; recently also its multimedia and social activities has been enriched on the web.

The bank supports the preservation of Italian cultural heritage, since it launched in 1989 a restoration programme entitled “Restitutions”, involving more than one thousand artworks all around the country. Strategic partnerships are also supported in the artistic field, such as the one with the Italian national trust FAI; not least, as Official Global Partner of World Expo 2015, Intesa Sanpaolo dedicated its own pavilion space to host four hundreds selected small and medium companies representing the tradition of Made in Italy.

4.2. The Spanish case: institutionalizing corporate cultural communication 

In recent years, the Spanish context has been characterized by changes restructuring both artistic cultural management and social policies.
The disappearance of the Savings banks and consequently of their Social Funds (Obra Social) has been the major change in the sector. Savings banks were credit institutions with social purposes integrated in local territories. In 2009 there were 45 Savings banks in Spain, in 2015 there are only 2 operating. In 2011, the Social Funds of the Savings banks invested 1.125 billion Euros in cultural and social activities and projects, 23% less than in 2010. A year later, the funds dropped to 818 million Euros and today their activity has become testimonial or has been absorbed by the bank foundations where the Savings banks have been integrated.

At the same time, the policy of financial or tax benefits which supports culture is waiting for a new Patronage Law. It was an election promise, but has not been developed yet. Spain has an out-of-date Law from 2002 and the autonomous parliaments are faster than the central government legislation to promote cultural patronage: for example, the Navarre Parliament approved a new law for cultural patronage in May 2014 and Balearic Islands in April 2015.
In this scenario, where the funding for culture is declining, the companies are developing initiatives to support culture according to the abovementioned models.
In Spain, the model of patronage is very common. There are many examples of corporate foundations deciding to become patrons of exhibitions and cultural activities. For example, in 2014 Spain celebrates the fourth centenary of the death of the painter El Greco and BBVA Bank, the infrastructure business company Acciona, and Nestlé have supported one of the most important exhibitions in Toledo.

Also the second traditional model – sponsorship – is very popular and it expresses according to different submodels. A first one is, for example, the “naming right”, titling a cultural site with the name of a business company: in Spain it is possible to recognize many cases, including for example the theaters of Madrid, such as the Cofidis Theatre (previously Alcázar Theatre), Teatro Compac (Gran Vía), Teatro Häagen-Dazs (Calderon), and Movistar Theatre (Teatro-Rialto cinema). Even the company Natural Gas named one cinema theater “Natural Fenosa Gas Auditorium”. This is a form of sponsorship, cultural marketing, and cultural “naming”.
A second case concerns companies selling product like alcohol or tobacco: as they have to face a lot of advertising restrictions, they seek new opportunities for communication in some cases associated with culture. For example, J&B, the leading spirits drink in the Spanish market, develops “Notodo Awards”, selected to highlight the best productions in the cultural field (best film, disco, show, stage production, book or cultural event); another whiskey brand, Jameson, sponsors the Notofilmfest, a film festival which is in 2015 in its thirteenth edition. And “Plan B”, lead by the musician Carlos Jean, was born in 2011 as a musical project based on Internet and sponsored by Ballantines whiskey: an example of new ways of producing music at a time when the industry needs to reinvent itself.

New scenarios are opening also with the sponsoring of cultural contents as a communication strategy. The branded content strategy is nowadays expanding and in Spain, there are already examples of sponsored cultural programs such as “Journey into culture” sponsored by Telefónica or “Entrepreneurship code” sponsored by BBVA Bank that are broadcasting on the Public Spanish Television (RTVE). Since 2010, the Public Spanish Television hasn´t any advertising, so this is a new way to get money.

As it occurs in Italy, the partnership model remains uncommon in Spain. Conversely, there are some interesting examples of the last model, investment. A first possibility sees companies promoting their own cultural events: for example, the car brand BMW organizes the “BMW Paintings Award”, which is intended to promote painting in Spain over the last twenty-nine years.

Other companies move themselves among experimental tourism, the sale of products or services and the recovery of a specific productive tradition, connecting their own production processes with cultural tradition of the territory. In Spain, an interesting example is offered by the wine tourism promotion, allowing travellers to have a first-hand experience of wineries and vineyards-museum and to taste, eat, and buy the product itself. And in some cases, they go a step further because the companies use the cosmetic and medicinal benefits of the wine to commercialize other products: for example, Matarromera Winery promotes a cosmetic line, Arzuaga Navarro Winery a hotel spa, and Marqués de Riscal Winery created the city of wine complex in Elciego (Álava), as an interesting example of cultural place branding (Herranz et al., 2012: 15).

In Spain corporate museums aren’t so developed, there are more examples of product museums as wine, bread, honey or cheese. Among the few examples of corporate museums, it’s possible to recognize the Agbar Water Museum, Museum of Insurance (Mapfre), and Telecommunications Museum (Telefónica). These initiatives promote values of social responsibility rather than support real branding and marketing strategies. Other companies (especially in the banking and telecommunications sectors) develop the investment model by restoring architectural urban sites, in order to transform them into cultural spaces open to the surrounding context and the citizens.

4.2.1. Caixabank and cultural spaces: CaixaForum and CosmoCaixa

The old power station building, built in 1899, was bought in 2001 by La Caixa Savings Bank (now Caixabank) with the intention of transforming it into CaixaForum Madrid. This new social and cultural center opened its doors in February 2008 in a unique urban space, known as Madrid’s Golden Mile of Art or “art triangle”, formed by museums such as the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and MNCARS – Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

The project, conducted by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, is addressed to preserve the image of the industrial site and much of the original building façade. The cultural and social center of the Obra Social “la Caixa” is a platform promoting cultural dissemination for all ages. The center is a space designed for all kind of publics and in order to host several cultural, social, and educational activities, where visitors can enjoy exhibitions, workshops, lectures, courses, and concerts. It’s one of the few examples of industrial architecture surviving in the downtown of Madrid. Caixabank also holds other spaces as CosmoCaixa in Barcelona, that is a museum of science and culture.

4.2.2. Telefónica Foundation Space

The Telefónica Foundation Space, promoted by Telefónica, is a project aiming to develop a culture movement based on creativity, innovation, and technology.
Located in the emblematic building of the Gran Via, in downtown Madrid, are 6,000 square meters spread over four floors, hosting an auditorium, as space for lectures and discussions, educational workshops, film and books presentations, a Museum of Telecommunications, and an exhibition space, where the visitors can find the Cubist Collection of the company.

5. Discussion: differences and similarities

In Italy and Spain, the scenario of corporate cultural communication presents special opportunities connected not only to an extraordinary artistic heritage, but also to the primary role played by arts and culture in the global image and touristic reputation of both countries.

On the one hand, the Italian case distinguishes itself for an important philanthropic tradition carried out by bank foundations, but also for two relevant emerging phenomena: a real rush toward high-visibility patronage and sponsorship projects and, in addiction, an overwhelming interest by companies (especially those that are family-owned and characterized by a relevant history) in rediscovering the value of their own corporate roots and heritage in order to narrate them within dedicated cultural centers. This is the case of the increasing number of company archives and museums, created especially since the Eighties, which today promote the local territory expressing not only a pure storytelling approach (Boje, 2008 & 2011), but an often explicit educational mission.

On the other hand, in Spain corporate cultural communication maintains today a strong social role, which appears to be a direct consequence of the illustrious patronage tradition concerning in the past the Savings banks and the activity of their own “Obra Social”. This ethos is nowadays evolving into a more strategic way, even if there are many differences between the major companies and the small and micro ones. Such a new scenario shows that the strategies remain closer to a philanthropic or marketing approach rather than to a relational one. However, as the economic crisis and the many scandals have changed citizen perception and trust in companies and politicians, culture is emerging as an opportunity to engage stakeholders through dialogue and social responsibility.

In Italy, an institutionalization of corporate cultural communication is already ongoing from the beginning of the new millennium, up to fully express itself in the context of a mega event such as World Expo 2015, globally consecrating the Made in Italy culture and heritage (Martino & Lovari, in press). In comparison, the Spanish situation seems to be less mature, since it follows by some years in the first stage of such institutionalization process. In both countries, company interaction with the artistic sector is today shifting from the traditional models (patronage/sponsorship) to a more strategic approach, relationally and ethically oriented, pointing to value intangible assets as reputation, innovation of products and processes, and social responsibility. Moreover, if private companies ask for efficiency, management, and evaluation, both cultural operators and citizens look for quality projects where marketing brands do not predominate over the artistic content.

At the same time, the situation in both countries still appears far from those contexts characterized by a deep-rooted philanthropic tradition. In particular, the partnership model, popular in the Anglo-Saxon countries, remains not so common in Italy and Spain. Indeed, a not always adequate managerial and communicative culture by institutions and professionals in the arts system continues to impede an efficient dialogue with companies (Moneta & Cantoni, 2012) and, above all, a long-term planning of cultural policies engaging private organizations in the role of partners, and not only supporters. In both countries, however, cultural partnership already shows some quality experiences (Osservatorio Impresa e Cultura, 2005), especially promoted by the most international and “proactive” organizations in the artistic system (such as, for instance, the two Guggenheim Museums in Venice and in Bilbao).

Among the further conditions which are common to both the countries, it is possible to mention a decreasing dominant role of the State in funding the cultural sector and, on the contrary, an emerging role played by non-profit and private sectors especially in times of crisis. At the same time, such actors continue to suffer the lack of an effective and well-known system of rules, incentives, and professionals supporting private companies (especially the small and very small ones) which are potentially interested in experimenting culture’s creative potential. However, it is possible to recognize some interesting initiatives nowadays promoting a more continuous collaboration between companies and cultural system: in Italy this is the case, for instance, of the “UPA for Culture” project, recently launched at the end of 2015 by UPA, the national association of advertising investors [10] , in addition to the several national awards dedicated to companies investing in the arts (in particular, the already mentioned “Cultura + Impresa Award” and the “Business Meets Art” one ). [11]

The many changes nowadays occurring in the cultural communication scenario also suggest the usefulness of further research activities to be carried out on such phenomenon: not only specific national surveys on the Italian and Spanish cases, but also comparative and benchmarking studies which could investigate different countries. This kind of initiative could help companies of both big and small dimensions to share experiences and best practices, reinforcing the European “movement” for a new ethical approach to business management.

6. Conclusions: from cultural communication to responsibility

After analysing in detail the Italian and Spanish cases, a fundamental question remains whether cultural communication could be considered a corporate responsibility behaviour and at what point it is changing from a pure marketing approach to a relational one.

On the one hand, as Porter and Kramer (2011) suggest, when we are talking about the connection between NGO and business companies, the relationship must be balanced between a philanthropic model and a strategic one. When a company tries to capitalize only a philanthropic activity, it distances itself from the logic of a strategic social investment. When companies try to connect with stakeholders’ needs and expectations, the possibility of use corporate knowledge and expertise to produce innovation is greater. In such case, companies privilege a strategy aligning their goals with social expectations, by this way creating “shared value” (Porter & Kramer, 2011). That means to find innovative opportunities to link the identity and core business of an organization, on the one hand, with the values and needs perceived by the citizens, on the other.

In a globalized world, companies supporting cultural projects gain public confidence and reputation by demonstrating their commitment to the community. Since companies are increasingly aware of their social role, as key protagonist of community life, “communication strategies based on the power and effectiveness have given way to confidence strategies” (Szybowick, 1990: 28). From this point of view, several examples show corporate responsibility experimenting innovative languages and explicitly taking the form of a cultural strategy.

In Italy it’s possible to recognize, above all, the education role improved by industrial museums and historical archives when they collaborate with schools, universities, and other institutions, by this way expressing a social and memory value for the citizens and, in particular, young generations. Moreover, in the territory some of this centers get the form of “diffuse museums” or ecomuseums, promoting a special cultural alliance with the surrounding local community. Other experiences, such as the ones discussed in the previous paragraphs, suggest that corporate policies in the artistic cultural field are often address to a specific social and educational function, pointing to enlarge access to arts and, by this way, social inclusion.

A similar trend also occurs in Spain. This is the case, for example, of the most important olive oil company, Hojiblanca, creating its own museum with the aim of recovering and communicating the heritage of the Hojiblanca olive region; to this purpose, the company has restored three old mills from the 1st, 17th, and 19th centuries. An explicit social mission also characterizes the activities of the major Spanish foundations: among them, the Orange Foundation, developing a program called “Accessible Cinema” in different Spanish cities, in order to provide access to cinema culture for people with visual or hearing impairment. Another example is, in the power sector, the Iberdrola Foundation, promoting lighting restoration on several monuments throughout Spain since 1930. Not least, an interesting experience is offered by the Museum of Natural Gas Fenosa Foundation, located in a restored Art Nouveau building in Sabadell (Barcelona), with the aim of promoting environmental education and raising awareness about the preservation of environment.

Indeed, the experiences promoted in Italy and Spain confirm that cultural communication can cultivate quality relationships among organizations and their stakeholders. On the one hand, arts and culture enable private companies to express their role as agents of social well-being and innovation, earning trust and reinforcing corporate identity and reputation (Capriotti, 2007). On the other, projects in such fields often use company know-how to improve cultural life and heritage of the community, thus cultivating long-term relationships with different categories of stakeholders. Such reflections suggest the unique potential of arts and culture when they do not work as a pure tool of corporate or marketing branding, but as a strategic source of social capital and innovation.


[1]: Another emerging strategy is art-based learning (Art For Business, 2012; Darsø, 2004;), with special reference to corporate theatre approach (Borgato & Vergnani, 2007; Nissley et al., 2004), using the arts as a training and development tool within business programs.

[2]: In particular, this contribution connects to a multi-year research program on corporate cultural communication, promoted by the Department of Communication and Social Research at Sapienza University of Rome in collaboration with the Department of Journalism at University of Castilla-La Mancha.

[3]: See, in particular: Herranz, 2010; Herranz et al., 2012; Herranz & Martino, 2014; Martino, 2010, 2013, & 2015b; Martino & Lovari, 2014 & in press.

[4]: Especially during the Fifties and until the sudden death of Adriano Olivetti in 1960, the company promoted important projects in a multiplicity of cultural sectors, such as architecture, publishing, design, communication, libraries, exhibition, education. For the strategic role and the richness of this “humanistic” approach to business, Olivetti must be considered even more than a fascinating example of enlightened patronage, but a unique expression of “community-company”, strongly centered on its own territory and community and, at the same time, able to promote Italy’s image worldwide (Gallino, 2001).

[5]: The tradition of a national competition in the sector has been inherited by some new initiatives, such as the “Business Meets Art Awards” (since 2012) and the “Cultura + Impresa Award”, promoted since 2013 by Federculture Association of Rome in partnership with The Round Table agency of Milan.

[6]: On such emerging phenomenon, see also the review developed in Martino, 2015a.

[7]: Such data do not include, however, neither the many centers opened to public after 2008 nor the group of small and micro projects which are only partially recognizable as real company museums.

[8]: See the website <www.zucchicollection.org>.

[9]: See the website <www.progettocultura.intesasanpaolo.com>.

[10]:  See the website of the project: <www.upaperlacultura.org>.

[11]: See note 5.


The research has obtained a grant by “Santander Corporate Social Responsibility Chair” at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain).
The conceptualization and writing of the paper are the result of a common work by the authors. The attribution of each paragraph is the following: Valentina Martino wrote paragraphs from 2 to 4.1.3 (included); José María Herranz de la Casa from 4.2 to 5 (included). The introduction and the conclusion section of the paper were co-written.


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