Scottish Ballet and Check-It Scaffold Services – Scottish Ballet’s Swan Lake
Impacts: World premiere of new work
Business benefits: Advertising, Business/brand name awareness, Enjoyment, Entertaining, Marketing and staff relations
John and Hilary Austin were existing individual donors of Scottish Ballet however their company Check-It Scaffold Services had never had any previous relationship with the arts. John Austin, Managing Director, had often mentioned that the first ballet he attended as a teenager was Swan Lake and it was this that instigated his love of the art form. When the discussion of finding funding for Swan Lake was held internally, Check-It Scaffold Services were highlighted as a potential sponsor and subsequently approached.
The aim of the project was to fund a new production of Swan Lake. This was an important addition to Scottish Ballet’s repertoire, completing the trilogy of Tchaikovsky works that make up the definitive classical ballet canon. Creating a new commission, rather than reviving a traditional version, was important to keep in line with the company’s reputation for innovative new work. The aim was to ensure a new generation would be engrossed by the timeless story of Swan Lake in a style and choreographic language relevant to the 21st century and unique to Scottish Ballet.
Check It Scaffold Services’ sponsorship specifically supported the fee of David Dawson to create a new Swan Lake, an internationally renowned choreographer who trained at The Royal Ballet School and who has developed a respected career working with companies such as the Marinsky Ballet (Russia), English National Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and the Royal Ballet of Flanders.
A ballet company partnering with a scaffolding company initially seemed like an unusual pairing, however once discussions began it was clear that there were many synergies; precision, strength, quality, dedication and perfectionism were all values that both companies placed in the highest regard. The concept of ‘support’ was also crucial, in supporting the creation of the production, dancers supporting each other through the technical and challenging choreography, and the literal definition of support that a scaffolding company has at its core, made for a valuable partnership.
The project was delivered through the creation of a new production of Swan Lake, beginning in rehearsals in October 2015 through to its world premiere at the Theatre Royal Glasgow on Tuesday 19 April 2016, and final performance at the Liverpool Empire on Saturday 4 June 2016. The production toured to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool with 34 performances in total, and to an overall audience total of over 38,000 people, the best-selling Spring Season in Scottish Ballet’s recent history.
Arts/cultural/heritage organisation story
In return for the sponsorship, Scottish Ballet was able to bring a new version of Swan Lake to audiences throughout the UK. Demand for the tour was unprecedented, with opening week in Glasgow selling out in advance and exceptional sales in other venues, finishing 24% over target. Our dancers also benefited from working with David Dawson. His choreography was extremely challenging and as a result the company’s technique has developed and strengthened, recognised in press reviews and audience feedback.
Scottish Ballet’s relationship with Check-It also developed further. As a result of the initial partnership and following the journey of the production being created, John Austin agreed to match fund the public Swan Lake Appeal, meaning that every pound raised from an individual donor was matched by Check-It (up to the value of £15,000). Taking into account Gift Aid declarations, this meant that our initial Appeal total of £17,000 raised increased to £37,000, becoming Scottish Ballet’s most successful appeal in recent history.
Check-It’s benefits included bringing guests to performances, which helped Scottish Ballet as we were introduced to individual and corporate prospects, including Cala Homes and Bilfinger Salamis in the oil and gas industry.
Difficulties faced were mainly related to scheduling sponsor benefits alongside the demanding rehearsal schedule for the production. The young boys’ workshop, with ten places initially offered had a poor uptake due to the only suitable available date for both parties being Easter weekend.
An unexpected success that led to additional opportunities was the synergy between scaffolding and ballet. As the qualities of both companies aligned strongly, a photo shoot was arranged using two dancers on scaffolding, erected at our headquarters at Tramway, to promote the partnership and raise profiles mutually in the press. This was featured by The Scotsman newspaper, with a PR value of £6,911. The Scottish Ballet Technical team were also able to dress the scaffolding with Christmas decorations so that Check-It could take a separate photograph for their official company Christmas card!
Several key learning outcomes were clear; successful sponsorships can come from individual relationships in the first instance, and approaches shouldn’t be restricted if initially the industry doesn’t have an obvious link to the arts. Matching core values can be extremely powerful for building lasting partnerships.
Check-It staff benefited from best seat tickets, souvenir programmes and hospitality to Swan Lake during the opening week in Glasgow, where they were able to meet with Scottish Ballet staff and engage with several dancers, providing them with insider knowledge of the production and the hard work required going from the studio to the stage. An additional benefit was the exclusive workshop for the sons of Check-It staff, led by a male dancer and Ballet Master where the boys were taught Swan Lake choreography by the dancer who was learning the role.
Check-It was also able to engage with the company through attending private rehearsals at Tramway. The first rehearsal was part of the sponsorship contract, and the Austins brought several guests who were also able to meet with two dancers and the creative team at a drinks reception afterwards. A second rehearsal was additionally offered to the Austins as it coincided with an informal dinner with CEO/Artistic Director Christopher Hampson, David Dawson, Head of Development Antonia Brownlee, and David’s assistant Tim Couchman. An unexpected outcome was that John and Hilary developed a genuine relationship with both David and Tim, adding to their overall sponsorship experience and they were able to socialise on other independent occasions. The success of the partnership also extended to Opening Night of Swan Lake, where John and Hilary joined the Company’s private post show party with all dancers, staff and orchestra involved in the production and were presented with a signed limited edition print of the Swan Lake poster image by acclaimed photographer David Eustace.
Several profile raising opportunities were associated with the sponsorship. A full page article in Scottish Ballet’s supporters’ magazine, Backstage, was published, with circulation to 1,000 donors and fellow sponsors. Check-It also had a full page advert in the Swan Lake souvenir programme, with readership of over 6,500. Their logo was included on the ‘with thanks’ page of the programme and on the website, where they were credited as Swan Lake production sponsors. The photoshoot featured in The Scotsman was well received, and had an associated PR value of £6,911. The Swan Lake Appeal and Check-It were also mentioned in a feature in the Scottish Sunday Express, which had a PR value of £94,809.
Feedback from Check-It has been extremely positive. Finance Manager Hilary Austin commented,
“This has been the most unusual sponsorship Check It Scaffold Services have undertaken, but has proven to be the most successful!! We have benefitted from brand exposure that we would not have been able to achieve without this partnership. Our company details have been seen by numerous audience members throughout Scotland and beyond, with a fantastic full page company profile in Backstage, that has culminated in our raised profile with our target demographic and potential new clients. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this through advertising alone.
“Perceptions amongst our clients of our association with Scottish Ballet were very positive. A number of our clients had the opportunity to see this amazing production and the feedback we had from them all was fantastic. They all agreed that this type of corporate hospitality really stood out from the crowd. Some had never seen a live ballet performance before and are now booking future performances themselves – which is another positive outcome and unexpected success.
“We had hoped that this partnership would deliver positive effect and it surpassed our expectations. Our scaffold business has helped to fund the creation of Swan Lake, a brand new ballet for Scotland’s national dance company that will tour in future years and be a popular addition to the Company’s repertoire. Through our partnership and the associated marketing opportunities, we were able introduce the arts to new audiences and in turn to cement our client relationships with memorable and exclusive hospitality and events. This sponsorship has certainly done its job.
“We will continue to support Scottish Ballet any way we can in the future and will take forward the key positive outcomes for further development. This partnership has certainly been a huge success for us, for our staff and our clients.’’
Over 38,000 people attended a performance of Swan Lake. By the end of the Swan Lake tour, Scottish Ballet’s Education department had delivered 38 events engaging with the community, working with almost 800 participants. Of these 38 events, 14 of them were practical workshops and the rest were talks (pre-shows, insights and lifelong learning) or Dance for Parkinson’s participants attending a performance of Swan Lake as a group (for most this was their first introduction to ballet). In addition to this a successful choreographic mentoring scheme which used Swan Lake as its inspiration took place.
Audiences reached through marketing activity for Swan Lake were also extensive. Print included 170,000 flyers, 3,000 posters/banners and 13 venue brochure entries. Outdoor marketing activity consisted of 15 sites for four weeks throughout the Glasgow Subway, bus sides in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Aberdeen train station, Inverness train station, venue outdoor displays, Liverpool city centre and train station sites, Newcastle city centre, and Edinburgh art drums. 30,000 flyers and posters were distributed throughout Scotland. Direct mail reached 15,000 Edinburgh recipients, 5,000 Inverness recipients, and 5,000 Liverpool recipients, and groups received a targeted mailing from venues. A £12,000 digital campaign resulted in over 3M impressions and 41,000 engagements on social media.
Press activity included features in the Herald Arts Magazine, the Sunday Herald Magazine, the Daily Record, the Press & Journal, Vogue.co.uk, The Scotsman, The Times, and the Herald. The tour also garnered radio and TV coverage including BBC Radio Scotland and STV Live at Five.
The audience response was mainly positive. Feedback from post-show marketing email follow up was that although for some members it was too modern a version, and they missed the classical styling traditionally associated with Swan Lake, for others they appreciated the artistic risks that the production had taken in creating an update for the 21st century. 63% of total bookers were new to Scottish Ballet.
The New Arts Sponsorship Grant was crucial to the partnership between Scottish Ballet and Check It Scaffold Services and the creation of a new Swan Lake. Our core funding from the Scottish Government does not cover the cost of creating new work therefore other sources of funding are essential for the company to continue to develop and retain its reputation for new and innovative productions that engage existing and potential audiences. The grant also allowed for the relationship between Scottish Ballet and Check-It to strengthen through the additional benefits offered. It is hoped that this relationship will be long-lasting and be one we can continue to develop further.