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Business to Arts winners: the rigour that sets these arts partnerships apart

An Post with the Irish Book Awards, and Accenture with Paul Harrison and Fuchsia MacAree show true commitment and follow-through on both artistic and business objectives

The Irish Book Awards and An Post were named the Best Long-Term Partnership while Accenture, Paul Harrison and Fuchsia MacAree were given the Jim McNaughton Perpetual Award for Best Commissioning Practice at the Business to Arts Awards 2021.

In the middle of a thorough brand refresh in 2018, An Post identified the Irish Book Awards as the ideal sponsorship platform to resonate with communities and help to make its brand more relevant.

“It’s easy to put your logo on something and call it ‘sponsorship’, but at An Post we feel strongly that all of our partnerships must link closely to our brand purpose,” says sponsorship manager Louise Cronje.

"Our brand purpose is: 'We act for the common good, to improve quality of life now and for generations to come.' Reading clearly fits so well with this because of the many benefits it brings."
Harnessed by strong storytelling, #ReadersWanted has been the creative platform at the heart of all of An Post's campaigns with the Irish Book Awards since the outset.

“#ReadersWanted is a call to action to remind people to pick up a book – regardless of whether they are a new or lapsed reader,” says Cronje. “Even if they read regularly, it may encourage them to try a new genre or author. #ReadersWanted has been very successful in terms of driving awareness of the awards, but in more recent times particularly it has helped to drive engagement with all things books and reading, both on- and offline.”

Physically getting books into people’s hands in as many communities as possible was a natural progression for An Post and the Irish Book Awards, according to Cronje. “We achieve this through our partnerships with the likes of Children’s Books Ireland, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the National Adult Literary Agency. We were also very mindful of supporting our independent booksellers in 2020 and helping them to get books to their customers, as escaping into a good book took on a whole new meaning for many people during the various lockdowns.”

In an effort to continue to support the book industry in 2020, the An Post Irish Book Awards moved to a virtual event and the partners produced a new Irish Book of the Year TV programme to support Irish authors, publishers and booksellers.

Raising awareness

Having sat on the boards of several cultural organisations, Irish Times Arts and Culture Editor Hugh Linehan is very conscious of how vital medium- and long-term partnerships, such as the one between An Post and the Irish Book Awards, are.

“This is a perfect example of a business and arts organisation working in concert together; taking a concept, reworking and improving it over a two- to five-year period. Ongoing support is so key to building profile for an arts organisation,” says Linehan, who was a Business to Arts Awards judge for the first time this year. “There is no denying the enormous impact the An Post Irish Book Awards have had. They have attracted considerable media attention and made a lot more people aware of the publishing industry, writers and creative writing in all forms.”

In his view, the virtual awards ceremony and online elements of the partnership were very strong in 2020, showing a real understanding of reach and engagement when switching to digital channels.

Book sales have made a comeback in recent years and this continued through the pandemic. “I liked the idea that An Post and the Irish Book Awards recognised that promoting reading was an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands,” Linehan notes.

Commitment to connecting

In August 2019, Accenture commissioned two artists to help celebrate its 50th anniversary in Ireland this year: a sculpture by Paul Harrison called Quinquaginta, and three pieces titled Fierce Determination by illustrator Fuchsia MacAree.

It was hard to find fault with Accenture’s commissioning approach, says Business to Arts judge Gerard McNaughton, who is creative director of TileStyle.

“Accenture wanted to celebrate its 50th anniversary in Ireland in a meaningful way and create work that would have a very strong narrative and connection to Accenture itself and the members of its team,” he says. “It took no shortcuts – from the initial tender process, giving artists access and tours through to design-thinking workshops for employees exploring what Accenture means to them.

“Accenture’s interest and commitment to connecting with the artist is second to none, and its professional approach to ensuring the collaboration is a success is an extension of what makes it successful in business. The end results were fantastic – multilayered works by Paul Harrison and Fuschia MacAree that were carefully crafted with a depth of meaning that truly reflected collaboration.”

During the project, Accenture also created a dedicated internal webpage, developed videos with the artists talking about their work, and commissioned miniature presentations of the works and replica prints to be presented to employees as a memento. The additional leverage activity of these artworks is another notable feature of Accenture’s 50th Anniversary commission.

Collaborative process

Fuchsia MacAree calls her Accenture commission an amazing experience in terms of pushing herself.

“I love problem-solving, and the brief for this presented an interesting premise to figure out: three pieces, which should work independently of one another, but also be linked,” she explains. “I hadn’t worked on something of this scale before – the final three pieces were made of over 400 individual bits of wood, which were all hand-painted.

“We had a day of workshops, which gave employees a role in the creative process. I came away from the workshops with a deeper understanding of the company culture and also a notebook of phrases and anecdotes which helped to shape the final pieces.”

MacAree’s Fierce Determination comprises three long, multilayered wooden pieces that together form a grid. Each piece represents the building it is displayed in. The themes of progress, technology and social change – all based on people – are threaded throughout. “The title Fierce Determination comes from something country managing director at Accenture Alastair Blair said in one of our meetings, and it stuck with me,” she says.

MacAree felt buoyed throughout by Accenture’s enthusiasm for the project and found the company very accommodating. “They seemed genuinely invested in the creation of the pieces, which feels validating and helps you to push your own vision. These pieces were new territory for me and Accenture allowed me the space to experiment.”