All film producers need money. What Dan Sherrett has learned, is that many of them don’t know how to get it. Knowing this, the former head of corporate partnership for network television at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), went independent in 1995 and founded Toronto-based EVENT TV, which works to close the gap between producers and corporate funding.
Sherrett’s first lesson for producers: Corporate sponsorship is dead. Executives are no longer satisfied with getting the company name in the credits. Investing in a film must benefit their business, so if filmmakers are looking to corporations for money, they have to think about a partnership. Sherrett isn’t suggesting that corporate partners be allowed creative input, but rather that each party contribute to and benefit from marketing opportunities.
Sherrett warns that traditional marketing incentives, such as commercial spots during a program’s broadcast, are not enough to open the wallets of the Fortune 500. Executives are more interested in how to take their involvement beyond the TV screen. ‘The buzz word of the month in boardrooms is ‘experiential marketing,” says Sherrett, simultaneously apologizing for the corporate speak. ‘[Executives] are saying ‘Can we get our best customers at an event where we can touch them and be a part of them?’ Suddenly they’re bringing [the client] something that’s an experience rather than just trying to sell them a product. That’s where the value starts to kick in for the corporate partner.’
For the film Dieppe, produced by Bernard Zukerman for the CBC and sponsored by Imperial Oil, General Motors and the Royal Bank of Canada, Sherrett brought staff, clients and executives together for a private screening, attended by the producer, director and actors. ‘They looked at it as a big event,’ recalls Sherrett.
Ancillary markets also offer opportunities to extend a project beyond its intended medium. Contests for trips to a destination featured in a film, or the merchandising of videos, CD-ROMs and clothing, create interest and raise revenue.
For Starting Up, a six-part series produced by TVOntario, which educates young people on becoming entrepreneurs, Sherrett combined a variety of marketing methods. ‘CIBC [Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce] came on-board as the corporate partner and funded the whole project,’ says Sherrett. ‘CIBC has a Youth Business Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurs. We created a binder and video as a companion to the series and sold them through their website. The program promoted the kit and it has become a source of revenue for the YBF.’
Sherrett acknowledges films that don’t lend themselves to marketing tools, such as those dealing with controversial or grim subjects, have difficulty when approaching corporations for funding. Even so, he encourages producers to try: ‘I think corporate partners are getting braver and looking at alternative ways to promote themselves. A few years ago companies wouldn’t touch certain things and now look at Molson and the AIDS issue. Things are changing.’ The Canadian beer giant has sponsored such high profile benefits as Dancers for Life and AIDS Walk Canada since 1988.
One thing a producer must have to secure corporate financing is the interest of a broadcaster. ‘The first question the corporate partner will ask is where [the film] is going to air,’ says Sherrett. ‘Why would they give [a producer] their money if there’s a chance it will never get to air – or air on such an obscure broadcaster that nobody will watch it?’ If a producer is inexperienced, Sherrett will help negotiate a broadcasting deal. ‘I think it’s very important when going after corporate partners that that’s made very clear to the broadcaster, and that we need some help,’ explains Sherrett. ‘That help is the opportunity to go out and billboard the program, and if it’s a commercial broadcaster, to have commercial spots in the program. Broadcasters have been reluctant at times to do that because it hasn’t been negotiated well by the producer. The [broadcast] deal should be a license fee plus the ability to go out and get a corporate partner.’
As new television channels and the Internet continue to compete for viewers’ time, Sherrett believes corporations will increasingly look to sponsorships for promotional opportunities. This is good news whether you are a producer (you get money), a corporate partner (event marketing and ancillary market revenue), or a broadcaster (free promotional activity). In the corporate world, this is called a win, win, win.