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A word from our sponsors

By Terry Joseph
June 14, 2003

As anyone involved in the local entertainment industry will attest, it is almost impossible to stage a niche-market production without corporate sponsorship, and doubly arduous to secure meaningful cash contributions from that sector.

It is the prototypical Catch-22.

Where philanthropy is not part of the business culture, due diligence demands astute evaluation of potential for enhancing both goodwill and tangible gain.

Unfortunately, this inherently scientific process is frequently diminished to a cursory glance at the event's track-record or exclusively informed by amateur opinion on its less-obvious merits; data often determined by the extent to which earlier productions enjoyed sponsorship.

Interestingly, big business is given to hiring consultancy on every aspect of its operations except patronage of indigenous arts and consequently timid about sponsorship, fearing stakeholders' allegations of recklessness and—in this country—singularly burdened by downstream tribal and religious considerations.

So, more often than not, when it comes time for “a word from our sponsors”, that word is “No”.

At least, this has been my major experience producing the annual Back in Time Kaiso Dance, a charity affair designed to help elderly and ailing calypsonians in need, accruals from which are publicly transferred to the Foundation for the Arts.

Last year, a State-owned company and a privately-run soft-drink manufacturer quite coincidentally agreed that a $600 donation would go a long way. Even so, the gestation period for these apparently ponderous cheques from both organisations went full term, taking all of nine months.

Last month, a State-enterprise publicly declared more than $300 million in net profit, just one week after flatly turning down our unspecified request for assistance which, at its fallback position, asked for nothing more than temporary use of already contracted advertising space.

Which is why today I wish to praise media response to next Wednesday's Back in Time Kaiso Dance, particularly that of my employer, the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) and CEO Craig Reynald who, from first approach, have been extremely generous via both the Express and TV6 in helping to promote the event.

Although not on quite the same scale, other media houses have been signally accommodating to our news releases. Nor should our vote of thanks fail to mention Pan Trinbago's donation of some $11,000 worth of residual contra-advertising on NBN, whose facilities—TTT and Experience 100 FM—have already demonstrated commitment to helping the project.

With the dance just five days away, this is the sum of declared local sponsorship. Foreigners have, however, been much more forthcoming. Without prompting, Eddy Grant, often the subject of calypso controversy here, donated $10,000 and, having read that story, American filmmakers Geoffrey Dunn and Michael Horne immediately sent their contribution from Los Angeles.

Not to be left out of the opportunity to give something back to calypso, the Barbados Tourism Authority and Antigua-based Caribbean Star Airlines teamed to donate an appearance by Bajan celebrity DJ Admiral Nelson, who is coming to match his skill at entertaining with locals Hurricane George and Crosby Sounds.

Now, none of this is intended to debunk those local corporations who continue to carp at the idea of donating to the Back in Time Kaiso Dance or, for that matter, respond positively to any other request for assistance in staging small culture-based entertainment productions.

Indeed, business cannot be faulted carte blanche for its approach in this context, since some companies completely underwrite such productions and others offer non-financial support services to selected events.

On the evidence, some take months to decide on such matters and indeed, other contributions to the dance may yet be intransit. The comparison with responses from foreigners is however quite striking; considering the level of interest coming from territories outside The Land of Calypso.

What is perhaps even more astonishing is the sloth of successive governments who, from both sides of the political divide, have promised to set up a facility through which corporations supporting culture-based productions can access tax incentives based on a tiered schedule.

To a chorus of applause, then Finance Minister Senator Brian Kuei Tung promised it during the stewardship of the United National Congress; while reading the 1999 budget speech. Last December, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, political leader of the ruling PNM, trumpeted much the same deal at the same venue; offering up to 150 per cent of sponsorship donations as tax relief.

Of course, neither gentleman delivered, leaving business to volunteer its funds to these events, often with little hope of gleaning even reciprocal publicity for the outlay. No properly run business will even contemplate pouring cash into entertainment events without the quid pro quo; the pound of flesh quantified by Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

By putting into place the necessary financial instruments to give effect to the promise, government would reduce solicitation of its resources, generate more economic activity in the entertainment sector and betimes help provide work for artistes and distractions for youth susceptible to the lure of antisocial alternatives.

Until then, only the truly auspicious are likely to get more than that one dreaded word from our sponsors.

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