The Fruits of Corporate Underwriting: Ernst & Young and PBS in the 2000’s

I would like to begin this week by thanking those dozens of people across the country and around the world for viewing my last blog post. On Monday, my blog received a record 46 views and 31 visits, breaking a record set last month by 17 views and 14 visits. Furthermore, I got tweet replies from Brown Smith Wallace, KPMG, David Redhill, and ParenteBeard, all of whom appreciated the post. Thank you all again for visiting! I’m really glad you enjoyed what you read.

So today I want to talk about something else I’ve been “introspecting” lately, and that’s the idea of marketing to target consumers through corporate giving. Before I entered grad school, I did some development work for a non-profit theatre company. One of the big selling points I stressed when seeking donors was the exposure their company would get through the perks of participating in our sponsorship program. These perks didn’t merely include a quarter- to full-page ad in our program, but more importantly, a mention in our curtain speech, collateral material placed in the theatre lobby, complimentary tickets for company employees, and even use of the space for conferences and special events.

As nice as all of these benefits were, I learned that companies look for one major underlying factor.  Potential donors want to know that when they begin a relationship with and invest in an organization, their investment will be lucrative and generate business for them. An ROI with interest, so to speak. So what I looked for were companies that not only had the financial resources to help us, but served a consumer base that was consistent with the audience demographic we served at the theatre. If the company were to sponsor us, we would ensure that they were reaching their target consumers through various marketing types apparent in our sponsorship package, including collateral, digital marketing, social media marketing, direct marketing through interpersonal interaction, all of which was included under the umbrella of event marketing. Whether the company sponsored just one event or an entire season, they would be reaching consumers in unique ways, and from that, develop some new relationships.

This idea can be applied across the entire nonprofit arena, and the one case I’d like to examine involves Ernst & Young (EY) and PBS. The relationship between the two entities began in 1999, when the global professional services firm began sponsoring the long-running PBS television program Great Performances.  A year later it became the sole sponsor and continued its sponsorship until 2005. When it became the sole sponsor, then-CEO Philip A. Laskawy was quoted as saying, “Ernst & Young wants to continue our tradition of enriching the lives of people in the communities we serve. We pride ourselves on our long-standing commitment to the arts – one that is now enhanced through our sponsorship of ‘Great Performances.'”

Fast forward a few years. At the beginning of the last quarter of 2003, Ernst & Young released their fiscal year report, which showed a $3 billion revenue increase worldwide across the company. The results were reflected across the company’s four service lines: Assurance and Advisory, Tax, Law, and Transaction Advisory (Business Wire, 2003).

Although the report attributed much of this success to Ernst & Young’s then-recent acquisition of multiple clients from Arthur Andersen, LLC (a firm that surrendered its accounting/auditing practice license following its involvement with the Enron scandal), I’d like to believe that PBS played some role in generating revenue. Think about it – Great Performances is a program that showcases high art from the worlds of music, ballet, opera and theatre. If you sponsor the program, you’re clearly dealing with a higher-echelon audience, and most of the time, an audience that is high net-worth. As companies such as Ernst & Young are the major underwriters of these programs, additional support often comes in from foundations and endowments established by wealthy patrons who wanted to continue their legacy of supporting the arts through annual financial support of enriching television content. In turn, Ernst & Young demonstrated not only their commitment to the arts, but an understanding of where their target market lived, and the best avenues through which to access them, thereby benefiting themselves long-term.

After its sponsorship of Great Performances ended, the firm continued its tenure on PBS by becoming a sponsor of the animated series Cyberchase in 2006. The following year, it implemented the EY/Cyberchase Volunteer Program, which promotes access to education through EY employees traveling to cities and communities to teach math skills to underprivileged children using a Cyberchase-themed curriculum. Since then, over 1,700 children have been reached by over 650 EY employees, and have developed skills in “problem-solving, setting priorities and time management to expand and enhance their sense of what’s possible (”

This initiative is very much consistent with the firm’s mission of “building a better world”, but specifically, it develops its brand image beyond the formalities of the office or boardroom. According to their website, EY prides itself in its “people with energy, enthusiasm, and the courage to lead (”, and the willingness to make a better life for all people, not just those within their client base.  The EY/Cyberchase program is definitely a testament to that, and EY’s website speaks highly of the program’s success.  At the end of 2013, EY had a global revenue of over $25 billion, which included a 10.4% increase in just the Americas from the previous year (  When you open your services to a wide range of people, you begin to generate positive brand associations among them, and this often brings people to your company for business.  Like its sponsorship of Great Performances, EY’s work with Cyberchase has helped develop its brand in urban and suburban communities across the country, expanding the scope of its services and the resonance of its mission and values, and ensuring further growth of the firm in the coming years.

EY, in these ways, is a great example of how a brand can leverage its mission, image, and target client base to expand the scope of its marketing in ways that give it uncommon exposure, and ultimately generate more revenue.  Although Great Performances and Cyberchase are two different programs with two different audiences, EY found a way to maximize the different elements of its brand image to reach more people and generate their efforts into lucrative success.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you know of a company that’s achieved success with the aid of nonprofit sponsorship?  How about one that’s grown through sponsorship of the arts?  I’d love to hear your stories below, if you have any.

Join me next week for a March Madness Ad Recap, featuring Toyota, Buffalo Wild Wings, and more!  Until then, thank you all for a great month of March! 


(2003, October 10).  Ernst & Young Fiscal Year 2003 Global Revenues Exceed US $13 billion: James S. Turley Assumes Role as Global CEO.  Business Wire.  Retrieved from

(2006, September 1).  CYBERCHASE, The Animated Math Adventure Series for Children, Adds Two New Funders for Its Fifth Season on PBS KIDS GO!  Business Wire.  Retrieved from

Ernst & Young.  (n.d.)  Cyberchase is making a difference by helping kids become confident problem solvers.  Retrieved from—Cyberchase-is-making-a-difference.

Ernst & Young.  (n.d.)  EY Global review 2013: Facts and figures.  Retrieved from


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