Do Brand-Led Grassroot Talent Initiatives Need a Shake Up?

Senior Account Director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment Gina Waite shares a few rules of thumb to running grassroots initiatives.

Brands supporting grassroot talent is nothing new. We know Gen Z is motivated by brands going a step further than looking after their own profit margins. We also know cultural involvement can sway purchasing habits. It follows that brands are expected to do good ergo creating campaigns to support up-and-coming talent in culture and entertainment.

But is this always a good thing?

Are there brands out there overstepping the mark, that would be better off sticking to what they do best – whether that be brewing beer, designing clothes or manufacturing footwear…and nailing some good, old-fashioned, awareness-boosting ads?

A cynic may begin to think so. But actually, when it really comes down to it, supporting up-and-coming talent is never going to be a bad thing.

Set against a backdrop of the ongoing post-pandemic recovery, an encroaching cost of living crisis and permacrisis being the word of the year, the opportunity to run initiatives that support individuals within culture, the arts and entertainment only grows in importance. So, there’s little to be lost by getting involved in a brand-funded scheme. Doors can be opened, funding provided, and skills honed. But winning as a brand at the same time isn’t a given.

There are a few rules of thumb to running grassroots initiatives. Think long-term to build authenticity; work with the right partners to harness credibility; and be relevant so the brand has a genuine role to play and also think commercially. These core principles, done well, will ensure said brand sees a decent ROI; enabling the virtuous cycle of support to continue.

There is no shortage of brands adopting these principles and doing a great job – just look at fashion-brand Monki who partnered with Polyester to launch a Queer Creative Fund providing a £2K grant and mentorship to realise an artistic project – proving that such support doesn’t need to break the bank. Or Ballantine’s True Music Fund, who have committed to supporting rising music communities around the globe with a £100K fund (divided into £10K grants per recipient) and will be continuing to roll out funding support to 2025. But what about those wanting to shake up the model a little bit?

Here’s some food for thought on how things could be done a little differently as we move through 2023 and beyond.

Embrace the fluidity of passion points.

Brands typically focus on a single passion area – whether it be music, film, fashion, or the arts. Focusing on one passion area is usually recommended. It fits neatly with a brand strategy or partnership portfolio. But we know Gen-Z are multi-hyphenates by nature. Making music on a Friday, customising clothes on a Saturday and creating content on a Sunday… This means there’s space for brands to span the boundaries with a focus on championing individuals for their raw creativity first and foremost, without so many guardrails for the output.

We’re seeing events evolving to a more multifaceted space. Look at Guap Gala. Not so much a film/fashion/music awards as a gala that celebrates ‘creative excellence’, highlighting not just those front and centre but also behind the scenes that contribute to culture in a big way. In short, there’s space to support and embrace a more multi-hyphenated space within culture, and in doing so adapting to audience needs.

Shake up the process.

Typically, we see locked budgets for funds and mentorship as a fixed set of resources. Three days, five sessions, five thousand pounds etc. It makes sense; it’s a practical approach that works with the inevitable planning, budgeting, and internal approvals any campaign involves. But what about shaking this up? How about a merit-based approach where applicants can unlock incremental funding/mentorship, getting more out of it for the more the put in? More heavy lifting but potentially much more engagement and return on both sides if done right.


The tonality of grassroot schemes often errs on the side of earnest but culture and entertainment industry should be just that: entertaining. So, if brands are supporting others’ journeys into the industry, then this should be celebrated in a fun and fabulous way. The news is depressing enough without every campaign reminding us on the devastating insight driving the initiative. Everyone knows things are tough are already. 

Be bold with selection/support.

No one wants their brand to be embroiled in a Kanye style meltdown but taking a greater risk on who/what you support could well yield the greater returns. Wouldn’t it be great to be the brand that has taken a risk and supported the next maverick on their journey? Doing so with longevity and commitment though, of course. It will only lead to greater things for everyone.

Innovate with the offering.

It doesn’t need to just be money or mentorship that are on offer (not that that isn’t great), but there is scope to think creatively about the opportunity on offer. The metaverse and digital economy aren’t going anywhere so why not be the brand that helps talent succeed in these spaces? Just look at Mastercard who have earlier this year launched their Web 3 Artist Accelerator, a program that gives emerging musicians the chance to thrive in this new(ish) world. Once you get your head around it, there’s no doubt it is helping both brand and talent get into the space they need to be.

In conclusion.

Grassroot schemes are good. Great even. More than a worthwhile marketing exercise, supporting emerging talent as a brand is a wonderful thing. Something to be celebrated and executed with pride, but where possible, be brave and shake up the formula a little bit. In doing so pushing the value exchange even further.

Back to all News & Views