The Women’s Prize for Fiction is seeking a new sponsor after Baileys has decided not to renew its support in 2018.
The liquor company, owned by Diageo, has backed the prize for the past four years, but has now decided to change strategy and push into non-English language speaking markets.
The prize, celebrating exceptional fiction by women, was known as the Orange Prize for Fiction for 17 years, from 1996 to 2012, until the company dropped out to concentrate on film industry sponsorship. Baileys came on board from 2014 to 2016 as part of a three-year partnership and backed the prize in 2017 as part of a rolling annual sponsorship.
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Diageo, said the company had "regretfully decided to make way for a new sponsor" in order to work on new global projects. "It has been an honour to champion the very best fiction written by women," she said.
The £30,000 prize pot remains unaltered because it is provided by an anonymous donor in perpetuity, and the award maintains its "highly successful" media and brand partnerships with Whistles, Waterstones, Grazia magazine and Amazon, to continue to engage UK and international readers, prize organisers said.
Novelist and co-founder of the prize, Kate Mosse, told The Bookseller: "With sponsorships, not just the arts, there's a cycle of support and marketing and strategy and if a company's strategy changes in a particular area then obviously their sponsorship portfolio changes. Because Baileys is moving into more non-English language speaking markets and we are an English-language speaking prize ...it's just one of those things. Baileys has already extended its sponsorship one year more than it was supposed to so this isn't a surprise in a way."
Mosse said she was "not worried" about the prospect of finding new backing, but was "confident" about the prize's appeal to a potential sponsor in what she called "interesting times" culturally and politically for celebrating women. Moving forwards, Mosse said she would like to take the prize to a global platform and work with a sponsor who is passionate about championing women's voices, just as Baileys was.
"These are very interesting times at the moment," Mosse said. "The prize has championed women's voices and women's voices being heard in the public space for 22 years now. We feel there is a great opportunity now, from 2018, to really take the prize to a global platform, a year-round platform, of celebrating women's voices and have an ambition for that.
"Although we've had a brilliant time with Baileys, this is not a bad time in a funny sort of way to draw breath and reconfigure and look to the next iteration of the prize."
Mosse said the sight of 5 million women around the world marching in a protest against Donald Trump the weekend he was inaugurated was one “nobody could fail to be moved emotionally by” and she felt that in "enormous times of change and challenge" people turned to words.
“Of course this is a literary prize, it’s a book prize, but it’s absolutely the same idea of championing women’s voices, making sure women’s voices continue to always be in the mix, that it isn’t other people speaking for women,” she said. “And that’s true with everything else with race and gender and LGBT, all of these things. But I do think in enormous times of change and challenge, we all turn to words."
Mosse said she was "open minded" and the new sponsor could come from any sector. "We are looking for a sponsor with ideas as well," she added. "We worked with partnership with Orange and we absolutely worked in partnership with Baileys. We have learned that when you're with a company that wants to contribute and has ideas too that everybody benefits. We are very much looking for a partner."
Martha Lane Fox, Women’s Prize for Fiction Board member, added: “This is an unparalleled commercial opportunity to access an increasingly important financial market and provide an inspirational brand platform to champion the voices of women. All the latest research shows that customers want to engage with brands with a social purpose – what better way than to help celebrate women’s voices across the world.”
Baileys is hoping this year's awards will be the prize's "best yet", as its final year, according to Mosse, who also hinted it would be expanding initiatives such as its pop-up book bar last year to increase engagement.
Last year's Women's Prize For Fiction winner was Lisa McInerney with her debut The Glorious Heresies (John Murray).
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