Build Your Image and Bottom Line Through Socially Responsible Partnerships, Programs and Events
- Cause marketing involves contributing to the common good and telling your constituents about your good deeds.
- In the past, giving back meant little more than writing a check. But increasingly, companies are incorporating corporate giving into their marketing plans.
- Customers admire and buy from companies that show concern for the community.
- A good cause marketing program benefi ts both the company and the cause.
- The values of the company must be closely aligned with those of the cause it benefi ts.
- Third parties and special interest groups often have a vested interest in criticizing
- Partnering with another entity on a cause marketing program always carries a risk.
- Build relationships with the press and other constituents before you need support.
- The events of September 11, 2001, brought out the best and the worst in corporate
- A cause marketing program that is self-serving will backfire.
What You Will Learn
In this Abstract, you will learn:
- What cause marketing is;
- The basics of creating a cause marketing program; and
- How to minimize the adverse effects of a potential crisis related to your program.
Your company’s a success, thank you, and now you want to give something back. What should you d o? Write a check? Start a foundation? Joe Marconi explains that cause marketing is a ll this and more. In cause marketing, you identify how your company can best make a contribution while leveraging its good deeds to improve business. This makes sense: people like to buy from companies that care. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. How do you choose the right partner (or do you want a partner at all) and design a program? What are the potential pitfalls? Marconi’s book is a primer, complete with ample real-world examples, on the principles of cause marketing, with insight on the challenge of taking credit without appearing phony or selfish.
Give and You Shall Receive
Corporate philanthropy long has been standard practice for many companies. While it traditionally involved monetary contributions to favorite charities, companies are now realizing that their good deeds can be incorporated into their overall marketing plans. Today, most companies include some sort of cause-related plan as part of their consumer marketing strategies. It’s good corporate citizenship and good business. Business for Social Responsibility, a consortium of companies who seek to maintain
commercial viability while contributing to the common good, has stated that consumers
are very supportive of these activities, and that charitable activities, in turn, provide
tangible benefi ts to c ompanies. Several stud ies have s hown t hat people w ant to d o
business with companies that contribute to the community and the world by associating
themselves with a cause. A 1996 study by Research International (U.K.) Ltd. revealed
that 86% of consumers have higher opinions of companies who give back to society.
According to the study, 64% of consumers believe that it is a company’s moral obligation
to engage in cause marketing activities. The group’s 1998 study indicated that 70% of
chief executives and marketing practitioners believe that cause marketing will become a
larger part of their company’s marketing activities.
Cause marketing is more than writing a check, although that can certainly be an
appropriate part of a campaign. When properly researched and crafted, a cause marketing
program refl ects your company’s core values and d ovetails n icely into your business
objectives. Charitable outreach refl ects the company’s deep commitment to the principles
it supports with its money and other resources. A good cause marketing plan benefi ts
the company and the cause. Consumer skepticism is high in light of recent scandals,
and corporate a d vertising after the 9/11 t errorist a cts showed a g reed y aspect t hat
disappointed many. Therefore, it’s important to craft a good cause marketing plan — for
the right reasons. Companies demonstrate social responsibility by:
Espousing positive values such as management fairness, employee welfare, honorable
practices, corporate citizenship and environmental awareness.
• Giving back to their communities by encouraging employee volunteerism, supporting
community events and investing in a community’s infrastructure.
• Appointing a chief executive whose business and personal reputation harmonizes
with the company’s core values.
• Ensuring that internal values and practices jibe with external cause-related activities.
In other words, if you’re making noise about international human rights, be sure
you’re not discriminating among your employees.
• Being mindful of ethical issues that affect consumers (i.e., the turning tide against
telemarketing, consumer backlash against spamming).
• Having a corporate mission that demonstrates your company’s values.
Choosing The Right Cause
Finding the right cause to support means determining what you can do that will assist
the most people while getting you noticed by those whose attention will benefi t your
business. Getting a cause-related project o ff t he g round and sustaining it over time
involves n umerous logistical e lements. A well-crafted marketing p lan will h elp you
choose the appropriate cause, apt activities and the appropriate partner or recipient.
The fi rst s tep is r esearch. Determine your intend ed target, collect d emographic d ata
and learn how your audience feels about your products and about your industry. How
does the media portray your company and products? As you watch usage patterns to
determine brand loyalty, monitor the reactions to your corporate citizenship and the
results to gauge public awareness of your activities.
Decide if you want a partner. If you do, choose one that makes sense. Apply the
same r esearch principles to a charity that you would use to evaluate o ther fi rms for
potential relationships. Know its target audience, public image and reputation. Become
familiar with how it is portrayed by the media. Compare it against other like-minded
organizations, making sure that its mission and public appeal are solid. Determine if the
partnership is a good fi t, with complementary values. When you have a partner in place,
jointly map out a plan and put it into action — together. When embarking on a cause
marketing program, remember:
• If your budget is small, donate to large organizations. Your money can be pooled
with other contributions to provide more benefi ts.
• A good campaign enjoys support inside and outside the company, and gives management
an active, visible role.
• Volunteers are an invaluable part of a campaign. Choose them wisely, train them well
and show your appreciation and gratitude.
• Keep your constituents abreast of your good works by publicizing your efforts.
• Monitor your campaign for feedback and results.
• Use the Internet to inform and educate your audience about your activities.
The Best Laid Plans
Cause campaigns, however, are not risk-free. Despite your best effort to contribute to
society while building your business, unforeseen events can hinder your cause marketing
program. S ave yourself immense t rouble b y anticipating any issues i n ad vance and
selecting your partner or recipient wisely. Remember that the act of partnering with any
other organization carries risks. If the charity’s values are not in sync with yours, your
customers may be confused about the message — or worse, offended. Customers who
sense offense or insult can stop buying your products and may even encourage others to
do the same. Attorneys, media outlets and special interest groups often have their own
reasons for initiating contrary activity such as fi ling complaints and organizing protests.
To minimize damage, as much as possible, anticipate potential issues that could bring
you trouble and create a crisis management plan to address them head-on. To guard
against any signifi cant harm to your reputation, early on, invest in your image. Reach
out to the media regularly to tell your story and share your good deeds. A positive image
sustained over time can be an asset if trouble appears.
In a crisis situation, assign someone to speak to the media on behalf of the company. This
task should fall to your most experienced public relations or cause marketing executive
or, if you have one, your PR agency. This person is in the best position to craft the
company’s message, prepare written support materials and prepare answers for questions
that the media might ask. A marketing executive is also in the best position to admit if
he or she can’t answer a question. A chief executive or attorney who claims ignorance or
declines to answer a question can be seen as incompetent, evasive or even deceptive.
Be proactive: go public fi rst to set the precedent that your company is conscientious
and collaborative. Staying quiet when a potentially negative situation comes to light is
almost never advisable. I f information is not available for d isclosure, it’s perfectly all
right to say so. But once it is available, provide it. To help the public see the big picture,
disseminate consistent news about the good work and the good deeds you’ve engineered.
A continuous public relations outreach program is the best way to ensure that your
company makes regular deposits of goodwill long before any crisis.
When reaching out with bad news, make sure your employees, shareholders, volunteers
and other s take-holding targets hear i t from you fi rst. They’re already on your side;
keep them there. Finally, remember that the public shows leniency when a fi rm
recognizes wrongdoing and shows willingness to do the right thing. What they won’t
tolerate is deception.
But what do you do when a major crisis hits not just your company, but also the entire
country? That’s what happened on September 11, 2001. In response to the terrorist
attacks, many people — and companies — came forth to provide help, services or money
to those a ffected . Some companies, however, saw this calamity a s an opportunity to
blatantly self-promote under the cloak of the American fl ag, urging people to buy their
products as a patriotic gesture. In the wake of such a calamity, a socially responsible
company should respond with concern for those affected, not with communication
tactics that clearly try to milk tragedy for money. Companies can also show their concern
by getting employees to participate voluntarily in any efforts to help victims. Engage in
actions that truly help while modestly communicating your contributions.
Companies That Have Made A Difference…And One That Didn’t
Many companies reach out to do good for the community. Most are successful; some are not:
• General Mills created a program that helps the community while building brand loyalty.
“Box Tops for Education” helps raise money for schools by encouraging kids to
bring in the tops of any General Mills product. The school sends the box tops to the company, to be redeemed for ten cents each, culminating in a maximum contribution
of $10,000 a year. Additional components of the program (such as a partnership with
Visa and online retailers) have upped the contribution to $30,000 a year. In all, General
Mills’ fi nancial contribution runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. General
Mills limits its own involvement to its monetary contribution.
• Target Stores and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — two entities of similar
philosophies and outlook — teamed up to create Target House, a facility which provid
es f ree lod ging to long-term care p atients and their f amilies. T he p artnership
is run jointly, with representatives f rom Target and St. Jude’s meeting regularly to
manage events and other logistics. Target employees who a re regular community
volunteers also visit the hospital to participate in recreational activities — an act that
further elevates the company in the eyes of others. Target’s actions have prompted
some of their suppliers to contribute money to the program.
• Phillip Morris has tried to improve its public image, with negative — and even disastrous
— results. The company’s tactics have included self-congratulatory advertising,
a t ransparent s ponsorship t ied to the Bill o f Rights’ 200th anniversary, a nd
coverage in The Wall Street Journal to tell the public of its increased level of social
consciousness. Consumers and industry observers loudly criticized these efforts.
Phillip Morris would have been better served by less obvious tactics. Third-party
endorsements from its charity partners and outright support from people who smoke
would have been more genuine. Clearly, efforts backfi re if they are seen as selfi sh.
A cause marketing program is not a totally altruistic endeavor, but neither is it blatantly
self-serving. By committing corporate resources (whether alone or in partnership) in a
sincere effort to promote positive values and help those in need, a company can use cause
marketing to contribute to its community and to its own future.