Category Archives: Public relations

Cause Marketing vs. Good Old Fashioned Philanthrophy: PR’s role in clarifying the heart of corporate giving

According to good ol’ Wikipedia (den of unchecked facts tho’ it oft may be), the first major cause marketing campaign launched in 1976, and was a collusion between Marriott Corporation and the March of Dimes. Marriott’s goal was to drive high profile PR for a massive new family resort in California, and the March of Dimes had a singular goal to improve fundraising levels. Launched in 67 cities across the country, the campaign exceeded its goals and provided tremendous benefit and visibility to both organizations.

The point of this, as with any cause marketing strategy, is to pair marketing efforts by a for-profit with the good-will associated with a non-profit for the mutual benefit of both. And while that term, mutually beneficial might perk up the ears of most PR pros, it’s important to emphasize that cause marketing is not the same as philanthropy, and that while positive press and earned media should result from a well-targeted cause strategy, it’s not – in the purest sense – bonafide “do gooding.” And it should not be dressed as such.

Cause campaigns are, essentially still about the exchange relationship. This is why they are not tax deductible endeavors. The goal is still to make money by selling whatever it is you sell using the campaign as a leverage. That said, it is evident that cause marketing is often an extremely smart and successful approach. An October 09 post on brand channel noted that Edelman’s 2009 Goodpurpose Consumer Study found that a full 57% of consumers worldwide say a brand or product earned their business because it was associated with, or supported, a good cause. After all, emotion sells – and a good cause will tug at the consumer emotions.

I buy Dove products for precisely this reason. I appreciate what Unilever is attempting to do by providing funding for self-esteem projects for teen girls as part of its long-standing Campaign for Real Beauty, and so I buy Dove soap and lotion. Cause marketing is good, solid strategy, but its not social responsibility.

Here’s the thing, however, as 2010 starts with a bang – cause marketing seems to be everywhere. Maybe it’s the recession, maybe it’s that we have a Democrat in the White House, but apparently the ad gurus are certain that consumers will be swayed by a cause approach to marketing that softens the hard sell of advertising and helps me feel really great about buying that bag of Sun Chips, watching CNN, consuming that media, whatever the product is that is being peddled.

Obviously there are problems here – saturation, and legitimate concerns of provoking an “enough already” response from consumers that could threaten the whole notion of using cause marketing … after all, once consumers smell opportunism instead of philanthropic decency, the whole game stands to be lost.

In the midst of so much kinda-do-gooding, PR pros need to balance cause marketing from the ethical expectation that organizations simply be good social citizens, which often requires engagement in social responsibility and old-fashioned giving. And it will be important for the PR leader to get the messaging right, so that consumers don’t become either immune to important cause related tactics (which really do improve society even as they help sell lightbulbs), or cynical about the real philanthropic effort your organization might decide to engage (“Oh, that’s just another advertising stunt.”) It’s terribly important, from a branding and PR perspective, not to confuse the audience with what is marketing/advertising, and what is good social citizenry. If at the end of 2010, consumers simply roll their eyes when they read a bit of news about corporate giving, charitable partnerships, or the benevolence of your CEO and assume it’s just a ploy to sell soup, you’ve got big problems because philanthropy has always been a sort of PR gold mine. It’s genuine, earned, and authentic (uck – buzz words, anyone?), and you can ride the good vibe for some time if you manage the publicity properly.

As great as cause marketing is for the top line sales goal – don’t let the marketers and the sales team muddy the perception of corporate do-gooding. Be a voice of measured, ethical, reasoned strategy, and leave it to the ad-men to find other emotion-rich ways to sell, sell, sell.

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Putting the Relationship Back in Public Relations: Internal Relationship Development for Busy PR People, An Open Door Approach

Public relations professionals wear many hats in any given day. Our task list can be instantly re-prioritized with the chime of an unexpected email landing in the inbox, or scraped entirely in the wake of a morning visit from the CEO. Often, my work is disrupted (and we’ll come back to that word) by drop-ins from coworkers looking for advice; hoping to talk through some phrasing or potential strategy; or generally raising any number of a wide variety of PR needs that you might expect to find in an organization that is pursuing a passionate mission marketing thousands of products across the country and world.

I seem to spend a lot of time looking up and saying, “Come on in.”And internally wishing I could just lock the door.

Don’t get me wrong, on days when I just have to plow through, I tack my “Gretchen is writing. Please feed the fish later,” sign onto my big glass window wall, and try not to look up from my screen even when I can sense folks standing there, reading my work-in-progress memo, and staring anyway in the hopes that I’ll stop, look-up, and let them in. (This is incredibly difficult to ignore, by the way. And it’s slightly creepy, too.)

But this post isn’t about those times; this post is about that myriad of real-time exchanges that just land at your door on any given day. How do you approach these exchanges? I’d like to suggest that how you approach, appreciate, and manage your personal internal exchanges in the workplace says a great deal about your true moxie as a public relations professional.

Realistically, it can be annoying to stop tweeting, emailing, checking the Blackberry, or skimming the latest updates from Ragan, FastCompany or PR Week to focus on the need of the person who has entered the room. But I’ve decided to stop calling these conversations distractions. Here’s why: if I neglect to use my expertise for relationship (and I like to call it coalition) building in the context of the closest relationships I have within my organization, I am missing the real heart of the PR profession. If my primary focus is on crafting the right corporate message, tracking the latest new media venture, or assessing the issues confronting the brand and strategizing winning solutions (all of which are absolutely critical to great PR work), but find myself annoyed, less than engaged, or out-of-touch with the coalition in my own work group and beyond – then I am grossly out of touch with the real relationship management of the company.

Unfortunately, I follow quite a few PR types on Twitter and other places who seem woefully out of touch with what it means to cultivate a relationship. And that is the center of what we’re about. Fundamentally, PR people need to get relationships – inside and out – and then we can work to truly engage “protect and enliven mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its multiple publics.” (Ugh, the old definition, right?)

Lately, in addition to just helping to sort through the specific task at hand, I’ve been paying particular attention to what I will call “the moment” of interaction, the actual communication exchange and relationship unfolding in the room. My early graduate work was actually in Counseling Psychology, which is really interesting considering that I landed in my real calling as a public relations practitioner. In truth, the two degrees are not distant. Relationships require real, authentic moments of genuine connection and communication. And if I can’t practice this exchange with my coworkers, my work in PR will be stunted.

If I can practice it, goodPR will follow.

One of the key pieces you learn with life is that experience enriches all of your future exchanges. For those of us in the business of relationships, this has the potential to re-frame literally every exchange we have into a moment of professional development. I mean that. As I encounter customers, associates, vendors, other executives, residents in the community, the green grocer (okay, I don’t know that I actually have a bona-fide green grocer – what is that really?), or the soccer-parent on the parking lot, I practice the art of relationship development: fine tuning my understanding of communication, increasing my skill set, applying new ways of listening and responding to new topics, learning to suppress or express my opinions, viewpoint, or understanding of a situation to achieve a certain end goal.

I become, in essence a better communicator.

Consider what I learn when I pause to not just meet with, review an agenda with, or pitch a design concept with my colleague, but when I really relate with him or her. Today, for example, I learned that one of my marketing managers is really hesitant about expressing a point of view, for fear that he doesn’t have enough permission from his superiors to really go after the results he wants. Okay. Let’s solve that by bringing the right people into the room and making sure the right conversations happen to get this young person the tools he needs to run with the ball.

Or consider that I learned that another director has a great idea to improve how we currently allocate dollars for outsourcing and design, and was unsure whether or not I would support this new way of thinking because we’d never really gotten around to that in a conversation.

Or that a talented member of my group has aspirations in an entirely different area of our work, and finally had a moment to just express that – and that revelation is going to dramatically shift and generally strengthen our ability to cross train people in our department.

Focusing on relationships improves the immediate work environment, but it teaches me more about the specific attitudes, passions, fears, strengths, and weaknesses that make-up the people who daily make, pitch, create, and shape the brand I’ve been hired to protect. I can better move, grow, and promote the brand because I know the people. Relationships, internal to begin, are the core. So open that door – stop tweeting and start talking, and see what new avenues open up in your environment.

Authentic YOU, Authentic Company: personal vs. corporate brand strategy

Observations are often obvious. Here’s one to start us: It’s a new era in communications, socialization, marketing, and certainly in relationship building and management.

Recently @mariansalzman posted a tweet querying where the future of political campaigning is headed in the U.S. She ponders, “#pnid If candidates are brands, what attributes will resonate in local elections ’09? Change overused? Issues vs. values? Role of vision?”  And while there are potentially thousands of viable responses to this question, what I think she’s really getting at is what will ring as authentic with the public when it comes to our leadership in the coming years.

That’s not in-and-of-itself a new thing – for generations, Americans have elected candidates that they probably would have agreed were (seemingly) authentic. But apparently, how we define authenticity shifts over time. The attributes that make up authentic character, and authentic relationship, are murky – at least that seems to be the idea here.

A recent article that ran online at FastCompany, by Christopher Meyer also digs into the notion of defining individuals as brands these days – and that means interesting things for PR folks.

How important is it to manage not just your organization’s brand equity, but the brand equity of your leadership and other related “star” talent at work within the culture of your organization and among your audience?

Meyer suggests the answer to this is really nothing short of blatantly ironic as the consumer public demands increasing authenticity and “de-brand-personality” from major brands, but is intrigued by the brand identity of celebrated personalities.

How much should the personal brand management of your organization’s leadership figure into your overall public relations strategy? And as social media leaps forward and pulls your CEO willingly (or unwillingly) into the extremely exposed public square, does it really matter if you don’t think personal brand should figure in your greater PR equation? Because the fact is, it does.

Working for a non-profit as I do, it’s pretty important that our organization define its overall personality as separate from individuals, and define oursevles most significantly by our mission. However, people are mission in action. Our leadership, and a variety of high profile characters on our team are de facto living expressions of brand – and if we don’t engage our audience with them as individuals, it can get dicey. So for us, it’s a delicate balance of mission vs. hubris, personal passion vs. collective effort.

Meyer posits a gleeful concept of a new corporate job, that of personal brand manager. And I am sure there are some folks already paid handsomely to do that … and many of us do it already because that’s what you do when you introduce your organization into new relationships, and nurture it in its long-time relationships. You manage it as if it is a person, and you manage the leadership as if they are the brand itself.

Here are some things to consider when building personal brand for your organization’s leadership and shining stars that adds equity to your corporate identity:

1. Keep it real. Frightenly, words like “authentic” and “sincere” lack all illusion of genuineness (to me) these days. But in the best sense, and whenever possible, leadership needs to really communicate in their own voice. Sure the PR person can coach and edit, and offer insight – but particularly when it comes to today’s social media applications, it has to be genuine if it’s going to really work. I hand my CEO cards for presentations all the time, and he does a great job of staying on pitch – but guess what? He never reads my notes verbatim, and I’ve decided not to be annoyed by that! He needs to be him – and it’s my job to help coach him on the circumstances, the players, the key themes – and then help him shine as he personally relates to the circumstance. GM is about to take this on in a new way with its decision to put brash, bodacious Bob Lutz in place as its communications big chief. I appreciate the challenge Lutz will bring to his own PR staff, and he seems to recognize the stress he’s going to put them under if his comments in today’s USA Today are any indication: 

And although he’ll be overseeing communications, Lutz says he expects the public relations department also still will need to keep tabs on him and what he says publicly.”I expect people to step in,” he says. “But having said that, I do believe we have to be much bolder and much more self-aware, and in some cases, more controversial or willing to tell it like it is rather than putting out a more sanitized version.”

 When it comes to managing real personal brand, you gotta keep it real, but careful so that it doesn’t unwittingly (or arrogantly) capsize all you’ve worked to build for the total brand.

2. Access. Access. Access. Good PR earns it’s spot at the CEO’s table, and keeps it by providing pragmatic, useable insight that works. If your organization has leadership that wants to leverage the power of personal brand – the PR folks should have access to them to discuss openly how that can support the larger communications goals of the organization. You have to know your communications theory, and offer solid strategy that fuels what matters most to the organization – your own PR styled ROI. Trust means: leadership will listen when you offer them strategy for how best to leverage their personal strengths (and even professed “growth edges”) on behalf of the organization. A perplexing example of how a personal brand campaign doesn’t clearly jive with the total strategy is seen in Sprint’s ads with CEO Dan Hesse. They are unique, but I’m not terribly sure what having his personal endorsement means to me as I consider Sprint in today’s mobile media market. There needs to be a larger strategy, personal branding needs to fit the total goal, and the PR person needs direct access to leadership to blend it all together.

3. If you’re going to be social, do it right. Just because individuals can have a Twitter, Facebook, or Blog doesn’t mean it’s the right media for their voice and style. The old addage, “media is the message” is accurate, and part of what that means is understanding how media selection amplifies or distorts messages. If your leadership is absolutely not naturally narrative, figure out ways to blog that showcases their practical style. If they are not naturally pithy or concise, maybe Twitter isn’t their niche. Use the tools that will work, and do it with excellence.

4. Diversify your strategy. Good PR is comprehensive. Don’t bank on any one component as the golden ticket for long-term positive brand messaging. Leadership changes: tragedy, scandal, and plain old career change shifts the style and tone of an organization. Make sure that on whatever your key message is built, you have other adequate blocks shoring up your overall strategy. Be smart. Great leaders come and go, missions (if they are something people connect with on personal and philosophical levels) last. Build relationships that will, too.