Tag Archives: social responsibility

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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Gimme That: Corporate Social Responsibility as PR Strategy

I’ve been handed a large new assignment. My CEO has asked that I come up with a singularly impressive philanthropic gesture for the company; one that will really cause our stakeholders to take serious notice of our overwhelming good will. As a professional public relations practitioner, this assignment is truly music to my ears.

To a degree.

It will truly be a melody I want to hear when I am able to nurture a broader appreciation that such gestures need to be ongoing and strategic, and not just a one-time, limited-time gesture.

Good PR involves charitable giving – corporate social responsibility – that is strategic, which means it isn’t giving just to give. We give, essentially, to get. And when we give strategically, we get more than we might ever imagine. And this makes the it all the more challenging. These days, many companies are expanding the scope of their responsibility – take the new Global Responsibility initiative from Starbucks as one example. And when your organization is a non-profit, the gift-wicket gets stickier still.

After all, what on earth is palatable about strategic goodwill? It sounds so … corporate.

There is an episode of the television comedy, Friends in which Joey taunts Phoebe with the challenge of doing something that is truly altruistic. (Not the vocabularly word used byJoey, but that’s what he meant.) Phoebe tries everything, including allowing a bee to sting her, before finally recognizing – to her utter dismay – that Joey is right. It’s impossible to do something totally selflessly, because it makes you feel good in response, and that means you have a motivation for the do-good-ing.

PR professionals face this paradox.

The place of corporate social responsibilty in a robust PR strategy cannot be overlooked. But there are key principles that need to be applied when making strategic decisions about where to do the most good – and generally, those principles are designed to make sure you get the most good for the good you … give. Let’s consider a few:

  1. Don’t avoid the obvious – yes, we are a company and our giving has to help us achieve (not our business/financial objectives) our mission – our very reason for existing! And isn’t it amazing that we can help some folks out in the process.
  2. Be committed to a long-term strategy that isn’t dependent (entirely) on good financial times or poor.
  3. Develop a well-rounded strategy that maximizes core competencies of your organization within its industry (a children’s literacy endeavor, for example, by a publisher makes a lot more sense than that same publisher underwriting a local senior center) and that touches a variety of giving opportunities: human care, environmental, crisis, etc.
  4. Make sure that at least one major corporate event involves physical effort – real sweat – by key corporate leadership.
  5. Cultivate an attitude and value for philanthropy organization-wide – from top to bottom – and offer ways for employees to be involved in personal and individual ways in giving back to their community.
  6. Coach senior leadership to express their desire for social responsibility in real terms that are personal, and focus on the good the company will give, not on the brand equity they hope to grow.

In the end, corporate social responsibility is about being an ethical, engaged, useful, and contributing force in a society. You need clear, strategic objectives in the program that fuel larger corporate goals. It needs to be well conceived, and not just an after thought. It needs to be a transcendent attitude that permeates all levels of the organization’s culture. And it needs to be genuine – and yes, that means admitting that it might “seem” self-serving (to a degree, and hopefully only to the most jaded critics).

Doing good to get a little good in return is certainly better than no good. Right? You betcha. So it’s to the drawing board for this PR girl – we’ll see what results.