THINKPIECE: PR industry must help clients navigate new challengesof supporting various charities

Most of America's businesses rallied around charitable causes in

the aftermath of September 11 in ways not seen since WWII. Responses

ranged from financial support for well-established charities such as the

Red Cross and United Way to creating foundations for victims'

families.



However disillusioned people might have become with the channeling of

some of these funds, this philanthropic zeal has been inspiring in its

conviction and impressive in its scope.



Clearly, strategic philanthropy and cause-related marketing will become

even more critical issues for corporate communications and consumer

branding.



In fact, the recent increase in corporate altruism, combined with

increased consumer expectation, is likely to result in their becoming

the accepted norm.



This change brings with it a new group of challenges. Support for

nonprofit organizations addressing vital social programs prior to

September 11 has plummeted dramatically, while start-up organizations

and funds designed to bring relief to victims of the terrorist attacks

and their families have the burden of creating the processes and

protocols necessary to achieve their mission.



The PR industry must take a leadership role in determining what these

challenges mean for our clients, and help them navigate this new

environment. In the months and years ahead, we must develop

philanthropic and cause marketing programs that provide our clients with

the maximum return for the causes they support - and for the company and

the brand.



Now is the time to talk with our clients and make some important

decisions.



Key audiences, both internal and external, expect companies to

demonstrate social responsibility. And if corporations cut funding to

existing nonprofit partners in order to funnel support to relief

efforts, there will be a serious negative backlash.



We must help our clients bring strategic focus to corporate giving and

cause-related marketing to increase the impact for both the cause and

the corporation. There are legitimate and acceptable ways to leverage a

relationship with a cause to build a stronger emotional bond with

consumers and employees. But we must help our clients understand exactly

how to do that.



In addition, it is critical that corporate giving or cause marketing

programs be designed and managed to deliver measurable and meaningful

results. Consumers and employees are sophisticated, and will detect

superficial support for a cause used as a PR ploy.



This is a new and challenging time for corporations engaged in altruism,

but with proper planning and thoughtful execution, corporate America can

make a difference.



David Zucker is an SVP, director of CauseWorks at Porter Novelli's

philanthropic and cause-related marketing practice.



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