The 'big check' can still make a huge difference

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Benefit for Autism Education," organized by Comedy Central.

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend “Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Benefit for Autism Education,” organized by Comedy Central. Hosted by Jon Stewart, who we all know I have a not-so-secret crush on, the event was held at New York City's Beacon Theatre and attended by such celebrities as Martha Stewart (who sat behind me and my friends and cracked nary a smile during a night when the funniest comedians in the business were on stage killing it, but that's another story…) and Tommy Hilfiger (who literally sat right next to us and laughed like a normal human being).  In my estimate (and keep in mind I'm a journalist, not an accountant) it raised more than $500,000 during three hours of the show alone, which will then be broadcast on Comedy Central on October 21 as a full-fledged telethon. Since 2005, it has raised more than $7 million for the cause.

Clearly events like this are always a time for corporations to show their support for a particular cause. And this was no different: among the night's corporate sponsors were White Castle, which not only made the “big check” presentation on stage for $100K, but also supplied all attendees with free sliders (believe it or not, they taste good even before midnight—don't judge me.); PepsiCo, which donated $150K as part of its Pepsi Refresh project, along with an additional $150K; and Sara Lee (full disclosure: my friend Jon Harris, SVP of corp comms at Sara Lee, was kind enough to give me his tickets because he couldn't use them- thanks Jon!).

The thing about writing about PR and marketing for a living is that when I'm at an event like this, I'm always thinking about the bigger business implications, especially as we're getting ready to publish this year's Cause Survey with Barkley PR, which has been our partner on this for more than five years. One thing that we always set out to do is to see how companies can go beyond the "big check” to really make a difference. Clearly there are several examples of this in corporate America: the latest and currently one of the most visible, is the aforementioned Pepsi Refresh project, which allows people to vote on the project that PepsiCo will fund.

On a personal note, I am very interested in cause marketing and have devoted the past decade to a nonprofit  to which I have a very close personal connection. And I definitely agree that corporations do need to go beyond that big check to develop more involved cause marketing programs. But for the thousands of people in that audience on Saturday night who saw that— OK, somewhat cheesy— “big check” presentation from White Castle, that made an impact on them. In their eyes, White Castle is a good corporate citizen and cares about autism education.  The same goes for Sara Lee, PepsiCo, and the other companies that served as sponsors. So, while it's important to make sure that cause marketing programs stick out, even if a donation seems mundane, it's still doing a world of good.

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