6 questions for Clinton Foundation CCO Craig Minassian about the Clinton Global Initiative

He talks about how the organization helps brands tell their CSR and philanthropy stories, and how it pushes back against attempts to link it to the Clinton campaign in the media.

The Clinton Global Initiative 2015 annual meeting is taking place through this Tuesday, bringing together members from around the globe to "translate good ideas into real results on the ground," according to the group.

Clinton Foundation CCO Craig Minassian talked with PRWeek about how the organization works with corporations to help them to share their stories with specific audiences.

PRWeek: How has the CGI changed since it was founded in 2005?
Minassian: Ten years ago, many corporations were approaching their philanthropic work as a donation model, making donations to charity. They have become more sophisticated about their approach to philanthropy, whether that is being conscious of how their supply chain works or lending their best business practices to other charities they might support. Corporations might also use data to measure the effectiveness of their programs to do economic empowerment through their philanthropic work.

Philanthropies have also adopted some of the measurement and management approaches of businesses to make sure they are doing their work more effectively. Meanwhile, businesses have taken a more holistic view of why it is beneficial to be a good corporate citizen. So CGI helps them to amplify those trends.

Corporations have also become more sophisticated about storytelling, so we try to help them tell the story of their sustainability work, which also creates value for their participation.

The theme this year is "The Future of Impact." So we are using CGI to explore what the next 10 years in philanthropy and corporate impact could look like. The corporate sector is a key player in that.

PRWeek: How do you help companies tell their story?
Minassian: Broadly, CGI provides one of the world’s best platforms for CEOs and corporations to communicate how their businesses are creating value for wider society, operating responsibly, talking about their sustainability work, and how they pursue being good corporate citizens.

We work with them in a number of different ways. We help them design their commitments and then work with them on the best way to talk about their commitments. We have more than 1,000 members of the media who apply for credentials every year for the meeting, which creates a really valuable platform for them to announce their commitments. Then we try to be creative with them and do everything from matchmaking with reporters to strategy sessions. We also create featuring opportunities that might include a corporation announcing their commitment in one of our major sessions or creating a video or using social media.

PRWeek: How do media partnerships work in relation to CGI?
Minassian: We do quite a bit of media partnerships. We know that what is going right in the world is often a tough sell. So we try to be thoughtful about the storytelling of these commitments. We create media partnerships [corporations] can take advantage of. We have a long list of media partners that originate content, such as CNN, CNBC, Al Jazeera, and The Huffington Post. In the broadcasters’ case, they originate programming from CGI.

We try to do everything we can to give [corporations] media opportunities that their sustainability work might not otherwise have in a setting that emphasizes that these organizations are taking the lead being good corporate citizens. 

PRWeek: How do corporations reach a certain audience by appearing at or taking part in the CGI?
Minassian: If you think about the grouping, it is a unique set of organizations from foundations to academia to NGOs to government to companies in the consumer goods industry. So part of that value is the marketplace value. Say you are Procter & Gamble and part of your sustainability efforts revolve around delivering clean water in the developing world. They know that by attending CGI, they are going to meet a critical mass of other organizations that share that same goal. NGOs that are operating in the areas they are interested in aiding are going to help them deliver on their commitment.

PRWeek: Some critics say the turnover of a handful of CGI’s high-profile sponsors signifies "trouble" for CGI. How do you respond?
Minassian: They are not accurate. This year, we have 33 new and returning sponsors from some of the world’s largest corporations and most impactful foundations such as P&G, Coke, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Any event often has a natural turnover of sponsors. Ours is actually lower this year than it has been in the past. That criticism comes from people who are trying to politicize philanthropy, and the facts just don’t bear out their argument. More than half the companies on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are members or sponsors.

Our members and corporate sponsors understand there is a difference between the nonpartisan, philanthropic work we do, and the presidential campaign. Critics try to link them, but our members understand the difference.

PRWeek: How often do you have to separate the CGI from Hillary Clinton’s campaign to journalists?
Minassian: It is something we feel is important to communicate. When you break down the coverage along those lines, it is an important point we are always trying to emphasize and reinforce to journalists. You see political reporters write about anything with the Clinton name through a political prism, but then you see global development, global health, climate, and energy reporters cover it through the appropriate prism of those global challenges and issues. 

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