MARKET FOCUS - CAUSE-RELATED MARKETING: Doing well by doing good PR is powering a new wave of cause-related marketing activities. But, as Gloria Smith reports, there’s much more that can be done.

Cause-related marketing has truly come of age.

Cause-related marketing has truly come of age.

Cause-related marketing has truly come of age.

Paul Newman, the actor who also donates to charity the profits from his

gourmet dressings and sauces, has joined other company leaders to form a

group that will challenge corporations to raise dollars 15 billion for


One way of giving that the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy

suggests to businesses will be cause-marketing programs.

And the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently awarded a dollars 2.6

million planning grant to a newly formed Social Marketing Center in

Washington, DC. Georgetown University professor Alan Andreason says the

center, now in its initial planning phase, will be involved in

education, training and developing best practices.

Of course, charitable giving and support for good causes has been a

business practice since who knows when. But the term ’cause-related

marketing’ - establishing a mutually beneficial joint promotion - goes

back to 1984.

That’s when American Express came up with a promotion to raise awareness

and money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty with a tie-in to

card usage. The idea was simple - every time a card was used during a

promotional period, the company would donate a dollar to the cause;

every time an application resulted in a new card being issued, dollars 5

went to our Lady of the Harbor.

Win-win situation

It was the proverbial win/win proposition. The statue got a facelift

(the company raised dollars 1.7 million), and Amex got a jump in card

usage and new members. The company also gained high marks with

consumers, along with a big ’thumbs up’ from employees and others for

doing a nice job for a good cause.

Today the number of companies pairing up with causes could rival the

number of ships out in the harbor on Bicentennial Day. About half of all

corporations today have causes they champion, according to Carol Cone,

CEO of Boston-based Cone Inc., who has been at the forefront of

strategic philanthropy for 20 years. And consumers solidly support these

activities as well (see sidebar).

How can these strategic partnerships stand out in a sea of cause-related

clutter? It used to be that businesses latched onto a charity for a

sales promotion - usually publicized through advertising. But cause

marketing has evolved from those short-term, sales-driven promotions

into what Cone terms ’cause branding’ - as companies integrate social

issues into business strategy as a way to position and differentiate


Some examples. Apparel maker Liz Claiborne has taken on domestic


Campbell Soup contributes school supplies. Home Depot helps build

low-cost housing (including with Habitat for Humanity). Ice cream maker

Ben & Jerry’s has promoted a myriad of causes, including saving the rain


Companies who stand for something will stand out in the market. But as

the number of companies involved increases, they’ll need even higher

levels of innovation and communication to stand up and be counted.

Public relations tactics are proving to be one of the most effective

ways to communicate the nature of these cause-related partnerships.

But ’programs today won’t succeed on media relations alone,’ Cone


An integrated communication program must send a clear message via

newsletters, speeches, ads, catalogs and annual reports. For example,

JCPenney Can Do Afterschool provides curriculums in binders - that

prominently display the program’s logo - for Boys & Girls Clubs.

PR pros in particular should be aware of cause-related marketing - they

are the ideal partners because they are used to dealing with internal

and external publics, says Rebecca Leet, principle of Rebecca Leet &

Associates, Arlington, VA, which helps nonprofits find suitable business


Leet believes many not-for-profit organizations are focused solely on

securing contributions but could gain more if they looked at the bigger

picture. ’Nonprofits invariably have an educational component to their

mission,’ she says, and corporations can help better market their


According to Leet, nonprofits need to understand their value to business

and be able to communicate it in marketing terms. A recognizable name

and solidly entrenched reputation are valuable commodities, she


Intimate relations

PR pros are getting involved in cause marketing in a more intimate


The Public Relations Society of America has decided to tackle a problem

confronting millions of Americans by developing KIDS (Kids in a

Drug-free Society), a nationwide initiative designed to help parents

communicate with their children about drugs. Funded in part by the

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and coordinated by the PRSA, the

multimedia program will soon be launched through the human resource

departments of companies in five test cities - Atlanta, Cleveland,

Dallas, Indianapolis and Portland, OR.

Since the program is provided free-of-charge exclusively through the

participating companies, it also will help those companies foster a

family-friendly corporate culture, explains Brigadier General Ron

Sconyers (USAF Retired), president and CEO of KIDS.

An important element of a cause-related relationship, experts say, is

that the cause should have a connection to the company’s business. For

example, when Twinsburg, OH-based K&M International added a plush monkey

to its ’Wild Republic’ line of upscale toy animals, it decided to

partner with Helping Hands, a Boston-based organization that trains

monkeys to assist severely disabled people.

According to the agreement, K&M will donate two or three cents for each

plush monkey sold (they retail for between dollars 6 and dollars 10).

More importantly, it will give in-kind help to gain exposure for the

cause, for example, by focusing the group’s marketing efforts,

especially on the Internet.

Preparing a monkey to assist handicapped people costs around dollars


’Without the help of companies like K&M, we couldn’t do it,’ says

Helping Hands executive director Judi Zazula.

Jan Gusich, president of Akhia Public Relations in Cleveland, who

brought the company and charity together, says she will promote the

partnership largely through grass roots PR. She predicts the

relationship will help the group double the number of monkeys it places

each year (currently six).

Goodwill to all

Cause-marketing programs serve up ’tremendous goodwill for the company

while building corporate morale among the employees,’ says Jim Horton,

senior account executive at O’Connor Kenny Partners, a communications

consulting firm for companies and nonprofits in Memphis, TN. He points

to ’More to Share,’ a grass roots campaign his agency developed for one

of its clients, Honeysuckle White Turkey.

For a promotion period in advance of Thanksgiving - key turkey-buying

season - Honeysuckle gives away free turkeys. The company encourages its

customers - local grocers - to create events in their own communities,

usually with a media partner and a recognizable charity. In one town it

could be a charity dinner. In another, movers and shakers might compete

in a publicized ’carve off,’ with proceeds going to a


It’s been five years since this promotion was initiated. ’There’s enough

flexibility for it to keep growing,’ Horton says. Not only have the

charities’ donations increased, they’ve helped the nonprofits develop

relationships with the media and donors in their hometowns.

Cause-related activities help companies do well and feel good. And PR

will play an increasingly important role in publicizing those


In fact, PR is an important part of corporate giving in general. Ask

Paul Newman - he’s in the unlikely role of PR pro, promoting the

Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy by personally visiting

other CEOs to encourage their participation.


Eight in 10 Americans have a more positive view of companies who support

a cause they care about, according to the 1999 Cone/Roper Cause-related

Trends Report. Two- thirds surveyed believe cause marketing should be

standard business practice and two-thirds report they would be likely to

switch brands or retailers to one associated with a good cause if price

and quality were equal.

To be successful, cause-related activities must be relevant, credible

and long-term, and involve senior management, experts say. Ideally they

should function on three levels - national, local and grass roots.

O’Connor Kenny Partners offers these pointers for making cause marketing

efforts succeed:

1 Create a relationship with a group that ties to the company’s central


2 Develop a public relations program that works in conjunction with the

activity to increase the media exposure to the company and charity


3 Make the activity fill a community need.

4 Develop a unique approach that will generate extensive media


5 When possible, tie trade partners into the consumer event.

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