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.
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
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.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
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
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.