NEW YORK: As companies of all stripe rushed to raise or donate funds to Southeast Asia last week, much of the PR industry advised clients on how they should - and often, should not - publicize such efforts.
Cone Communications, a firm often considered synonymous with cause-related marketing, sent an advisory to clients just after the disaster on the finer points of promoting charity work.
"It is always tricky for a company to strike the right tone in making a contribution of money or resources to help after a human tragedy," it read. "No company wants to seem exploitative or inappropriate."
Jonathan Jaffe, president of Jaffe Communications, advised one client away from doing just that. The client, a New Jersey-based housing developer, was prepared to issue a release promoting its efforts: $500 donated to the victims for every home it sells in the month of January.
But because the effort could be interpreted as an attempt to drum up business, Jaffe advised his client to frame the offer as an attempt to get competitors to give, as well.
"If [companies are] going to publicize efforts, we have to figure out ways to confer there is a greater good," Jaffe said. "Journalists have good memories."
Cone's advisory went on to suggest that companies use internal communications to inform staffers about donations, place brief messages on their websites, or issue brief news releases - without self-congratulations - on either Business Wire or PR Newswire only.
CEO Carol Cone noted that her clients with businesses or suppliers in the affected region, such as Starbucks and Limited Brands, were early responders.
"Citizens and employees want to know you're participating," Cone said. "Mention [what you are doing] on your website and let the media decide how they want to aggregate that."
Based on a 2004 corporate citizenship telephone survey of 1,033 adults, Cone found that 22% of Americans want companies to focus globally, compared with 9% in 1997. Additionally, 77% of respondents wanted companies to feel responsible in helping support causes.
Tsunami aid - how the PR community is helping
The PR community did more than advise clients last week on how to promote their donations. Many acts of generosity were their own; below are just a few.
Holding company Interpublic Group donated a lump sum of $300,000. Omnicom representatives said they, too, were preparing a sizeable donation.
Waggener Edstrom donated $50,000 to Doctors Without Borders and matched employee donations, which totaled $13,000 by midweek.
Fleishman-Hillard offered staffers a one-time payroll deduction to a relief fund, which was also matched by the firm.
APCO, which maintains a Jakarta office, was matching staffer donations and encouraged them to volunteer on site.
And the size of the firm did not always determine the desire to give. Sam Brown Corporate Communications, a small Pennsylvania-based firm, donated $1,000 to UNICEF.