This year's PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey reveals that more than ever consumers expect companies to give back.
In turn, those companies are responding with cause-related programs that engage not only consumers, but their employees as well.
KitchenAid, one of five brands that fall under the Whirlpool corporate umbrella, has been raising funds for Susan G. Komen for the Cure since 2001 - $5 million in the US and $6 million globally.
The "Cook for the Cure" program has two primary features: KitchenAid sells pink gadgets - mixers, food processors, and blenders, for example - with a percentage of the sale going to Komen. The company also partnered with Gourmet for "Cook for the Cure" dinner party kits. Together, they're encouraging consumers to host dinner parties, and raise money for Komen for the Cure in the process.
Because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, programs that benefit that cause are seemingly everywhere. However, just as the fight against the disease continues long after the month is up, so does the presence of its symbol - the ubiquitous pink ribbon. It stands beside a slew of other colors, logos, events, and campaigns that are designed to raise awareness of different issues.
This year's PRWeek/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey was conducted at a time when CSR, cause-related marketing, and just plain old good will have become a societal standard and a corporate necessity. Perhaps more than any other time in recent memory, consumers are eager advocates for both nonprofits and for-profit companies that support causes about which they are passionate.
The question now isn't whether a company should embark upon a cause program, but how to incorporate that program into its business strategy. Because in the end, not only will the cause benefit from that program, but the company and brand will as well.
"At the end of the day, there are still public companies that are facing quarterly stock pressures," says Mike Swenson, Barkley PR president. "But as we continue as a society, we don't look at everything in the world of marketing and communications through the prism of financial success.
"Companies are beginning to clearly understand that there is a return on their reputational investment," he adds. "[And] cause is the perfect storm to allow companies to engage employees and customers in a more meaningful way."
The Cause Survey polled 225 consumers, evenly split between male and female (112 and 113) and sliced about equally among three age groups (18-29, 30-41, and 42-60). Of those, 90.7% responded that it's important for companies to support causes and charities.
According to the survey, high percentages had given money to charitable groups (59.6%), purchased products that benefited a cause (45.8%), and volunteered their time (33.3%) over the past year. More than 72% of consumer respondents said they had bought a certain brand because it supported a cause they believe in, a rise from 64% in 2006. Brands that were identified as most committed to charitable causes were Newman's Own, Microsoft, and Yoplait.
Consumers who get involved with programs such as these also see a personal reward. Nearly 80% said that feeling good about themselves for helping a cause is the most important benefit of donating to a charity or participating in such events.
The survey also questioned 143 marketers, 52.4% of which reported that their companies engage in cause-branding programs. Those corporate respondents also placed Newman's Own on the top if the list of most committed companies, followed by Microsoft, Target, and Avon.
These top companies, both in the eyes of consumers and those of corporate peers, have certainly seen a boost in their reputation as a result of their charitable efforts.
And corporate marketers are sensing the benefits. Among those with cause programs, 65.3% said they see PR results (media hits and program prominence during grass-roots efforts) from their programs, 56% pinpointed heightened staff morale and retention, and 52% experience an enhanced relationship with target demographics.
Those enhanced relationships between companies and its audiences are due to a combination of philanthropic work and the solutions that these programs offer.
The Clorox Company's Hidden Valley Ranch brand heard from mothers constantly about an age-old problem: getting their kids to eat vegetables. Through research with the University of California- Davis, the company discovered kids who had Hidden Valley Ranch dressing on their plates would eat 23% more vegetables. From these two facts, a cause-branding program was developed.
In 2006, the Hidden Valley Ranch brand introduced the "Love Your Veggies School Lunch Campaign" as a pilot program in six schools. For 2007, the company, along with its partners, the School Nutrition Association and its Produce for Better Health Foundation, plans to award 50 schools a $10,000 grant each to use toward a fresh produce program of their choice. Hidden Valley Ranch has also partnered with a children's publishing company, Weekly Reader, to produce materials that will reach an additional 30,000 schools nationwide.
"Not only are we doing something that's necessary, it allows us to develop better relationships with key consumers and make a strong connection, not just in their heads, but in their hearts," says Drew McGowan, group manager of marketing communications for The Clorox Company. "We want to connect with consumers in the most authentic way possible, but we also want to do what's right for consumers and for the communities where we live, work, and play."
It must be authentic
Authenticity is crucial when planning a cause-marketing program. Of the consumers surveyed, 21.8% assumed a corporation's reason for having a cause-marketing program is to demonstrate what it cares about. However, 24.4% said they believe companies are motivated by a desire to get publicity.
A key indicator of authenticity is sustainability. Since 1999, Whirlpool has given $34 million to Habitat for Humanity along with refrigerators, ranges, and other household items from its product line. It has also pledged to furnish appliances for every home built until 2011. By the end of 2006, Whirlpool had donated 73,000 appliances to 36,000 homes.
"We believe in the cause and the regional nature of it that lets us do work across the country and lets our workforce become actively engaged wherever they live," says Jeff Davidoff, VP of marketing communications at Whirlpool.
Looking to reach even more families, the company added its Building Blocks initiative in 2006, which sends volunteers, among them, many Whirlpool employees, to a neighborhood for one week to build an entire block of homes. (In 2008, Building Blocks will go to Dallas.)
"It was, from the outset, an act of corporate philanthropy," says Davidoff. "In 2004, it took on another role as a brand message. We make very large, heavy metal machines, often with big motors. This puts a human face on what could be a very cold metal category."
With its cause programs, Whirlpool found that it was tapping into an emotional connection with its consumers, as well as engaging its employees. According to the survey, of those corporations with cause-marketing programs, 45.3% identified consumer engagement as the most important component of a strong cause branding program and 28% identified staff engagement as most important.
Telling your CSR story
While making others happy is certainly a motivator, companies can also use their cause-marketing programs to create a competitive advantage.
"If an organization isn't telling its story, it's missing an opportunity to ensure that potential customers have the facts," says Susan Puflea, EVP at GolinHarris and leader of its Change practice. "If a company isn't telling its story, others are going to tell it for them, and it may not be the story they want told."
While companies may have once been wary about discussing their philanthropic efforts, Puflea notes that they need not be nervous about offending stakeholders by mixing business with charity.
"More organizations are getting more actively engaged in CSR initiatives and talking about what they're doing," says Puflea. "People are giving companies permission to approach [this] as a business strategy."
Brian Maynard, brand marketing director for KitchenAid and recently appointed global director of CSR at Whirlpool, says companies were once uncomfortable talking about their good works. How-ever, a cause-marketing program backed by communications is necessary to raise public awareness.
Of those marketers with cause marketing programs, 33.3% identified marketing support of an issue or cause as "most important" to a strong program. To that end, 65.3% said they actively promote their cause efforts, with press releases and internal communications being the most popular ways.
"There's a fine line between being boastful and being philanthropic," Maynard says. "You have every right and reason to inform consumers of philanthropic activities. It's becoming increasingly important to consumers, employees, and potential future employees."
Indeed, the survey showed that 14.7% of those marketers with programs "strongly agreed" that companies that have cause programs have an easier time finding top-notch recruits.
Maynard says anecdotally that he hears regularly from retail stores that people are buying a KitchenAid product because of its Komen for the Cure affiliation. It's helped with recruitment, too, he adds.
"On campuses, a number of [candidates] will ask specifically what CSR activities [we have]," he says, "and tell us that they're basing some of their decision on what kinds of programs we have."
Brooks Brothers, the high-end clothing company, also sees benefits with existing employees. The company has done philanthropic work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and other charities, prompting them to streamline their efforts and create the Golden Fleece Foundation.
"We look to align ourselves with programs our associates believe in," says Emilie Antonetti, MD of the Brooks Brothers foundation.
Because so many of their charitable events take place in-store - the company conducts about 100 per year nationwide - associate engagement is a key component.
"The associates are the key essential to the success of a cause-related program," says Antonetti. "We can count on them to engage in the programs. And our associates feel good. Anybody would feel good."
Engagement is one result that corporations seek, but hard and fast numbers that measure impact are also highly sought. Some elements of a program are easy to calculate: Whirlpool can count how many houses it helps build; Hidden Valley knows that 50 grants will be donated for food programs.
However, finds the survey, seeing (or not seeing) the business results of these programs is a deterrent to starting one. Of the marketers without cause programs, nearly 52% said it was because the CEO/ senior executives don't believe it will impact business goals and 40.7% said they it's because CEO/ senior executives don't believe the programs support business goals.
But corporate respondents to the Cause Survey recognize the benefits to reputation that the overall program can offer. Of those with cause programs, 17.3% "strongly agreed" that a poor corporate reputation can be aided by cause branding programs.
Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the philanthropic arm of the engineering and manufacturing company, works in a wide variety of areas, supporting programs to benefit science and math education.
Mindful of the shortage of people entering the science and engineering fields, it partnered with NASA in 2004 for FMA Live!, a traveling science concert that teaches middle school students about Newton's three laws of motion, the basics for an engineer. It has also used scholarships to target middle school students and the children of Honeywell employees.
"If more students get excited and interested by science in middle school, more will pursue careers in science 10 years down the road," says Tom Buckmaster, VP, communications and president of Honeywell Hometown Solutions.
The company uses a Six Sigma approach when tackling its cause-marketing programs, but Buckmaster says the quality of his partners also gives him faith.
"They bring an expertise, understanding, and credibility in a specific area that complements our history and experience in the marketplace," he says.
Across the board, companies tout the relationships they have with nonprofits, not only for the instant trust that these groups instill in consumers, but also for the knowledge of the cause landscape that they lend.
For a brand taking its first dip in the cause-marketing pool, that expertise can be even more vital.
Lay's, the snack food brand from Pepsi Co, wanted to provide an outlet to consumers who were looking for a chance to give back. Lay's target audience - mostly women, 25-54, primarily moms - would have a natural attachment to any program that helped kids.
Enter the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has been granting wishes to children with life-threatening diseases for more than 25 years. Lay's has tremendous brand penetration, but still says Make-A-Wish was instrumental in fashioning a successful campaign.
"We looked at what the Lay's brand stood for," says Ram Krishnan, brand manager at Lay's. "The essence of it is simple joy. These are two powerful brands that stood for the same thing."
"Destination Joy presented by Lay's" launched in June with an appearance by Tim McGraw on Good Morning America. A 10-day media blitz followed with events held in six cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Wal-Mart, Lay's' biggest customer, got involved by placing Lay's products, bundled McGraw's CDs, in its stores.
Due to its far-reaching network of chapters, Make-A-Wish was also able to give the program a local presence.
"They could give us local relevance very fast," says Krishnan.
Uncle Ben's also took a local approach when it began its recent Kids CafŽ initiative (with America's Second Harvest), opening its first cafŽ location in its backyard - Greenville, MS.
"Mars [the Uncle Ben's parent company] is committed to giving back to the communities in which we do business," says Tami Cole, communications manager for Mars Food US. "Beyond just the Katrina disaster, with our plant located in the Delta region, a lot of employees were affected."
Local, national, and global altruism is indeed the crux of cause marketing. And when it comes down to it, getting consumers, employees, and even corporate executives involved is logical.
"We're a small world that needs each other to make things better," says Barkley's Swenson. "If you have a society of people that want to make the world better, it makes sense for companies to create programs that will engage this set of consumers in giving back and, at the same time, [allow them to] engage that company in new and different ways."
The PRWeek/Barkley PR Cause Survey was conducted by PRWeek and Millward Brown. E-mail notification was sent to approximately 8,222 consumers and marketing pros and a total of 368 people (225 consumers and 143 marketing pros) completed the survey online between August 27 and September 17, 2007. Results aren't weighted.
This report provides selected highlights. Full results - offering additional data - are available in PDF format for $150. Please contact