Firms serve as mediator in corporate-NGO alliances

As corporations make increased and more visible advances into the realm of social responsibility, many are seeking to form functional alliances with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) they formerly considered adversaries. As such, PR agencies often must take on new roles in order to bring these two seemingly disparate groups together.

As corporations make increased and more visible advances into the realm of social responsibility, many are seeking to form functional alliances with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) they formerly considered adversaries. As such, PR agencies often must take on new roles in order to bring these two seemingly disparate groups together.

"One of the challenges when you bring together two organizations is bringing together two different cultures," says Chris Deri, head of Edelman's global CSR and sustainability practice. "From a simplistic starting point, companies want to make money and deliver financial results, and NGOs want to achieve a societal or environmental good. Smart players on opposite sides of the ledger recognize the value that the partner can bring in terms of perspective."

Corporations have an entrepreneurial and strategic sense that can often be missing at NGOs. Advocacy groups, however, can provide credibility on an issue. In tandem, both can leverage a relationship as a means of transparency.

"What we're seeing more than ever is not just partners, but convergence," says Raphael Bemporad, cofounder and principal at BBMG. Increasingly, Bemporad says, he sees NGOs that are using consumer methods in their work and corporations that are more "mission-driven."

He also notes that PR firms must work to align their goals in order to transform the corporate-NGO relationship from a "partnership of convenience to a partnership of purpose." Agencies, he says, can use PR and marketing initiatives to create integrated messages and execute communications activities that will "help organizations break through a cluttered marketplace, build relationships with stakeholders, and inspire action."

Scott Pansky, LA GM and cofounder of Allison & Partners, takes a methodical approach when bringing a corporation and NGO together. Regardless of which party his firm is representing, he says the first step is to assess what issues are most important to the client and the client's community. Then, the agency will help the client find a partner to suit those needs.

"You have to understand the assets [that] each party brings to the table," says Pansky. "When you negotiate between the two [parties], we're the marriage counselors. In that marriage counseling phase, you have to understand the good and maximize the opportunities that both have to offer."

In the end, Pansky says, success can be measured differently. For instance, an NGO may achieve its objectives by increasing volunteerism or donations. A corporation, on the other hand, may be looking to raise brand loyalty by demonstrating its good will to consumers. Either way, the aspirations of both parties can be attained.

But before talk of success starts, many times firms must step in to open up the lines of communication between the organizations.

"Oftentimes, the agency is a translator between the two," says Deri. "When we do it right, we create something that is more powerful in the sum than in the parts in terms of impact and credibility."

Agencies should become more adept at assuming this responsibility because it's one they will likely shoulder for a long time to come.

"This can be transformative for marketing, business, and society," says Bemporad. "This is truly the model of the future, and the paradigm that shows that living your values is great business."

Key points:

Firms must often act as intermediaries to tap into each partner's assets

The parties' inherently dissimilar cultures can complicate the creation of a corporate-NGO alliance 

Success may be measured differently for a corporation and NGO, but can be achieved for both

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