Be ready to clarify cause marketing

When American Express first linked card usage with support for the Statue of Liberty in 1983, cause marketing was a groundbreaking strategy.

When American Express first linked card usage with support for the Statue of Liberty in 1983, cause marketing was a groundbreaking strategy.

Since then, thousands of companies have aligned themselves with causes to create increasingly diverse and sophisticated programs.

Disappointingly, press coverage of this field remains relatively unsophisticated. I know because, as the founder of the Cause Marketing Forum, I'm frequently called for industry analysis - especially in October when breast cancer campaigns flood the marketplace.
Cause marketing has generated billions of dollars worth of cash, in-kind, and volunteer support for numerous worthy charities over the years, yet journalists often approach the subject as if it was a breeding ground for scandal.

As a former reporter, I fully understand and appreciate their desire to root out any unscrupulous programs. Fortunately, very few major initiatives offer any fodder for investigative journalists. If your PR team knows how to handle the three most common questions about the concept of cause marketing, you can help the press focus on the positive impact of your well-intentioned efforts.

Why doesn't the company just make a contribution to the charity instead of building a whole marketing campaign around it?

Many companies make corporate contributions expecting little more than acknowledgement in return. In this highly competitive era, however, it is increasingly
difficult for public companies  to dedicate substantial resources to programs that offer no return on investment.

Cause marketing is built on the belief that strategic corporate support of good works is a wise investment that will generate benefits for the business while also benefiting the cause. A major advantage of this win-win approach is that such alliances are sustainable.

Isn't it wrong for a company to make money off a charity's appeal?

Companies succeed and fail based on their ability to create marketing programs that persuade customers to purchase their products and services. Many marketing programs tap into the appeal of celebrities, sports, entertainment, and other motivators that may be effective, but generate no social benefit. Cause marketing enables companies to invest those dollars in programs that benefit the business and society.

How much does the purchase of your product generate for a charity?

It is critical for cause marketing programs that link consumer action to a donation to be transparent. Make information about the relationship easily accessible and crystal clear for consumers and easy to explain to the press.

There is no industry standard for contribution percentages or total donation ceilings. It is imperative that you perform due diligence in the form of competitive research, consultation with your nonprofit partner, and, for lack of a better name, a smell test to determine that the amount of your donation is appropriate to the scope of your overall campaign. Are you going to be comfortable describing a $1 million campaign that generates only $10,000 for the cause?

Do your homework, anticipate these common questions, and you'll play an important role in helping your company or client develop a proud record of doing well by doing good.

David Hessekiel is the president of Cause Marketing Forum.

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