SunCom CSR efforts forge connection

Embedding itself in local communities, SunCom proves it 'Cares' through extensive CSR initiative

Embedding itself in local communities, SunCom proves it 'Cares' through extensive CSR initiative

Consumer-centric brands have been increasing their focus on corporate social responsibility for the past couple of years. Brands have begun to realize that striking an emotional connection with consumers by being good corporate citizens is almost as important as proving that they have quality products and services.

This is a notion that hasn't been missed by SunCom Wireless, a Southeast regional wireless company with more than 1 million subscribers. Last Valentine's Day, the company launched SunCom Cares, a program designed to provide monetary support to nine Boys and Girls Clubs of America throughout the Carolinas and one Junior Achievement club based in Charlotte, NC.

Rose Cummings, executive director of corporate communications at SunCom Wireless, says that before deciding upon the youth-focused organizations SunCom did an extensive assessment to find what causes would resonate most with citizens within the footprint it services, which includes the Carolinas, parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. Education was at the top of that list.

Cummings says the key to successful CSR initiatives is entrenching yourself in the community and cause; otherwise, it looks like mere lip service.

"It's more than just writing a check from another city; it's about being in those communities and caring about what's important to that community," Cummings says. "You can't be all things to all people, particularly when you have a limited amount of funds. You want to be a good steward of those funds, so I find it important to focus on the communities' needs - not SunCom's."

Larry Britt, VP of marketing at SunCom Wireless, agrees. "I think it's a terrific cause that plays particularly well in our markets," Britt says. "It's a good choice for us and helps us cement our position in the communities where we operate and do business. That pays dividends to us in many ways, including, on a day-to-day basis, the conduct of our business with our employees, providing a good place for them to work, being socially responsible, and doing good things for the community."

Once a cause was identified, Cummings says, the goal became making sure it used its funds in the most appropriate way, which meant using a strategic approach. "I think approaching CSR efforts strategically, just like you would any other PR or communications initiative, is critical," Cummings says.

When SunCom launched the program, it did so with an initial monetary donation of $120,000. Cummings says that money pays for Power Hour after-school tutoring and mentoring programs in most of the clubs.

Cummings knows CSR is becoming a bigger part of the communications strategy for corporations across the country, but for a company with a presence in the Southeast like SunCom, she says it's a must.

"I don't think we have a choice," she says. "In the Southeast, it's our responsibility to put something back into the community. In this particular area, it's an expectation. If we're going to be a part of the Carolinas, then there's really no option."

But she also realizes this is a strategy that doesn't come with a quick ROI.

"We know we have to be patient because we understand that these types of initiatives don't pay off immediately," Cummings explains. "It's a long-term investment into a community because if the community thrives, then that's good for our business."

As part of SunCom Cares, the company also has a partnership with the NFL's Carolina Panthers and their quarterback Jake Delhomme. Delhomme is the SunCom Cares ambassador and does speaking engagements on the program's behalf and takes part in activities, such as coaching a flag football game for 50 Boys and Girls Club kids at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte. "We have a special limited-edition Jake Delhomme autographed Razr cell phone," Cummings says, "and part of the sales proceeds of the phones go to the Boys and Girls Clubs' youth scholarship program."

She says the CSR efforts also play a key role when it comes to hiring and keeping staff.
"We attract a fair number of young employees in their mid-20s to mid-30s," Cummings says. "And that particular demographic likes to know that they are contributing to something and are a part of something, and I think this definitely helps with recruitment and retention to some extent, as well."

She says SunCom already has plans for celebrating the one-year anniversary.
"My hope is that in February we will have a SunCom Cares month, and I will put every associate into a volunteer activity that month," Cummings says.

SunCom also looks to get employees involved in volunteer work as much as possible. "We provide a benefit to all SunCom associates," she says. "They get eight hours a year for community service with pay."

AT A GLANCE

Company:
SunCom Wireless

CEO:
Mike Kalogris

Headquarters:
Berwyn, PA

Revenues and latest earnings:
Q2 2006 revenue was $24.5 million

Competitors:
Verizon, Cingular

KeyTrade titles:
Wireless Week, RCR Wireless News, and any kind of telecoms- and technology-related publications

PR budget: Undisclosed

Marketing and Comms Team:
Larry Britt, VP of marketing
Rose Cummings, APR, executive director of corporate communications
Rosemary Bonawitz, senior field marketing manager
Paige Layne, corporate comms manager

Marketing services agencies:
PR: Capstrat, Kekst
Advertising: MFP, New York

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