CSR Roundtable: Purposeful pursuit [Extended]

CSR efforts are vital for brands because of the societal and business benefits. From direct bottom-line impact to choosing the right partners, industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York City for this RF|Binder-hosted roundtable to discuss communicators' integral role in advancing such initiatives

Participants (alpha order)
-Lee Ballin, head of sustainable business programs, Bloomberg
-Scott Beaudoin, global practice director, corporate and brand citizenship, MSLGroup
-Amy Binder, CEO, RF|Binder
-Anne Buchanan, president, Buchanan Public Relations
-Lenore Feder, director of comms and CSR, Viacom
-Joy Lehman, global sustainability manager, Hertz
-Karyn Margolis, director of CSR and sustainability, Avon
-Christine Riley Miller, senior director of CSR, Dunkin’ Brands
-RIchard Woods, SVP of corporate affairs, Capital One

Evolving definition
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
CSR has evolved to mean different things to different entities. How would each of you define it?

Amy Binder (RF|Binder): There is no one definition. For some organizations, it’s philanthropy. For some, it’s value creation. For others, it’s risk mitigation. Generally, though, it has to do with the communities in which you operate, but even then it could be driven by different reasons. A key point, however, is that sustainability and CSR are different. The former relates to issues that impact the sustainability of a company. That’s not the same as CSR, though the two certainly could have a close corelation and intersect with each other.

Richard Woods (Capital One): My favorite description is a a quote attributed to Arthur W. Page, who said businesses basically come into existence through public permission and are sustained through public approval. Getting that permission and sustaining that approval is core.

So with that in mind, CSR means making the people and communities we serve more successful, especially, but not limited to, people and communities with low-to-moderate incomes.

Christine Riley Miller (Dunkin’ Brands): The directive of our CSR practice is to protect and enhance brand reputation. We do that through our sustainable business practices. I also lead all of our corporate charitable contributions in the US, as well as disaster relief worldwide, so we have a broad set of responsibilities.

We are digging more deeply into what sustainability really means and how we ensure the long-term sustainability of our business. It’s how we communicate what we are doing externally in a meaningful way and integrating that into the DNA of our company, as opposed to just talking about CSR anecdotally.

Lee Ballin (Bloomberg): We’re at a tipping point for CSR where philanthropy is no longer just about giving money. It’s about sharing the skills your company has inside its offices to help nonprofits beyond the financial empowerment you might be able to give them. I like to call it CSO, corporate social opportunity. It’s taking your core competencies and providing solutions to your customers that will help them thrive in a low-carbon 21st century economy.

Anne Buchanan (Buchanan Public Relations): While almost all of our clients are engaged in some form of CSR, almost nobody calls it that. They tend to talk about giving back or community involvement. But of greater note, in the nearly 30 years I’ve been watching this evolve, CSR has moved less from activity and more to outcomes. What have we really done to change things in the community?

CSR has also become so much more about authenticity, which means getting employees involved and getting your hands dirty for the cause.

Joy Lehman (Hertz): CSR falls under the umbrella of sustainability. Given the business we’re in, a lot of that sits within the environmental world. However, we recently moved our headquarters from New Jersey to Florida, so we’re looking at a new employee base. Where you are is an important part of sustainability and CSR, so whereas we used to solely focus on fuel economy and our carbon footprint, now we look at what these new employees want to see from us as we enter a new area.

Lenore Feder (Viacom): We’ve all talked about how CSR has evolved from something done on the side to being part of the business. It has taken a step further, though, to where it is truly becoming the essence of the business and the brand. It’s who you are and what you stand for. It’s employee engagement and philanthropy and social partnerships, but it’s equally how we talk to our audiences, what we say to them, how we’re helping them raise their own voices, and how we’re building even stronger connections with them.

Scott Beaudoin (MSLGroup): I loved what Lee said about opportunity. The word "responsibility" challenges me a bit because I feel it is table stakes. The businesses that are really doing well in society are those looking at environmental and social issues as opportunities to really bring their business forward.

We grappled with what we were going to name the dedicated practice at our firm and we ended up with corporate and brand citizenship. We are all citizens of the world and it’s our responsibility or opportunity to see how we can move society forward, including, of course, business leaders.

If I had to sum it up in two words, it would be "better business." By doing good in the world, you are making it better, but your business also gets better from the CSR efforts you undertake.

Karyn Margolis (Avon): When David McConnell founded our company in 1886, he said it has an obligation to corporate citizenship and a commitment to the well being of society and the environment. Quite prescient for 1886. And it’s what our company has been about ever since.

We empower women by giving them a low-cost entry into owning their own business, particularly in the developing world or low-income communities. And, of course, there is our long legacy in philanthropy and causes, most notably breast cancer.

In terms of evolution, our breast cancer funding is a good example. We have long focused on giving grants so agencies could provide care. Now we’re delving deep into the causes of the disease and finding ways to prevent it for future generations. That represents a sustainable, forward-looking approach to CSR.

Binder (RF|Binder): It’s interesting how some people have a slight problem with the term "corporate social responsibility." What is a better term for it? Might it get higher-level attention if it were called something else?

Lehman (Hertz): I don’t necessarily have the perfect term, but I do think "CSR" makes it hard to describe what your company is doing without it boiling down to recycling or philanthropy. Those are the two places people tend to think about because they are tangible and understandable. The discipline could certainly use a more consumer-ubiquitous name.

Miller (Dunkin’): Interesting anecdote. I was looking to fill a "CSR manager" position. I was very specific in detailing the responsibilities of this role. It was very much about reporting, stakeholder engagement, and issues management. The number of people I got with philanthropy backgrounds despite the fact there was not a single mention of philanthropy in the outreach was frustrating. But it does highlight how CSR has evolved to include so many things. In truth, you do it a disservice by trying to find a blanket term.

Ballin (Bloomberg): We have four distinct groups that when put together would be called CSR, but they enable us not to call it such. We have Sustainability, Philanthropy and Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion, and Wellness. By having those four different disciplines, we can communicate, both internally and externally, exactly what we are engaging in.

Woods (Capital One): A sustainable, corporately responsible profile goes right to the heart of our product itself, how it’s priced, how it’s marketed, and who we can market it to. That extends outward to the net impact you have on communities. We also have the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which requires banks to be involved in community development. For banks, in particular, CSR and reputation go hand in hand as it gets to the heart of how you engage with your community and customers.

Starting at the top
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Moreso than any prior year, the leaders at Davos 2015 truly emphasized the importance of social responsibility for business. What role are CEOs playing in empowering CSR initiatives?

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): Working with a CEO who truly gets it is one of the favorite parts of my job. Perfect examples are Unilever’s Paul Polman and Kay Krill at Ann Inc. She has fully embraced purpose as a real differentiator for her business and the people who work for her. Ann Inc. is a business of women for women. If it’s really about women, it has to take on women’s issues. Krill has really stitched the narrative from the women who make the clothes through the supply chain all the way up to the women who sell the clothes. Thanks to her, CSR transcends the whole organization.

To be effective, CSR doesn’t require a CEO be in the lead. I’ve seen it happen without that, but it is obviously helpful when the leader embraces it.

Woods (Capital One): It begins with the tone at the top. It is incredibly powerful when the entire company understands that reputation is important to the CEO and they expect it to be managed actively. The CEO needn’t be an expert on how to manage it. The fact it’s important to him or her galvanizes both opinion and activity around creating a more structured way of managing it.

Ballin (Bloomberg): Since day one, our sustainability group has been a chairman’s initiative, which lends immediate credibility both internally and externally. It underscores this is something integrated into our business strategy and operations. It’s something Mike Bloomberg truly believes in and has made part of our DNA. From the moment you join Bloomberg as a new hire, this is part of your orientation and you immediately know this will be integrated into your day-to-day activities.

Binder (RF|Binder): It’s not only the CEO. It’s the whole leadership team. Look at CVS Health and its decision to remove all tobacco products. It was driven by the CEO, but if he didn’t have the CFO on his side, it would never have happened. It was taking $2 billion out of its revenue. The CFO and the operations people had to be on board. The move was probably the best thing they could have done to reinforce what the brand is all about – wellness. And the value that brings to their reputation is enormous. But for any such move to be effective, the entire leadership team must be 100% behind it.

Buchanan (Buchanan): For a lot of our smaller clients, we have found CSR initiatives can be very personal to the CEO. Yuengling’s Ice Cream was brought back a year ago after 30 years. Its CEO David Yuengling is a cancer survivor, so it puts a lot of energy behind cancer causes. His wife is a public school teacher and it has a program where they donate product to help raise funds for schools. When the CEO is behind the CSR efforts, particulary when it’s a cause personally important to him or her, it puts added juice behind the whole program.

Margolis (Avon): Sheri McCoy has been our CEO for three years. Each of those years she has walked in our Breast Cancer Walk in New York. She walks with her husband and sons. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor and this cause is really important to her. Her integral involvement is a huge rallying cry for internal audiences as we try to get our associates to sign up to walk and raise funds. Moreover, her involvement and commitment brings a level of authenticity to our efforts that nothing else can match.

Feder (Viacom): The CEO sets the tone, but it’s the employees who reinforce it because they are the ones out there doing the work. Our CEO Philippe Dauman gets that and is a major driving force for our annual day of volunteerism, which is a global event. He emphasizes the importance of everyone taking part. He also understands Viacom is a company that employs so many young people who come in demanding that social responsibility be a key part of our company’s activities. He’s created an environment where employees are empowered to voice their opinion on the causes we should be looking at.

The bottom line
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
How does CSR specifically impact a company’s bottom line?

Binder (RF|Binder): Value creation. Look at CVS. It created value by reinforcing its purpose. But there is also the stock price. SASB [the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board] is instilling a real sense that sustainability issues are material. And a recent study produced by Harvard professors indicated a belief that if they are material, they need to be reported in a company’s 10Q [quarterly report to the SEC]. If they get reported, data points need to be broken down. And once you start reporting those details, it becomes open to investors.

There is a prevailing sense that over the next five years the majority of companies will be doing such reporting. That will have an obvious and deep impact on stock price. 

Woods (Capital One): Major moves made by banks generally require regulatory approval. When you apply to get that approval, the doors are typically open for public comment, whether it be via email, letters, or public hearings. We were the subject of one such set of hearings, called for by the Federal Reserve, when we announced our intent to acquire ING Direct [in 2011].

Anyone is entitiled to comment and testimony is often given on the grounds of whether or not the move’s net impact will be good for communities and good for the banking system. Notice that the standard was not a legal or regulatory one. It was incredibly important for us to have allies. And we did, based on relationships we built through the community work we were doing. CSR helped pave the way for a major business move.

Miller (Dunkin’): We are nearly a 100% franchised organization, so our bottom line is the profits our franchisees make. Issues such as value creation and stock price are certainly important, but all franchisees care about is making money on the ground. As such, you really need to make a solid business case to convince them CSR efforts will impact their profitability. If you decide a portion of any sales will go to a cause, that comes from their bottom line. In many ways, a company such as ours must take a more pragmatic approach.

Ballin (Bloomberg): For so long, the prevailing philosophy has been it’s a good thing to do and it makes good business sense. We want to flip that to where people instinctively think it makes good business sense and it’s a good thing to do.

My division works with 21 different operating groups within the company. The portfolio approach we’ve taken to our environmental projects has saved the company $68 million since 2008.

Our founder also chairs SASB. On the Terminal, Bloomberg collects relevant sustainability data from public companies and places that information right next to traditional financial analysis. And the number of investors looking at this information grew 70% from 2013 to 2014. In prior years, that rate grew about 40% each year, so it’s clear investors are using this data as part of their decision-making process.

Buchanan (Buchanan): An interesting development is the rise of entities whose line of business could very much qualify as CSR. There is the Community Development Finance Institution. Its major funders are banks that earmark funds to be put into under-banked communities. There are also ethical sourcing companies. When they go abroad to get garments made, these companies make sure they do so in plants where workers are paid fairly and treated ethically. An industry is growing up around helping major brands behave ethically and in a socially responsible manner.

Lehman (Hertz): We work with most Fortune 500 companies, so in addition to being a service provider we are also part of many organizations’ supply chain. Creating more sustainable travel options is a real business opportunity for us because many of the companies we work with have sustainability commitments around no carbon and the like, so we have an active role in helping them manage and reduce it. Our relationships have grown beyond the transactional to where we are working together to accomplish a sustainability goal.

Beyond that, every car rental is basically a test drive. People absolutely form opinions about vehicles during the rental period. We have a lot of hybrids in our fleet. With the millions of renters we have, we’re helping chip away at the broad negative consumer sentiment toward hybrid vehicles.

Feder (Viacom): Advertising is a very significant part of our business. Over the past few years, the sales team has increasingly come to us because advertisers are more and more interested in marketing their social responsibility positions. They look to us to either develop an initiative or help them market existing efforts. Last year’s AT&T It Can Wait campaign is a prime example. We helped with the messaging around this great effort to curb texting while driving.

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): Profit and purpose are no longer mutually exclusive. For everyone around the globe, that is increasingly becoming the prevailing belief. The question then becomes how to make profit in a purpose-driven way.

We recently worked with a pharma company that was struggling to get tenders in the EU. We helped put together a campaign that underscored everything this company was doing in the supply chain and it helped them win approval. That’s a profit example right there.

The book Grow, written by former Procter & Gamble CMO Jim Stengel, looked at stock performance and growth of the major companies and there was a direct correlation between those companies’ core ideals and their profit growth over a period of time. That book unlocks the direct relationship between CSR and profit.

Margolis (Avon): We have 6 million Avon representatives around the world. They are our brand ambassadors. They are the ones selling our products. And we create special fundraising items for specific causes where major proceeds are donated. These products serve as a door-opener. They lead to conversations with customers about what Avon is doing. It helps customers realize that Avon stands for more than just beauty. There’s purpose behind it. That brings brand loyalty, which certainly has a bottom-line impact.

Talking talent
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What impact have CSR initiatives had on your recruitment and retention efforts?

Buchanan (Buchanan): I cannot tell you how enthusiastic our young people get when they can work on an account that has a cause behind it or some bigger, broader social agenda. In speaking to an executive search firm recently, this enthusiam is not quite as prevalent at more senior levels. However, when recruiting young talent, it is clearly meaningful to them that we are heavily invested in CSR.

Ballin (Bloomberg): The people we recruit increasingly want to know how they can use their skills beyond the borders of the company, especially on the programming side. And with investors paying more attention to this, CSR is imperative if you want to attract the top talent and continue to be relevant and successful in today’s economy.

Lehman (Hertz): The bigger the company, the more challenging it is to unite those very large, diverse employee bases. Providing opportunities for all those different staffers to get together is gold and a social cause is often just the thing that unites people that ordinarily wouldn’t come to the table. And not just get together in a room, but interact. The camaraderie built from such efforts certainly impacts retention.

Woods (Capital One): To build on that, a key metric we look for is associate engagement. We have found there is a very strong correlation between engaged associates and being involved in company-sponsored volunteer programs. About 60% of our associates are involved in an employee-sponsored volunteer program of one type or another. That’s a very important driver for us.

Binder (RF|Binder): Research has shown Millennials want to work for companies that are doing good for the world, but those companies don’t always want to communicate about it. Corporations need to do a better job of merging what they do internally with what they do externally.

Woods (Capital One): Far and away most of the hours and money we spend externally are actually Community Reinvestment Act-qualified, so we’re very keen on making sure these things dovetail.

Binder (RF|Binder): My daughter’s generation actually provides a very intersting insight into this. She is graduating from Harvard Business School and most of her friends are not going into finance. They are choosing to go work for startups who are doing something important or for consulting firms where they help companies figure out how to do things in a more responsible way.

Ten years ago, kids coming out of business school would all go into finance. Today, they are making choices where, for the moment, they make less money. Of course they assume the money will come when the startup changes the world, so this isn’t a long-term decision, but the fact they are willing to begin their careers making less money to do something impactful is noteworthy.

Another interesting element is how today’s graduates view business as a way to change the world. They want to use their skills to do that and they’ll take less money for the opportunity, at least initially.

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): Perhaps the right way to sum it up is that Millennials are less willing to take more money to go to a company they think isn’t doing good.

More than words
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Beyond speaking publicly about it, what responsibilities should communicators assume in advancing a company’s CSR efforts?

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): Our responsibility is to find the authenticity in CSR initiatives for companies and brands. There are so many great narratives and storytelling opportunities that come out of CSR initiatives and communicators are perfectly equipped to find them.

In addition, brands need to have a point of view. It’s not just about what you are doing to drive more sustainable business practices or social impact in the communities in which you’re operating. What’s your point of view in the areas you work in? Does something need to change? Do you see it a bit differently than others? That point of view is so important to the younger generation and it’s an element of CSR PR pros can truly help identify.

Ballin (Bloomberg): You have to avoid showboating. Coming out with these big proclomations will just open you up to criticism. However, if it’s a constant theme that is threaded into everything you do, you will build trust with all audiences that your CSR efforts are truly integrated into your company’s DNA.

Feder (Viacom): Communicators truly have a key role in shaping CSR initiatives. And research plays a huge role in that. From the platforms you use to spread the message to the partners you choose to work with to any calls to action you initiate, the communicator needs to be involved at every turn.

Miller (Dunkin’): Communicators need to fundamentally understand the value add to the business. It’s one thing to just say, "Oh Rainforest Alliance, certified dark roast, we’re really excited." Do you understand why we’re doing a certification program? And if you do, you need to know it’s less about the label of being Rainforest Alliance-certified and more about the credentials and weaving that into the entire narrative of the story of the product.

Our team is constantly trying to educate our internal communicators on why we should be talking about this ongoing program, not just when there is a promotion or campaign. This really should be woven into the way we talk about our company at all times. Communicators need to understand what this truly means to the company and why it is important to all stakeholders, internal and external.

Binder (RF|Binder): This is one of the areas where communicators really can get to the business strategy and help drive it. As Richard noted before, CSR can absolutely help build a brand’s reputation in the business objectives, so everyone involved needs to be working at the business-strategy level. It’s about getting it right, getting it focused, and making sure it really supports the purpose of the business.

Woods (Capital One): There are three things communicators must be able to do. First, be great listeners so they can truly understand where people are coming from and what they know and don’t know. Second, they need to be the biggest advocates within the company to get everyone to respond constructively to what they are hearing in ways that create a great fact set. Third, of course, is the engagement part. And in this case, it’s just as important to show as it is to tell.

And these three factors all work together. You listen so you can get the facts you need that will be the foundation for powerful engagament. None of the factors can work wihtout the others.

Margolis (Avon): The communicator’s role in the CSR world is part negotiator, part mediator, part diplomat. You hear external stakeholders’ concerns and you need to be able to communicate those back to business partners. You then hear their concerns and you need to negotiate a solution that works for everyone. It’s truly a much broader role than typical communications. There is so much one-to-one work in trying to get the business aligned with what external expectations are and then communicating that appropriately.

Buchanan (Buchanan): In the CSR arena, communicators really need to step back more than they are used to. From a very practical standpoint, we’ve had so much more success when we allow the recipients to tell the story rather than beat the chest of the organization that made the donation or launched the drive. Let those you intend to serve be the standard bearers to carry the story. It has so much more impact that way.

Lehman (Hertz): While storytelling is part of a communicator’s remit, its impact in the CSR arena is particularly strong. You can collect all the data in the world, but you have to take it and create a personal connection with various audiences. You have to take a big corporate story and make it meaningful for individuals. Perhaps the storytelling responsibility for communicators is not unique to the CSR arena, but the impact it has is very powerful in this area and, as such, amplifies PR’s powerful role.

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): There was an "A-ha" moment in my career last year related to Dumb Ways To Die [the big winner at the 2013 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity].

It was an effort out of Melbourne designed to keep kids off of railroad tracks, which is really a dumb way to die. The insight I took from this, which is something they did that was so right, was that it wasn’t only creative and communications that came up with it. They brought in members of the younger generation and they all came up with it together. This idea of co-creating stories is so powerful. Companies can co-create stories in the CSR arena through stakeholder engagement and in other ways.

Glocal mandate
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What are the particular challenges – and solutions – for rolling out global CSR initiatives most effectively in local regions around the world?

Margolis (Avon): We have 100 markets around the world, but not all of them participate in every campaign. Certain messages that work in some markets simply don’t resonate in others due to custom issues or what have you. The key in such situations is creating campaigns that are adaptable. To do that, you must engage all of your key markets and get input.

A good example is a campaign we did for Breast Cancer Awareness Month last year called Check Yourself. It was actually based on a video our Latin American markets created that was really terrific, even though we had to repurpose it a bit. There were a lot of women dancing around in bras. We didn’t think that would translate well in the US, so we brought in Paula Abdul, an Avon spokesperson, who helped create a song and dance that was all about educating women on their breast cancer risks.

One size doesn’t fit all, especially on a global scale. You have to start with that knowledge when embarking upon any CSR initiative.

Buchanan (Buchanan): I recently served as head of the CSR Committee for the Public Relations Global Network. We talk a lot about having a global footprint. We have hands and feet in major markets around the world, but we started asking ourselves: Is it possible to have a global fingerprint as well? Are there things we could do beyond the transactional and bringing just a modest boost into an economy? Can we do something transformational that changes lives?

A couple of years ago our meeting was in Capetown, South Africa. About 40 of us spent eight hours in the sun building a house. It was a totally new experience for all of us and it just totally transformed the network and cemented relationships among us. It changed our perspective on what CSR efforts should really look to accomplish. It also got us to think about allowing the host agency in any market we visit to determine what our effort should be. And that is actually harder than you might think because the notion of hands-on volunteerism isn’t quite as widely accepted or celebrated in some other regions as it is here in the US.

Feder (Viacom): HIV is a huge issue Viacom is involved with. Some of our most successful efforts have been driven by local markets. For example, a series was created in Kenya by the MTV Staying Alove Foundtaion called Shuga. It’s a program very much like Gossip Girl around HIV/AIDS. It’s a show, but it has a lot of messaging around the disease, protection, and domestic abuse. It’s about something that impacts that area accutely and it was a huge success there.

In addition, much like what Karyn spoke about, a program that initiated in Latin America has turned into an initiative we want to take global because it translates so well. It’s called Agents of Change an it’s all about finding and celebrating these young change agents. We are looking to roll it out in various markets in a way specific to each.

Binder (RF|Binder): Years ago, former Coca-Cola CMO Sergio Zyman said, "Think global, act local." That has been true for all marcomms for the past 25 years. People are interested in CSR around the world, but efforts have to be localized because customs are different and how people interact with each other is different. You can’t implement things the same way everywhere, but you can take a concept and commitment and find ways to create localized programs.

Ballin (Bloomberg): Employee engagement plays a huge role here, too. After all, they are the ones around the world who can help you fine tune your messaging in a way that will resonate with the local market.

When we started our sustainability initiative, we found that driving home US-centric messages around the world was falling flat. So we gathered four to seven people in 13 major offices around the world and determined we would focus on water-related issues.

And this is a great example of how this works. We were prepared to do a water campaign right after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. However, our Tokyo group was quick to note that while water is an obviously important issue, it wasn’t the main concern at the time. Energy was. So we repurposed an existing campaign around energy, brought it to that particular market, and it was very much in tune with what was going on in the local community. It really added a lot of credibility to our efforts by understanding what was happening on the ground.

Beaudoin (MSLGroup): The communications vehicles you can use certainly vary from region to region. We’re doing a big initiative ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference and the Conference of the Parties taking place later this year in Paris, where MSLGroup is headquartered. We are working on this whole Millennial initiative that is very much based around visuals, but there are many things we can’t do in China, for example, because of the ban on Instagram.

Simply from a tactical standpoint, certain comms channels don’t work in certain areas of the world. Your CSR efforts are challenged by such issues.

The right fit
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Ensuring your CSR efforts make sense with your business model has been established to be of paramount importance. In that vein, what are the keys to selecting the right partners or causes to work with?

Miller (Dunkin’): One of our causes is hunger. We’re a food company. We’re also a national brand with local business owners. As such, we sought a national partner that had a local presence in communities and, in turn, could have local relationships and local relevance to those communites. Feeding America fit us perfectly.

It’s a national brand, as we are. Everyone knows what it is generally, but it has a network of food banks very much tied to the needs of local communities. It helped us build a great network of local relationships with our franchisees and local field teams who could then partner with their local food bank in a way that makes sense for the community.

In short, it was a perfect match not just of cause, but also of business model. That’s what we look for.

Margolis (Avon): About ten years ago, at a point where our work in breast cancer was well established, we sought a second cause to champion. After much analysis, domestic violence emerged as an issue of great importance to women. And a key factor that makes it work so well for us is that it is a cause that not only aligns with our brand, but it personally resonates with our representatives.

Feder (Viacom): In the case of a company such as ours, addressing issues our audience cares about – which we determine through tons of research and surveying – is crucial. And the causes we partner with are a key result of that.

Another big challenge for us is deciding what celebrities we work with. Too often you’ll come across a big star who just wants the brand recognition, but isn’t really devoted to the issue and doing the necessary work. Part of research is making sure you determine that the celebrity with whom you will work is dedicated.

Woods (Capital One): There are limitless great causes out there, so for us it’s about identifying those that seem to grow organically out of our strategy. It needs to be something where someone can immediately see it makes sense for Capital One. And it has to tie into the business in a tangible way.

With respect to partners, we need to see a line of sight. We need to see not only how they can help us complete our mission in this area, but also how we can help them complete their mission. Because of that commonality of interest, we can expect a long, very fruitful relationship.

Miller (Dunkin’): Hunger is a cause that makes sense for Dunkin’ because of the sector we’re in. However, the business-model match is a very prevalent factor in choosing partners. Safety happens to be an important cause for us. The military is a very important audience for us. We support the USO [United Service Organization] because of the military factor, but also its great work with local centers that support families of troops in local communities.

Lehman (Hertz): Disaster relief is a major one for Hertz. Think about it. After a large tornado, a lot of cars are destroyed. We also have an equipment rental business. After Superstorm Sandy, we saw firsthand how the availability of food was hugely compromised. Food banks were severly stressed and we saw an opportunity to help them in a way that actually made sense for our business, particularly the Auto Transport part of our company.

The cause or partner need not always be something to which you can draw a straight line. In fact, sometimes it’s those different opportunities that really work well.

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