An impressive lineup of leaders convened last week in Dallas to talk about community partnerships and how they benefit all concerned - the communities being served and the brands that partake in such endeavors.
I'm not talikng about photo-ops and cutting checks. I'm talking genuine relationships that make sense for everyone. As the LDWWgroup-hosted event at Dallas' Belo Mansion proceded, each speaker inspired and educated with examples from which all brands can learn. And it kicked off with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.
Authenticity. It was a word hizzoner repeated numerous times as he addressed an audience of more than 100. With his marketing background and prior stint as Pizza Hut CEO, Rawlings has seen firsthand how a brand is rewarded by authentic community partnerships just as much as the markets they are helping.
A key indicator of that authenticity, he continued, is the level of employee involvement in such programs. Rawlings, who views his key job as being Dallas' chief brand officer, proudly noted that he witnessed that clearly during his stint at Pizza Hut – and he continues to see it in the city over which he now presides.
"We do everything big in Dallas, and that includes helping the community," explained Rawlings.
Each of the marcomms leaders on the panel, all representing brands based in the Dallas area, validate that statement - and they do so through community partnerships that make sense for their brands, including some that exhibit the creative thinking communicators aspire to exude.
Partnerships that make sense
Hotels serve a lot of food. As such, a partnership with Feeding America made sense for Omni Hotels & Resorts, explained CMO Peter Strebel.
Toyota's GM of external communications Marjorie Schussel noted that Toyota, which will complete its headquarters move to Plano, Texas, later his year, sees itself primarily as a mobility company. It works with DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) to ensure better transportation for all local residents.
While the United Way's partnership with the National Football League is well known, a particularly authentic bond exists in Dallas with the Cowboys, offered Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Dallas chapter. Nine players are from the area, so they feel an extra level of commitment due to that fact.
"I’ve seen firsthand how well these partnerships work," observed Ken Luce, founder and managing partner at LDWWgroup. "And they only work because they are genuine."
Tangible business benefits
There is an expectation in Dallas that brands partner with their community, said Sampson. Still, added Luce, too many companies remain reluctant to do so because the bottom-line benefit is hard to validate.
And while it remains a challenge to prove that any community partnership equates to a certain amount of dollars, the panelists were eager to underscore how their brands notably benefit from community partnerships.
AT&T offers numerous training courses to employees and community groups alike. SVP of global media relations Brad Burns cited how the company has hired numerous staffers from such programs.
Schussel echoed the staffing benefit, which is particularly noteworthy to Toyota as it looks to hire 1,000-plus employees in the Dallas area this summer. She added, however, that in an age when all brands' products are so good, community involvement is a differentiating factor that solidifies companies in consumers' minds.
Southwest VP and CCO Linda Rutherford spoke of return on relationships. The airline has clearly established its commitment to communities to the point where its efforts a couple of years back to build a terminal in Houston, which were met by myriad challenges, were significantly aided by numerous entities it has assisted over the years.
Staffers appreciate working for companies that help their local markets, noted Strebel. Happy employees make happy customers – and happy customers come back.
In closing, Luce focused on a topic that is always top of mind for brands – crisis. "If you don't do your part in helping the community," he said, "you will find it much harder to get others to help you when you need it."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings
-Brad Burns, SVP, global media relations, AT&T
-Ken Luce, founder and managing partner, LDWWgroup
-Linda Rutherford, VP, CCO, Southwest Airlines
-Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
-Marjorie Schussel, GM, external communications, Toyota
-Peter Strebel, CMO, Omni Hotels & Resorts