Cause marketing, special effects (Column)

CSR efforts need to be authentic and not cosmetic, says Veritas president

Veritas president Krista Webster

Cause marketing. Giving back. Corporate social responsibility. Using our PR powers for good instead of evil. Okay, maybe that was a bit much…but call it what you will, leveraging our creativity, expertise and contacts to help support a worthy cause is always a noble exercise, whether purely for its own merits or directly linked to a specific sponsor brand.

For some, lending support to an organization flows from it having directly touched the lives of one or more members of an agency, like a foundation which funds research aimed at better treatment – and hopefully a cure – for a horrible disease. For others, it’s getting behind a cherished part of the local community, be it a shelter or a service club.

And then there’s the fully branded, corporate-led cause marketing that puts a company name and the charity at hand together on the same marquee. Should that make us squeamish? Is it somehow mercenary, or at least less pure than other approaches?

I say no. Because, even if the motivation leaned a bit heavily toward leveraging the charity in order to burnish the brand, ultimately the cause still wins in the end.

So much of our business is linked to the process of building up goodwill – whether in the hearts and minds of a target consumer, the influencers we call on for retweets or the editors we cajole into providing coverage. We do it through creative campaigns, through providing mutual benefit and through helping others in the communications ecosystem do their jobs and have good days.

So when we connect that work to a cause that can benefit so many more people if it can just raise a little more money and/or awareness, we’re channeling that goodwill to a place that’s pure. And if a corporate brand shines a little in the reflection of that halo effect, so be it.

As long as the corporate entity involved is genuinely supportive of the cause. That love must be true. They gotta believe. Otherwise, any hollowness will ring out like Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.

The resonance speaks for itself. According to 2015 research from Ipsos, 95% of Canadians believe companies supporting good causes is a good idea, 80% of us want companies to improve our home communities, while 84% say they’d switch brands to one affiliated with a cause if quality and price were similar.

But, we also know that transparency – of both motivation and results – is critical. Consumers need to know the belief in the cause is real, and they deserve an accounting of dollars raised and spent in the process.

Whether the objective is ending stigma, building bridges or raising money (or all of the above), sponsor brands can boost their goodwill balance considerably – and, best of all, both sides win. But, it’s got to be sincere and it has to be a long-term commitment. It can never be a one-off, nor can it be done under duress of crisis, i.e. an oil company funding a nature conservancy in the wake of a massive spill (while helpful in damage control, it’s far from an effective CSR strategy).

So if you’re not already involved in some form of cause marketing, why not? There’s no shortage of need; yours might be the effort that truly makes a difference. Cause + marketing = a truly special effect.

Krista Webster is president of Veritas Communications

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