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Answer These Questions Before You Start Cause-Related Marketing

Twenty Questions (Give or Take)

Suppose when you get into the office tomorrow, the boss comes in and says, “I think we need to look seriously at cause-related marketing. Look into it will you?”

Getting the right answers depends on asking the right questions. So where would you start?

Let’s just stipulate that you’ll search the Internet. Maybe check the entries at Wikipedia.com or About.com. You’ll almost certainly come across the Cause Marketing Forum, run by my friend David Hessekiel. If you go a little deeper you may find Cone, or other agencies that specialize in the practice. You may find IEG, which has a long history with cause-related marketing, but considers it to be a subset of sponsorship. Maybe you’ll go to Amazon.com and check the available titles. You’ll almost certainly find Business in the Community in England, which takes a very holistic approach to cause marketing.

Scratch the surface a little more and you’ll certainly find criticisms of the practice; usually variations on the theme that the money is tainted. I’m familiar with most of the criticisms. But I cut my cause marketing teeth in the charity world where the saying goes about donations: “‘taint enough.” It’s a fact that even Mother Teresa (a saint by my definition, never mind what this cynic says) cashed checks from Charles Keating.

Okay. So after an Internet search, what questions do you need to answer?

It depends… in part… on where you work.

Nonprofit. If you’re working for a charity, the first thing I’d do is try and gauge if your charity is ready for cause-related marketing. Is your board supportive? Does your mission already draw a broad base of ‘retail’ support? Do you have the staff time to devote to it? What are your goals? Are they to raise money? Or awareness? Or both? What benchmarks will tell you when you’ve succeeded? Is your mission competitive with an existing cause-related marketing giant? I would be very reluctant to try cause-related marketing in the States if I worked for a breast cancer charity. Susan G. Komen is very competitive, creative, and effective. Do you have any potential conflicts? A lot of the health charities in the States have real conflict of interest problems doing cause-related marketing, especially with the pharmaceutical companies. Are you good with events? Do you have special access to the media?

Advertising or PR Agency. If you work for an advertising or PR agency I would start by asking who you expect your clients to be? Will you convert existing clients or use your newfound capacity as cause marketers to attract new clients? Do you have someone on staff with hands-on understanding of the basics of cause-related marketing? It’s not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but familiarity with the practice is a prerequisite. Do you have PR chops? More cause-related marketing in the States is driven by PR than advertising. Do you speak or can you learn guerilla marketing? If your client is on the nonprofit side, are you prepared to wrestle over every cost item? Are you good at events? Do you have special access to the media?

Corporate. If you work for a company (or maybe a government entity) then you need to ask who you match well with? Do you want your campaign to have the support of rank and file employees? Are you prepared to make a long-term commitment to the cause? You’ll get more bang for your if your relationship last for years. What are your goals? Do you have the sophistication to accurately measure a cause marketing campaign’s value? Are you good at events? Do you have special access to the media?

Notice the repeated questions: Are you good at events? Do you have special access to the media?

Cause-related marketing relies frequently on events. That’s as it should be. When well executed, events build stronger relationships with prospects and customers than anything besides interpersonal communications. And more than the mass media, PR, direct mail and even the Internet, events allow you to move from awareness and interest into commitment and action in one fell swoop.

As for the media question, cause-related marketing is little more than a parlor trick for marketers who don’t make good use of the media.

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