How Chili’s Used Cause-Related Marketing to Raise $8.2 Million for St. Jude, Part I

[Blogger’s note: This is the first of a two-part post on Chili’s Create a Pepper promotion benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The campaign is notable because it has grown approximately 400 percent since going national in 2004. How did they do it? Read on.]

The casual dining category of chain restaurants have been death for many cause-related marketing campaigns.

You can guess why.

And I would add that too many charities that have sold in a cause-related marketing campaign to a casual dining chain have not brought much creativity to the deal. Too often it’s just been a square paper icon campaign roughly folded to fit the round hole of the chain.

To my knowledge, there hadn’t really been a breakout performer in the category until last year when Chili’s raised $8.2 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in a multifaceted campaign. That’s an increase of more than 150 percent over the 2006 campaign, which generated $5.2 million

This from a campaign that has only been national since 2004 and a relationship that dates to just 2002. In those 5 years, Chili’s has donated more than $18.7 million to St. Jude. In fact, since going national the Chili’s campaign has never generated less than $2 million a year!

Now St Jude has a powerful national brand, a talented and energetic fundraising staff, and has long been a force in cause-related marketing. But even for them $2 million a year is a significant amount of money. So to cross the $8 million-a-year mark so quickly is a break-out-the-champagne kind of achievement.

How’d St. Jude do it? I put that question to Amy Morris, Director of Corporate Relations at St. Jude with responsibility for the relationship with Chili’s.

“Chili’s just gets it,” Amy said, “it’s an amazing brand and a true partnership. We stay in regular contact… we meet on a weekly basis. And both parties are always thinking about what else we could do to make it better.”

Here are the elements for the September 2007 effort:

On Thursday: How Chili's and St. Jude motivate support from frontline employees and management.

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