An Interview with Cause-Related Marketing Pioneer Jerry Welsh

Jerry Welsh is the closest thing cause marketing has to a father.

In 1983 after a number of regional cause-related marketing efforts, Welsh, who was then executive vice president of worldwide marketing and communications at American Express looked out his window in lower Manhattan at the Statue of Liberty. The Statue was then undergoing a major refurnishing, and in a flash Welsh determined to undertake the first modern national cause marketing campaign.

I say modern because almost 100 years before in January 1885, the Statue of Liberty was sitting around in crates in New York warehouses because the organization building the pedestal ran out of money. And so Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the newspaper called The World, proposed a very grassroots solution reminiscent in its own way to Welsh’s cause-related marketing.

Pulitzer ran an editorial promising he would print the name of everyone who donated even a penny. Sure enough pennies, along with dimes and nickels, quarters and dollars, started pouring in. Together, along with other donations, it was enough to resume construction on the pedestal in August 1885. The pedestal was finished in April 1886 and workers started erecting Lady Liberty.

Welsh’s campaign went like this. For every new American Express card application made during the campaign period, $1 went to the Statue of Liberty restoration. For every transaction, $0.01 was donated.

I’ve described the regional cause-related marketing efforts you did prior to the Statue of Liberty as like a show being tried out in Hartford before going to Broadway. But that suggests intent. Were you trying out cause marketing with the intent of doing something nationally? Or, were you just so pleased with the success of the regional efforts that you decided to unveil it nationally?

“The local emphasis of the early CRM efforts was because we reasoned that in Dallas, for example, the consumers are more interested in causes in Dallas than, say, in Chicago. CRM was always meant to be local. Then the restoration effort for the Statue of Liberty came along. One day I was sitting in my American Express office looking at the Statue and that’s when the idea of doing a national CRM campaign came to me. I continue to believe that powerful national causes in the U.S. are very limited, and local CRM is probably the best way to go.”

What went into your thinking when you choose to support the Statue of Liberty campaign for your first national CRM effort?

“The Statue of Liberty is arguably the most universally compelling cause to Americans. It was basically obvious to me that, structured correctly, a national campaign to support the Statue of Liberty would be a sure success.”

Over the full length of the campaign, how much did it generate for the Statue of Liberty restoration?

“While American Express donated $1.75 million, the publicity and advertising connected with the campaign raised perhaps 10 times that amount.”

I’ve read any number of times your results: new card applications soared 45 percent; card usage rose 28 percent in the first month of the campaign; $1.7 million raised for the Statute of Liberty from September to December 1983. Are those accurate and is there anything missing? That is, is there anything you'd like to add?

“Those numbers are essentially correct.”

Was there any reluctance to share this new tactic of CRM, to keep it proprietary?

"American Express copyrighted the term ‘Cause-Relate Marketing,’ but we made no attempt to limit the term’s general use."

IEG projects that companies spent $1.5 billion on CRM in 2008. How does that number strike you?

“That number is probably low.”

What do you think about CRM campaigns that go on year-round; for instance, General Mills’ Boxtops for Education or Campbell’s Labels for Education?

“I am wary of permanent promotions. Permanent promotion is a classic case of oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. A permanent promotion is almost always a simple addition to the routine cost of marketing.”

What surprises you about CRM now 30 or so years after those first regional efforts and 26 years after the Statue of Liberty campaign?

“I have been surprised to see the term and practice grow dramatically as time has gone on. CRM is now widely practiced around the world.”

What’s the story behind how you coined the term ‘cause-related marketing’?

“I believe in the deliberate use of language, so I was careful in crafting the term ‘Cause-Related Marketing.’ CRM is not philanthropy; it’s rather marketing through an artful association with a charitable cause. Otherwise, I would have called it something like ‘Marketing-Related Philanthropy.’”

You’re a big runner. When you travel what are some of your favorite runs?     

“My favorite run is around Central Park in Manhattan, but I have run in many countries, mostly on the streets, but in the parks where they're available.”

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