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True Partnerships in Cause Marketing

In Zen Buddhism there is the notion of a 'koan,' which is a riddle, statement, question or dialogue that can’t be understood through strictly rational thought. A koan is intended to help train the mind to better access intuition, especially through meditation The most famous koan might be ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’

Here’s one for cause marketers; ‘when is cause marketing not a partnership?’

The rational mind says that cause marketing is always a partnership. The riddle makes no sense. Except in cases where the sponsor is the cause there’s always at least two parties. Like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp or Scoreese and De Niro. Boom. There’s two parties and when they come together that’s a partnership.

But meditate on it a little longer and you can see when cause marketing might not be a partnership. When one party benefits in gross disproportion to the other. Or when one party doesn’t work to make sure that the putative partner benefits to his or her satisfaction.

Cause marketing partners, like Hollywood actors and directors, are free agents. George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have done six films together. If one of them doesn’t feel like they’ve benefited from their frequent pairings then they’re unlikely to do a seventh.

There’s no partnership in cause marketing unless all parties to the agreement feel fully benefited.

How do you achieve that?

Well Depp and Burton basically finish each others' sentences. But not every successful partnership requires that level of intimacy.

In cause marketing it starts during the courtship between the parties. While there will be plenty of formal written language as the parties determine the scope of the agreement, it’s vital that the process also include less formal conversations; people from both parties need to speak directly with each other.

For a true partnership to emerge a key portion of that dialogue must include the good faith expectation that both sides will and should benefit to their satisfaction. Everybody has to have their say. Neither side should endeavor to take advantage of the other. And, if it feels like the other party is trying to do so, you must register your dissatisfaction.

If, after going through the process, it feels like your would-be partner isn’t negotiating in good faith, you must be prepared to walk away from the partnership. This can be especially difficult for needy nonprofits. But it’s absolutely essential.

Finally, you must also try and put yourself in the shoes of the other party. Ask, “if roles were reversed, what would I want from this deal?’ The ability to understand what the other party wants and needs is a vital part of long and rewarding partnership.


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In other words, you’ll want to hold back some of the promotion’s budget to continue to activate the effort until the very end.

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