My students often ask me what specialisations a career in public relations (PR) can offer. Since PR agencies have now firmly moved away from a media-relations-only model to an integrated one, there is a range of choices: employer branding, public affairs, digital marketing, etc. I am, however, keeping an eye most on cause marketing – version 2.0 of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Cause marketing is relatively new. A web search reveals that one of the first examples of it was the partnership between Marriott Corporation and March of Dimes – which worked to prevent birth defects in babies – in 1976. The two joined hands to promote Marriot’s family entertainment complex in Santa Clara, California, while raising funds for March of Dimes. With the campaign’s success for brand and cause, companies everywhere took a cue from it.
The approach has evolved to span even global causes – from voter awareness to women’s empowerment and many others.
In fact, we are seeing consumers increasingly demanding that brands stand for a cause with many even saying they would switch loyalties if they didn’t see the brand contribute to society in some way.
As consumers seek to make a difference, cause marketing gives them the opportunity and know how to do so and resource-rich brands have the wherewithal to help make the world a better place while promoting their product.
We are witnessing a fundamental shift that is integrating purpose into the business model itself. The brand needs to align with the cause to produce benefits to itself and society. This is where the communications professional comes in. These societal benefits – and commitment to the cause – need to be communicated smartly for the brand to benefit.
We have seen examples across the world of how a well-executed cause marketing campaign delivers powerful business benefits: higher profits, better brand perception, increased brand loyalty and higher employee morale. Think of what the ‘Thank You, Mom’ campaign did for P&G. Or what the ‘one bought, one donated’ approach did for Warby Parker eyewear.
A few things to keep in mind while executing a cause marketing campaign:
- You need buy-in from the corporate leadership. Without its commitment, the campaign will fail. The leadership must also ensure that the employees are fully engaged in the cause. Therefore, how you pitch the idea to the client is often more important than how you pitch it to the brand’s audience
- Choose a cause that aligns with the brand. For example, P&G’s Olay skincare line partnered with the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery to help women protect their skin from sun damage. The communications outreach yielded great media support, helping the programme attract more than 9,000 women for free skin cancer screenings
- Contribute more than money. For instance, Eureka Forbes helps poor communities get sustainable access to safe water by helping them set up – and training them how to run – purification plants. The plants have an economic model built in that provides employment to women and helps improve the community’s health.
Professional fulfilment lies in combining your skills with causes that make a difference. As new entrants to the industry, you have a chance to do that and enable your client brands to do so too.
– Ashraf Engineer
Ashraf Engineer is Principal Consultant at Pitchfork Partners, a communications and marketing strategy consultancy. A media and communications veteran, he teaches at several prestigious institutions across the country.
He is also a faculty of Content Strategy a SCoRe.