Ignite’s last couple blogs discussed PR mishaps and missteps but we now want to highlight examples of great marketing and PR. Evaluating things that have gone awry is definitely worthwhile, but what can companies do to really shine with good PR? Corporate philanthropy is one activity that stands out and several businesses, both tech and non-tech, have done a great job over the last year with their approach to corporate giving.
It’s common for brands to espouse their belief system and engage in related charitable activities or campaigns. Dove, the maker of soap and beauty products, contributes a portion of its proceeds to “provide inspiring self-esteem programming for girls” and supports partnerships with after-school programs, self-esteem-building events and educational resources. Kaiser Permanente sponsors marathons and farmer’s markets in their push to be associated with healthy living. Through its “Home 4 The Holidays” program, pet food company Iams partners with organizations such as pet adoption centers, shelters and rescues to help find homes for pets.
The tech industry has also produced philanthropists, both large and small. It used to be that the vast majority of foundations and philanthropic assets were in New York. Today, “Silicon Valley has become the epicenter of philanthropy in the U.S., if not the world,” according Bradford K. Smith, President of the Foundation Center, a research organization for philanthropy, fundraising, and grant programs.
In the tech world, Salesforce.com is renowned for philanthropy, spearheaded by Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, a generous philanthropist in his own right. From its inception, Salesforce.com instituted a “1-1-1” philanthropy model, contributing one percent of its profits, one percent of its equity and one percent of its employees’ hours to charitable efforts. Meanwhile Ignite’s online luxury travel client, Zicasso, a startup that offers a free online travel service connecting travelers with the best travel agents, emulates the 1-1-1 model to support sustainable tourism education and development, volunteer travel, and nature and wildlife conservation. A company doesn’t have to be huge, or necessarily even profitable, to embrace a social mission.
In an interview with Kym McNicholas of Forbes, Benioff named Michael Dell as his greatest philanthropic mentor. According to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation website, Michael Dell and his wife have given more than $700 million in grants to help transform the lives of children. Similarly, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and his wife Laura Arrillaga, started the Marc and Laura Andreessen Foundation, with Laura also founding a philanthropic organization, SV2, that finances early-stage nonprofits. The Omidyar Network, started by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, gives grants to nonprofits, while nonprofits like Kiva, DonorsChoose.org, and Causes use the Internet to connect people in need with donors, jobs or supporters.
Companies communicate their values in other ways as well. Patagonia, a company consistently at the forefront of corporate philanthropy, created a stir this past Black Friday with a bold newspaper ad stating “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” In the ad, Patagonia announced their Common Threads Initiative “to build useful things that last, to repair what breaks and recycle what comes to the end of its useful life.” Notably, the ad asks readers to eschew voracious consumption. It may sound ironic that a business trying to sell something would ask such a thing but, in a time of where overconsumption has contributed to a host of ills, we like Patagonia’s hutzpah and tip our hat to their non-product centric, philanthropic approach.
Do values-based campaigns help companies attract and retain customers? We believe that a company’s values can be just as significant to customers as its product or services, and it certainly appears that corporate social missions are being driven by rising consumer and investor demands for socially responsible companies. Corporate values are also key to recruiting talent and building an organization’s work culture. Case in point: if you think that climate-change is a hoax, you may not want to work for a company that donates funds to this cause.
Whether you believe that corporate charitable activities reflect deeply held values or are simply thinly veiled marketing ploys, it’s hard to argue with corporate giving in a time of shrinking government budgets. Does it ultimately matter why a company engages in philanthropy as long as it does? Sure, values-based marketing campaigns with little real substance or dollars behind them seem shady. No matter how bright and shiny a company may seem on the surface, it behooves us to do our homework about them and the old adage “buyer beware” still applies. Nonetheless, we see much evidence for optimism and give two thumbs up to any company that manages to combine success in business with a broader social mission.