Cause Related Marketing: Cashing in on fame and fortune

It pays to be flexible, and choosy, if you are a charity canvassing support from business, and having a celebrity support your cause is an added attraction
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The Independent Culture
Corporate fund-raising has evolved from the days when charities simply put together as compelling a story as they could muster, and then sat back and confidently expected companies to pour in money.

Charity no longer wants, or is expected, to sit waiting for whatever bequest is deemed appropriate once the proper business has been taken care of elsewhere.

This is a large part of the reason why cause-related marketing is growing so quickly in importance. CRM is an opportunity for charities to have direct access to corporates' marketing budget. And marketing budgets are not subject to the same discretionary spending constraints as simple donations.

But charities should be careful as to how to sell themselves.

"I think many charities have let themselves down, either by selling themselves too cheaply to companies, or else by not having the calibre of personnel who can talk the right sales and marketing language with the corporate sector, and who can understand joint objectives," says a Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) spokeswoman

"Our brief is to develop a wider relationship with the whole corporate sphere, and that means recruiting staff who understand the needs of business as well as those of the charity."

CRC has a successful link with Iceland frozen food, that brings home its own research message that a balanced diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables has a proven track record in helping to defeat the spectre of cancer. A third of all cancer deaths in the UK are linked to diet. The charity has a similar tie-up with Kellogg's promoting the attractions of bran in helping combat the killer disease. In both cases the extensive on-pack logo is supported by point of sale material explaining the connection in much greater detail.

The charities that have so far been most successful at selling their CRM message have been institutions with a flexible and proactive approach. Charities have to be able to tailor aspects of their own offering to fit with different corporate cultures if they are going to cut it in the brave new economic world. This flexibility in practice means both a willingness to compromise and a keen awareness of what will and won't dilute the charity's own brand personality. Shelter is a good example of one such charity that has taken this message closely to its heart .

"Some charities do start with an inbuilt advantage as far as attracting CRM funds are concerned, and Shelter is not one of them," explains the charity's head of corporate fund-raising, Suzi Morris. "Kids and medical charities are the least controversial and closest generally to the heart of the general public, who are, of course, the corporates' target market.

"But that isn't to say that other charities can't punch above their weight or can't be competitive in pitches once they get to present their case to companies. And that's what we've tried to do, to be positive and go after cause-related partnerships. But it is vitally important that charities have a distinct brand personality that companies can use to complement their own offering."

Shelter has various connections with a range of companies working at different levels and with differing objectives. The charity for the homeless has tied up with Dr Martens, for example, as a long-term corporate partner. The one is a streetwise brand, the other a streetwise charity so the connection on that level is plain, but it doesn't just stop there.

"They have a really maverick approach to their advertising which fits in well with our stance as a charity, which is itself attitudinal," points out Morris.

"And the advantage of people having a perception of you in a distinct way is that you can use that to work with companies who have the same distinctive personality, even if the connection is no stronger than that. Our relationship with First Direct, for example, might be thought to be a bizarre fit, but again the connection is as much in terms of our common streetwise attitude as anything else."

First Direct pledged a minimum pounds 25,000 donation when it linked up with Shelter to launch its Internet website with an imaginative anorak amnesty.

The national appeal was for the public to discard their old anoraks - described as the fashion statement for computer nerds - to help raise money for homeless people.

The anoraks were handed over to the 84 Shelter Shops up and down the country and sold for between pounds 4 and pounds 30.

Around 45 celebrities donated their anoraks as part of the campaign and Shelter held a high-profile auction of these.

Robbie Williams, Helen Mirren and Emma Thompson took part in what was a successful profile-raising exercise.

The connection was also extended to help motivate Shelter's own staff with the telephone bank sponsoring a competition for the best window display among the shops.

For all the brilliance of the execution though, it wasn't perhaps the most obvious fit.

First Direct may have established a non-conformist market positioning but it is still a mortgage lender and mortgage lenders as part of their job sometime have to repossess homes and potentially contribute to the homelessness problem.

Macmillan Cancer Relief is another charity that has realised the added value that having the famous on hand can contribute.

"There is no doubt that the potential involvement of a top celebrity is an attraction for corporate partners when deciding which charity to work with," says Macmillan spokeswoman Miranda Kemp.

"They know that if they were to pay for 'product endorsement' by a celebrity it may cost them thousands, whereas a charity may be able to attract the support of a famous person at no cost. In fact we have a policy that we don't pay celebrities for their efforts on our behalf."

Once again though, how the celebrity is used is as important as who it is. There is also the danger that the charity's contacts book is simply raided by the corporate, or that the charity uses its celebrity muscle to breeze past a more deserving, lower-profile rival, or what's almost worse than both of those, that a famous face is gratuitously added to an inappropriate tie-up simply to help boost awareness ratings. Macmillan has been unusually successful at matching the right celebrity to the suitable initiative.

The Macmillan Go-Karting Challenge, for example, a cause-related initiative launched together with Vauxhall this year, featured the laddish talents of Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey, ably assisted by every hot-blooded male's fantasy du jour, The Big Breakfast's Denise Van Outen. The fit could hardly be better.

It's important too that the charity is flexible about the nature of different relationships. Shelter's tie up with Austin Reed, for example, was very much a short-term operation designed to address a specific short-term objective.

It was essentially a two-week suit exchange. Customers got pounds 50 off the range and for every suit they brought in Shelter received pounds 5 and also got the chance to take the suit for its shops.

Austin Reed's target was an increase in sales of 23 per cent - in fact, they got an increase of 58 per cent.

"But while I can't stress enough how important it is to be flexible there are definite pitfalls for the unwary," cautions Morris.

"Every promotion has to abide by the Charities Act, for instance, and most important of all the terms of the deal have to be made clear to the consumer. But it is very much possible to be speaking the same language as big business without compromising your own set of standards and beliefs."

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