Marijane Funess September 6, 2016 | 03:26:19

Smart PR-Non-Profit Collaborations

Teaming with the right non-profit can boost a company’s public relations efforts and thus, its public profile. When done well, social marketing programs can showcase corporate values, demonstrate commitment to community, and engage consumers, while providing needed resources for a group or cause.
But before embarking on the search for the perfect corporate social responsibility partner, take a look at some smart do’s and don’ts to make sure everyone benefits from the relationship.

Don’t fall for a slick pitch. Non-profits are businesses, and as such, need to operate with ethical business practices and proper reporting structures. Don’t let stakeholders be swayed by a great commercial or celebrity tie-in without doing the due diligence to determine if a group is well-managed and without reputation risk. It’s easy to think you know what groups are legitimate, but who could have foreseen the recent allegations of waste and mismanagement at the Wounded Warrior Project? There are many ways to check out an organization before partnering.  Charity Navigator, The Journal of Philanthropy and even the Better Business Bureau offer updated information.

Do go for a “perfect fit.” The best partnerships are “naturals,” like Verizon’s longstanding work on behalf of domestic violence through its Hopeline campaign, which our team has helped promote. The program takes action against domestic violence by donating no-longer-used phones and accessories from any service provider to those in need. If the company you’re representing doesn’t have quite as natural a tie-in, it may be wise to do some creative brainstorming at the outset to help determine the right cause. Create a checklist of must-haves and “nice-to-haves” and see where things net out before proceeding.

Do go for an organization with a PR track record. Any collaboration is strengthened when each partner has a thorough understanding of PR and a team or individual dedicated to the effort. The best partnerships we have facilitated have been in conjunction with organizations that “get” PR – they work with media often, they understand what is and isn’t a story, they have experience identifying and training appropriate spokespeople, etc. One of the more memorable corporate responsibility programs we managed was a partnership between mattress giant Sleepy’s and local emergency management and homeless entities offering beds for a variety of circunstances. Our local partners knew the “lay of the land” and were cooperative on every level. With this successful collaboration, we were able to secure several placements, including a giveaway on the Rachael Ray Show.

Don’t lose sight of your mission while negotiating.  Know before going in what are the most important goals of the partnership  — differentiation from competitors? employee engagement? It’s also important to know where your side is willing to compromise. Often a very popular non-profit has the upper hand when it’s blessed with many “suitors” from year to year. That may be a good reason to look for an up-and-comer. Either way, polish your skills and know what to focus on when meeting to hammer out an agreement.

Do the extra work that guarantees PR coverage. Even with the “sexiest” cause, there are no guarantees of easy PR exposure. In truth, high-profile partners or causes can mean more competition for coverage. Always start with a strategic media plan and timeline. Know what all your assets are and work closely with the cause to creatively brainstorm. Most importantly, know what’s going on in local and world news and pop culture – that knowledge can often be the difference between generating news or not as brands such as Starbucks and FedEx have found out via newsworthy partnering on job inequality and hiring initiatives.

Do commit for the “long haul.” Sometimes by design or due to corporate executive changes, many companies adopt a CSR flavor-of-the-month strategy. That’s a mistake. It typically takes years for a social commitment to fully penetrate key constituencies and become linked with your brand. Let it happen naturally and organically, but with some help from good PR practices.

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