How Charitable Partnerships Can Boost a Brand’s Profile

We’ve talked before about the importance of community impact for businesses both large and small. In any community, there are a wide array of ways to get involved and help improve that community for those living and working in it.

Forming charitable partnerships is another way to get involved and improve the community around a business. Of course, businesses can provide support in ways that individuals cannot to a nonprofit or charity. But these partnerships should always be done with tact and taste — the opposite effect can easily happen if a move is done for seemingly ulterior motives.

Finding the Right Charitable Partnership

When selecting a charitable partnership for a business, there are many things to consider. One of these factors is what charity or nonprofit to partner with. Here are some considerations for this decision:

  •     Core values and mission of the business
  •     Nonprofits that align with these core values naturally
  •     Reputation of nonprofit and of the supporting business
  •     Required budget to support a charitable partnership
  •     End goal of charitable partnership

Core values lie at the heart of a business’ purpose. These values are important. They give consumers a look at the belief and value systems of those in executive positions, and they provide a roadmap of how a business conducts itself in public dealings.

With that in mind, it’s equally important for a business to align itself with a nonprofit that also values the same ideas. The purpose and mission of the nonprofit must also make sense. For example, a leather goods company may not look the best if it were to support PETA, nor would PETA be likely to accept their partnership proposal. This is, of course, an extreme example, but it shows that a partnership should be genuine, not self-serving or just “for looks”.

Forming a Charitable Partnership

Once a business has selected a nonprofit to enter into a partnership with, it’s time to figure out exactly what that partnership is going to look like.

Not every partnership has to look the same. Remember, this has to be a beneficial arrangement for both the business and, more importantly, for the nonprofit. Whether the support is financial, in the form of volunteer help, or other services provided, it’s important to set clear expectations and guidelines for the new partnership. Contracts are helpful in this situation, to protect all parties involved.

Before jumping in, take the time to form a strategy about how a business can best assist a nonprofit. Perhaps a marketing agency can offer its services to a local animal shelter each month. Or maybe an event planning portal can donate a portion of the proceeds to local community programs in an effort to create a safer neighborhood in which to host events. Maybe a local consultant can jump on board to help plan a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The possibilities are endless!

Finding creative ways to help out is important too — it doesn’t always have to just be about writing a big check. In fact, finding other ways to get involved is often even more helpful, especially for under-staffed nonprofits.

Aligning business with a nonprofit is a smart move for many reasons, but the biggest motivator should always be the betterment of community or the helping of others. From this motivation can come a great, fulfilling partnership on both sides.

Why Can’t Wells Fargo Get Out of its own Way?

Quick, can you tell me how many years it’s been since Wells Fargo was one of the most trusted and appreciated brands in the financial sector? Don’t worry, most people can’t. In fact, Wells Fargo, as a brand, seems to have given up trying to answer that question. The company’s most recent ad campaigns are going almost all the way back to the beginning, talking about events – whether true or apocryphal – that transpired a century ago or more.

But, even as the ads are taking viewers all the way back, the brand itself seems to keep ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This continued habit of taking bad and making it worse, has a lot of people wondering why Wells Fargo can’t seem to get out of its own way. If the company could stop long enough to focus on a single PR crisis, they may make some headway in brand confidence, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

That lack of ability to get past one crisis before another negative headline drops has some in the PR business blaming not just a few bad apples but a “faulty culture” for the continued woes. Instead of arguing that Wells Fargo was just too big and too desperate to play it straight, some are saying the company simply lost its way, slipping further into a morass that festered for years, creating a series of interwoven issues up and down the leadership chain.

The result? A culture that allowed the company to miss it when thousands of employees created millions of fake credit accounts, many in the names of very real customers. Thousands of employees were fired, and that could have been that. Wells Fargo should have been able to pick itself up, dust itself off, and get moving again.

Unfortunately, those in charge didn’t look at thousands of bad actors and see a cultural issue. They said everything was fine now that those folks were gone. Turns out, almost no one, including elected officials and federal regulators, agreed with that assessment. Soon, the CEO was sent packing. A new leader, Timothy Sloan, was brought in and given the task of giving Wells Fargo a fresh start.

But the optics were terrible. Sloan, after all, was a longtime Wells Fargo guy, and those who saw institutional corruption didn’t see renewal coming from within. Worse than the optics, though, was the messaging. While Wells Fargo promised to do better, their campaigns failed to take responsibility, and the problems were rarely, if ever, addressed.

Then came more horrendous headlines. Charging customers for insurance they didn’t want and never asked for. Hitting mortgage customers with incorrect fees. And the insult to injury, a “computer glitch” that accidentally foreclosed on hundreds of properties. Fines were levied and headlines were merciless. Wells Fargo could not seem to stop driving into the proverbial ditch.

And, speaking of poor optics, in response to the flurry of negative headlines, Wells Fargo CFO John Shrewsbury went after the media, accusing the news of over-emphasizing and over-dramatizing Wells Fargo’s missteps. While he may have a point, it certainly was not one that millions of jaded customers was in any mood to hear.

And that, in a nutshell, may signal why the company can’t seem to get back in the good graces of their customers. Instead of changing in the present they are offering visions of the past and complaints of unfair treatment.

brad pitt foundation

Brad Pitt’s Foundation Facing Lawsuit

Sometimes, tying a famous name to a charity work can put a big target on that organization. If everything goes well, it’s great PR, but if things go poorly, for whatever reason, there’s that famous name in the headline.

A recent example of this is an Associated Press story in which the Make it Right Foundation is being sued over homes built in places that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The famous name associated with Make it Right? Brad Pitt.

The A-list Hollywood actor’s name was all over the headlines recently because of the lawsuit, which was filed on the behalf of residents of New Orleans Ninth Ward, which was one of the areas hardest hit by flooding after the hurricane. Their attorney, Ron Austin, was all over local media talking about “sicknesses, headaches, and infrastructure issues…”

Of course, Pitt’s name was mentioned prominently in all the reports. According to the story, Pitt created the foundation about two years after Katrina and hired “award-winning architects” to rebuild communities that had been scoured away by wind and fast-moving flood waters. The organization planned to build 150 new homes, billing them as “storm-safe, solar-powered, and green.” Residents could purchase the relatively affordable housing through a combination of government grants, resettlement financing, and donations from the Make It Right Foundation.

At least, that was the plan. But things didn’t quite work out that way. A decade after the first ground was broken on the project, 110 house have been built, and some are, reportedly, already falling apart. The attorney, Austin, complained of mildew, roof leaks, and sagging porches… “Essentially, Make It Right was making a lot of promises to come back and fix the homes that they initially sold these people and have failed to do so…”

So, in an effort to help devastated hurricane victims, Brad Pitt has harnessed himself and his brand to a PR catastrophe. Images of frustrated families, who already suffered unimaginable horror and loss, have been tied to his image.

In response, the Foundation sued the lumber company that provided a lot of the suspect wood, but there’s no news about how or if that suit was settled. Through all of this, Pitt has chosen to focus on the bright side, telling local media:

“I get this swell of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels… I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch, and I ask them how is their house treating them? And they say, ‘Good.’ And I say ‘What’s your utility bill?’ And they’ll throw something out like, ‘24 bucks’ or something, and I feel fantastic.”

That position may not be one he’s able to hold for much longer. The recent headlines marking the demolition of one of the Make It Right houses brought this issue back into the spotlight even before the lawsuit hit the headlines. The demo, according to the media, was in response to neighbors complaining of the eyesore. In response, Make it Right, though not Pitt, responded with this statement:

“Our homeowners’ well-being and privacy are some of our top priorities and we work closely with them to address their concerns… Each situation is different and we are currently coordinating the necessary follow up with the appropriate parties to address any areas of concern.”

Given the direction this narrative is going, they may want to consider “coordinating” faster… and shifting to a more empathetic message.

 

Build a Bear Promotion Goes Bust

It could have been the marketing coup of the summer. Had Build a Bear successfully pulled off its “pay your age” promotion, people would be talking about it for years, especially every time they saw their child’s favorite stuffed animal. Now, though, millions of people will be talking about the promotion for very different reasons.

You probably know the story by now. Build a Bear advertised that it would hold a very special discount day. Parents could bring their kids in, and they tykes could build a new fuzzy friend for only the cost of their age. The news spread across social media like wildfire, causing tens of thousands to flock to Build a Bear locations across the nation, and elsewhere.

Many showed up well before dawn, waiting in line for their chance to capture the deal. Unfortunately for untold thousands of parents, with tired, cranky kids in tow, waiting in line offered them little more than disappointment. Stores ran out of inventory. Some malls cut off the line because the crowds were blocking access to many other stores. There were arguments and fights, and reports some children were injured in melees.

And, based on the company’s initial statement explaining why the deal was canceled, it seems at least some of those safety-related reports may have some basis in fact:

“Based on the unprecedented response to our Pay Your Age Day event in our early opening stores, we are experiencing significantly longer than expected lines and large crowds. Local authorities are requiring us to limit the lines and crowds due to safety concerns. We understand this is disappointing, we are working to address the situation, and we will be reaching out to our valued guests soon…”

So, after hours waiting in line, tens of thousands of disappointed parents and sobbing, confused children were led away, unsure if they would ever get what they came for. These people, of course, were live-streaming and tweeting their experience in real time. As word spread on social media, local news started showing up, taking video and interviewing frustrated parents and kids.

The complaints continued to pour in, criticizing the apparent miscalculations and disorganization both in planning the event an in executing it at the store level. What was supposed to be a huge win for Build a Bear turned into a constant, day-long embarrassment. Over the next days and weeks, planners will review the event, looking for where it all went wrong. They may want to start with why no one asked: What if everyone shows up?

Regardless of what they learn and what they decide, now Build a Bear has to rebuild its reputation with some very aggravated core customers.

First, Ask: “Is it Worth it?”

When the manager of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia decided to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave before her party had a meal, Stephanie Wilkinson knew there would be consequences… But were those consequences worth the momentary feelings of justification that prompted the ouster?

That’s a question that will continue to be answered in the coming weeks and months as customers decide to cast their votes with their wallets. Already, though, lines have been drawn and decisions have been made as a result of the “you’re not welcome” that turned into national news.

By all accounts, the ladies, Wilkinson and Sanders, were polite during the brief interaction. No one tried to cause a scene or create a photo op. Sanders and her group quietly left, and Wilkinson returned her attention to her other guests. But that was far from the end of it. By the next morning, the incident was national news, and consumers across the country, as well as in Lexington, were taking sides.

Whatever happens next, the operative question is, “Will it be worth it?” Wilkinson has already chosen to resign her position as executive director of Lexington’s Main Street business alliance. The position is pivotal to the success of multiple downtown businesses, and protesters were threatening consequences for Main Street if the organization continued to support Wilkinson.

And that is only the beginning. Like it or not, Wilkinson has become a talking point and a figure to hold up, either to laud or berate. Wilkinson, for her part, is sticking by her reasons, telling the Washington Post she made the call because, she believes, Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration.

Those qualifiers are certainly not going to endear her to Trump voters, who are likely to have already scratched Red Hen off their dinner possibilities list. This choice was supported by the President who, in his characteristic way, unleashed on Wilkinson via Twitter, calling the exterior of the restaurant “filthy,” and declaring, “if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia began circulating a boycott petition. And those were just the obvious potential consequences of Wilkinson’s decision. There are cascading unintended consequences as well. Red Hen restaurants across the country are taking hits on social media and on Yelp reviews. At least 10 different Red Hen restaurants not affiliated, at all, with Wilkinson’s restaurant, have come out and asked people to stop trolling them, calling them, or leaving harsh Google or Yelp reviews.

For these business owners, they are now forced to respond to the PR crisis version of guilt by association… even though they are not actually associated. And that’s one of the biggest consequences to consider if you plan to spark consumer rage about a social issue. Understand that rage has to be directed somewhere… and that mobs, in public or online, are difficult to predict.

These Brands That Risked Their Reputation to Take a Public Stand

Taking a public stand can be a risk for a brand, but when it works, it can pay off handsomely. Here are a few examples of brands that took the risk and enjoyed a serious PR payoff:

Stella Artois

You may not expect an international beer brand to be at the top of the list, but Stella Artois makes it for their brilliant and compassionate campaign that helped bring safe drinking water countless people in regions where safe drinking water is a luxury, not an assumption. The campaign, called “Buy a Lady a Drink,” combined the thrust of Stella with the star power of Matt Damon and the boots on the ground of Water.org to encourage consumers to engage with the movement. Stella Artois even debuted a limited-edition bottle that, with each one purchased, sent a month of clean water to families in developing countries. Buy a sixer, and that represents six months of clean water for a family.

Yoplait

Who buys most of the groceries? Mom. Who gets most of the criticism about how kids are being raised? Mom. Who did Yoplait yogurt target with a powerfully-affirming, feel-good social PR campaign? You guessed it: Mom. Ostensibly in response to the constant critiques mothers get for every decision they make for their kids, Yoplait invented “Mom On,” which showed a series of moms responding to common complaints about how they parent. The women addressed issues ranging from breastfeeding to when they went back to work with well-placed humor and confidence. Moms – and women in general – loved the campaign, rewarding the company with their business in droves.

Uber v. Lyft

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft waded into the heart of a very controversial situation: President Trump’s travel ban. When other taxi companies chose to strike to protest the travel ban, Uber chose to keep operating. When that resulted in an avalanche of criticism, then-CEO Travis Kalanickdefended the choice, saying his company was dedicated to work with the President on urban transport issues. Lyft, however, came down strongly and solidly on the other side of the issue, condemning the travel ban and offering to donate a large sum of money to the ACLU, which was fighting the ban. Now, regardless of how most people feel about the issue, most of Lyft’s and Uber’s customers sided with Lyft, which gave Lyft a net win.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian, Founder of 5W Public Relations.