Selling Cause Marketing in a Down Economy

There's no doubt selling sponsorships and cause marketing is a lot harder this year than last.  The cause marketing side is especially challenging as many retailers--the backbone industry for many cause marketing programs, whether it be point-of-sale or percentage-of-sale--just aren't doing well and are looking to cut anything that's not directly driving sales.  Here's what we're saying and doing to keep the partners we have and to recruit new ones.

Cause marketing drives sales.  A lot of people view cause marketing as just "branding" or "identity management".  "Yeah, it helps your image but where does it really get you?," they say.  Fortunately, we've collected a lot of great evidence that shows that cause marketing can help companies make and save money.  One of my favorite is from a retailer that made $350,000 from a coupon they had on our Halloween Town mobile.  Those are the kind of results businesses want to hear about and will help get cause marketing viewed differently.

Cause marketing is free advertising.  Our point-of-sale programs come at no cost to the retailer.  Nothing.  Zilch. Nevertheless, they are great ways to build loyalty and favorability with employees and customers, highlight in-store promotions and offers and, of course, raise money for a great cause.  When one of our partners wanted to promote a new service to consumers but didn't want to spend a lot of money advertising it, we printed the offer right on the mobile so employees could point it out and shoppers wouldn't miss it.  The retailer closed more business, we raised more money and shoppers got a great deal--all for a buck.  Win-win-win.

Enlist cause marketing champions.  As a nonprofit, you can only open so many doors by yourself.  It helps to enlist the aid of others.  Allies can include media outlets, sports teams, anyone who might have a connection or relationship with key businesses.  Your pitch to them is that their advertisers are sick of ad reps showing up with expensive advertising programs.  Instead, offer them something for free.  Explain that if they have multiple store fronts and lots of foot traffic they can do a point-of-sale program that will raise money for a great cause and underwrite a free advertising program with their favorite radio or TV station, newspaper or sports arena.  You don't want money from the marketing budget; you want access to the store's customers.  The latter is where the real opportunity lies.  There's ten times more money to be made there than from the company checkbook.  Just ask Bono and the folks at Product (RED).

Focus on other forms of corporate support.  W. C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, and try again.  Then give up."  Sometimes the moment isn't right for cause marketing and you should look to other forms of corporate funding.  Fortunately, I work for a large institution with lots of business partners so we've doubled our efforts in reaching out to other "friends" of the organization.  Thanks in part to them our largest fundraiser of the year will set a new record next Saturday night.  Of course, this type of corporate fundraising is not as challenging and interesting as cause marketing.  But the dollars we'll raise will be as good as any other until our sails fill again and we can set our sights on more lofty goals.  As the Roman proverb commands, "When there is no wind, row."