Cause Marketing Highlights from PRSA Health Academy

Cause marketing has always been an important part of public relations strategy, but it is even more important in an age where we are leveraging earned, owned and paid media, particularly in the social space. According to an IEG survey, cause sponsorship is predicted to reach $1.92 billion in 2015, a projected increase of 3.7% over 2014.

Sponsorship packages are just one element of the cause marketing strategy, a strategy that is increasingly becoming a large part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as more focus turns to strategic philanthropy. How do responsible business practices meld with community affairs and corporate strategic alliances? This was the subject of a recent presentation of PRSA Health Academy in Cleveland by Mollye Rhea, President of For Momentum in Atlanta and Meagan Fulmer, Chief Development Officer of the Arthritis Foundation.

They highlighted research from Edelman and Cone Communications that indicates:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 Americans believe that businesses need to place at least an equal weight on society’s interests as on business interests.
  • 93% of consumers say that these types of partnerships result in a more positive image of the company
  • 79% of consumers would donate to a charity supported by a trusted company and 76% would volunteer for a cause that a trusted company supports
  • In a single year:
  • 65% made a donation
  • 42% volunteered
  • 29% researched a company’s business practices or support of social and environmental issues
  • 38% told friends/family about a company’s CSR efforts
  • 42% boycotted (refused to purchase) a product/service upon learning it behaved irresponsibly
  • 54% of Americans bought a product with a social and/or environmental benefit
  • Most Americans say they are more likely to trust (90%) and be more loyal (90%) to companies that back causes

So how should we define a cause marketing alliance? Ideally, it is a mutually beneficial relationship that leverages assets from both brands (for profit and non-profit) that raises funds and/or awareness of a societal issue. A cause marketing campaign should engage a brand’s stakeholders (customers, employees, etc.) in a mission that is aligned with the company’s brand or values. But these days, a return on investment is expected. A successful alliance enhances the brand’s equity and should at least provide product differentiation – and increased sales.

Effective examples include Kmart’s support of the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. At a time when almost nothing was going right at Kmart, they were able to raise a multiple of past campaigns in 2013 through integration into their electronic checkout system (which also speeded up the checkout lines). Source: Good Works! Marketing & Corporate Initiatives that Build a Better World, and the Bottom Line

Pampers supported an initiative where the purchase of every package of diapers led to a vaccine being given in the third world. Initially the campaign was about supporting UNICEF, but only when Pampers told a more specific story linking each product purchase to a lifesaving vaccine did this campaign resonate with consumers.

Other well-known cause marketing initiatives include the Red Dress Campaign (American Heart), Yoplait pink labels to support breast cancer research, Giving Tuesday and Make A Wish.

The centerpiece of the PRSA Health Academy presentation was a compelling case study showing two examples from recent cause marketing initiatives in which the Arthritis Foundation partnered with CVS and Massage Envy.

CVS realizes that pain is one of the largest categories in their drugstores. In fact, 52.5 million people in the U.S. have doctor diagnosed arthritis living with every day pain. Working together, CVS became the only drugstore to receive the Arthritis Foundation’s Partner for Better Living designation. The partnership has already been a huge success, generating nearly $1.3 million in revenue and 600 + million impressions to date, through CVS’ 7,700 retail locations and a variety of media. Talking points have been given to CVS Pharmacists, engaging customers and elevating awareness of the Arthritis Foundation’s events and fundraising activities.

Another interesting case study is Arthritis Foundation’s cause marketing alliance with Massage Envy. Therapeutic massage can provide significant relief to arthritis sufferers. Through Massage Envy’s support of Healing Hands for Arthritis, the first year in 2011, it generated 42,000 appointments and $1.8 million in revenue and 10% of participants in the Arthritis walk were Massage Envy members. Three years later, the number had grown to 65,000 new appointments, and $9.65 million in revenue, and 36% of participants in the Arthritis walks were Massage Envy members. Over the three years, the campaign has generated more than one billion media impressions.

For both CVS and Massage Envy, support of a worthy cause like the Arthritis Foundation has resulted in both elevated profiles and profits. For more information go to