2009 April: Get Involved

2009 April: Get InvolvedWalk into any store, and you’ll probably spot a cause-related marketing campaign –– from a red dress symbol on a carton of yogurt to symbolize the fight against heart disease in women to a smile logo on a tube of toothpaste that shows support for dental care for children.

Pizzerias are getting in on cause related marketing, too –– from the huge chains that have paired up with big national charities to little momand- pop pizzerias that help out in the local community. Whether you’re big or small, using philanthropy as a marketing tool can help not only your chosen charity, but your bottom line, too.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Matthew Ptasienski, owner of the Windy City Pizzeria in Louisville, Kentucky. Ptasienski picks a day each month to donate 10 percent of proceeds to charity –– usually a local Catholic group that provides direct financial help to area families struggling to pay a mortgage or keep the lights or heat on. “I’ve always thought it was the responsible thing to do as a business owner, and I know my business is a little bit better on those days, and the whole reputation serves me really well.”

If you’re interested in starting your own charity partnership program, it’s a good idea to be strategic. So, here are some tips from marketing experts and pizzeria owners who have done it .

For starters, it’s important to choose the right charity. If there’s a rule of causerelated marketing, it’s this: customers should be able to draw a logical connection between the cause you sponsor and your business.

“In the past that meant if you were a hair salon, you picked a charity like Locks of Love that provides wigs to children, or if you were a restaurant you picked some kind of hunger charity,” said Paul Jones (owner of the boutique marketing firm Alden Keene), who blogs at causerelatedmarketing.blogspot.com. “It’s not as true today –– research demonstrates that people just have to understand the relationship.” So, for example, if you’re a pizzeria owner and want to support a breast cancer charity because one of your loved ones is a survivor of the disease, that’s fine –– but tell your story.

Once you know what cause you want to support, then choose a specific charity. A national chain should choose a national charity and a local restaurant should choose a community organization, recommends David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum, which offers tips and advice at causemarketingforum.com.

Before signing on with your chosen charity, be sure to check them out by doing an online news search –– you want to avoid any groups with scandals or questionable reputations, of course –– and looking at their ratings on Web sites such as Guidestar.org or Charitynavigator. org, Jones recommends. Also, he suggests choosing a group that’s been around for at least five years: “A group that’s been around that long has been vetted by time.”

Next, craft the campaign. There are almost as many ways to approach a cause related marketing campaign as there are good causes. Two big things to consider are: what kind of campaign would work well with your business, and how could you best help the charity?

The most common type of cause-related marketing campaign is transactional cause marketing, Jones said: “You might say ‘Buy today’s special dessert and the restaurant will make a donation to some cause.’” Studies have shown, he said, that the larger donation you promise to make, the more likely the customer is to buy the item you’re trying to move.

At Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis, Minnesota –– which bills itself as a socially responsible business — the menu advertises that $1 will be donated to Second Harvest Heartland, a hunger relief organization, for each order of the Roma-tomato-and-basil Second Harvest Heartland pizza. “I just wrote a check for $1,439 –– we sold that many last year,” said owner Pete Bonahoom. “And they can purchase something like $9 worth of food for each dollar.”

But a straight donation of money isn’t the only way to go. At Hello Pizza in El Paso, Texas, chef and owner Larry Gold each summer holds a pizza making party for kids who attend a camp run by Gold’s wife, a special education teacher. It costs Gold about $500 to put on, but it’s worth it. “It really puts a smile on the kids’ faces,” Gold says.

Getting the word out about your campaign can be pretty simple. If you’re donating a portion of sales from a specific item, simply put a note on your menu and on your Web site –– and give your servers an incentive to mention it. “If you don’t incentivize it, only the most outgoing servers will mention it,” Jones said. “Try holding daily contests in which the waitperson who does best gets a song download or a few bucks of gas money.”

It’s also important to tell your customers exactly how the charity benefits. “Operators should avoid, at all costs, weasely language like: ‘A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Cancer Society.’ Instead, be transparent: ‘For each lava cake you buy with your meal, we’ll donate $1 to the Cancer Society,’” Jones said. “Cause marketing trades on trust. You can show your trustworthiness by being transparent. You’ll get better results, too.”

One bonus of cause-related marketing is that it really lends itself to public relations efforts. For example, Galactic Pizza gets a lot of media coverage. Its socially responsible stance — and the fact that its delivery workers dress as superheroes — draws attention and the charity partnership is almost always mentioned in articles. “We’ve been all over the place –– local, national and international,” Bonahoom said. “Somebody even brought in an article from Iraq which was in the military publication. I’m not sure how we ended up in there.” Bonahoom said the cause related marketing helps give customers a connection to his business: “What we try to do is establish a relationship with the customer on a meaningful level rather than trying to hit the lowest price point.” ?

Allie Johnson is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.

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