Paul Jones is President of Alden Keene and Associates, a boutique marketing firm that specializes in cause marketing. His Children’s Miracle Network before beginning his own consulting practice. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .is “dedicated to highlighting and dissecting the best and the worst cause marketing promotions and campaigns.” Paul worked for many years at the
MKC: How long have you been writing your blog?
PAUL: In October it will be five years.
MKC: Had you been in business longer than that?
PAUL: I actually had. I opened the business in 2002, although I was still working full-time for a local nonprofit. Then I broke out on my own in 2005 and the blog was just a natural way to get my voice out there and on a topic I’m very familiar with, as well as an opportunity to do a little bit of marketing.
MKC: What was your objective, and has blogging met that objective?
PAUL: It has worked as a marketing lead generator. I probably get four or five inquiries a week. Now some of those are not serious, but maybe a couple a month are. So I’ve been very pleased. The one benefit that I didn’t expect was the way it’s honed my analytical skills.
MKC: Your specialty seems to be cause marketing.
PAUL: That’s right. I get a lot of referrals from the blog, but I don’t do only cause marketing. I do regular fundraising campaigns and the like, it just depends on what’s called for. But it is a specialty and it is something that I feel like I bring a high level of expertise to.
MKC: What’s the big challenge in cause marketing?
PAUL: Three things: First off, a good match – almost all the studies and my personal experience suggest the good match goes a long way toward predicting the success of a cause marketing campaign. There has to be a certain amount of buy-in from the corporate partner, as well as from the nonprofit for that matter.
There also has to be a really high level of transparency. Most cause marketing faces the consumer, and one thing they want to know is if the money is being well spent. A lot of cause marketing campaigns that I see and review do a good job of asking for money, for the most part. They don’t do a good job of telling you how the money was spent or how it was used.
MKC: Generally how do you start one of these match-ups?
PAUL: In terms of starting a relationship between a cause and a company, it could start either way. I’ve worked with corporate clients looking for a cause that was a good match for them, and I’ve worked with nonprofits looking for for-profits who were a good match for them. Children’s Miracle Network, which adopted cause marketing almost from the instant they started almost 25 years ago, would treat it sort of like a capital campaign. They would identify a certain number of potential sponsors, then they would go to their board or advisory groups or other influentials, and find out who had contacts there. Then they’d have them write letters to their contacts, inviting them to accept a visit or a call or proposal from Children’s Miracle Network. Children’s Miracle Network has raised more than $3 billion dollars via cause marketing, so they’re a sophisticated operation. For smaller groups, it’s very similar, only greatly scaled down. Suppose the company is a body shop, owned by a woman who fought breast cancer or has a sister or a mother who did. In that case, breast cancer is a pretty natural fit. But if that wasn’t the back story, then a body shop working on behalf of a breast cancer charity probably wouldn’t make that much sense.
MKC: Do you have nonprofits that come to you and say they need you to find them a sponsor?
PAUL: Yes , there are people like that that come to me all the time. And for the most part, I have to say no, you have to draw on your own existing field of potential contacts and sponsors , not from mine. You don’t have to think too hard about that to know that I can’t continually sell existing contacts to every charity that comes along. When I get those calls, I tell them we’re not going to have real buy-in until you develop your own list of contacts.
MKC: Has the economy and its travails had an effect on cause marketing?
PAUL: Yes and no. IEG is the company in Chicago that tracks cause marketing, and is in charge of the official number, and they continue to mark growth in it, above and beyond the growth of GDP. So it’s growing faster than the economy as a whole, but not double digit growth as in the past.
MKC: In the time you’ve been doing this kind of marketing, have you seen any shift in how people in the nonprofit world regard it?
PAUL: I’ve been at this a long time. I started at Children’s Miracle Network in November 1992. At that time it was called cause-related marketing, and in general most people in nonprofits thought of it as some kind of selling out. It has grown a lot. And people know what it means! I used to have to describe cause marketing every single time, and use an example. Otherwise people wouldn’t get it.
I wish some of the companies that have been doing it a long time would release a few of the results. We have some studies of particular companies and particular campaigns, but not as many as you’d think or I’d hope for. General Mills has been doing its Boxtops for Education for 13 or 14 years now. Campbell has been doing its labels for education for 28 or 30 years. Obviously these are big, sophisticated companies, and General Mills uses cause marketing strategically across a number of its brands. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it. I’m sure they have a good corporate heart and a strong sense of social responsibility, but they wouldn’t keep doing it with so many of their many brands if it didn’t work for them.
MKC: Does cause marketing also work for smaller companies and smaller organizations?
PAUL: It has a reputation for being something between big causes and big companies, but the fact of the matter is, there’s plenty of growth potential for small businesses and smaller charities. It’s just a matter of getting the positioning right and picking the right partner. The practice has consistently grown for 20 years, and there’s still room for further growth. Acceptance has never been higher, and outside the United States acceptance is actually higher than it is here, according to a couple of surveys – in countries like China, Brazil, Mexico. That for me is a big surprise. So there’s still room for growth, domestically and internationally.
You can follow Paul’s blog at.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.