Six Ways to Wow Your Corporate Partners
The game is definitely changing.
As consumers demand their favourite brands become a ‘force for good’, more and more companies are realising the benefits of exploring the world of social good as a way to remain relevant to their customers by connecting them with causes close to their hearts, differentiate themselves from the competitors and increase profits.
At the same time, organisations everywhere are tired of living hand-to-mouth, trying to be the change-makers in society with never enough support to make the impact they need to have.
Relationship models between the For-Purpose and For-Profit sectors are evolving from transactional-based sponsorship to long-term partnerships where core missions and core business are more in alignment than ever before.
Creating these types of partnerships is exciting, but maintaining these relationships is where your organisation can really start to make the positive change you’ve always envisioned.
Here are six simple things you can do that will make a huge difference to the success, commitment and sustainability of your partnerships for years to come.
Give them stories to tell.
Businesses are results-driven. They are constantly measuring the success or failure of their marketing and communication campaigns. But, despite their efforts, recent research shows that many consumers actually doubt the truth of the stories companies share when they talk about the positive impact their support of causes is having.
In fact, one statistic revealed that 66% of people agreed with the statement “in general all (corporates) do is care about profit and they’ll do anything to get it, even damaging society and the environment in the process.” What was also very revealing was the fact that 26% of people were undecided whether this statement was true or not. That means that only 8% of people actually disagreed with that statement that corporates will do anything to make a profit. Wow.
There’s no doubt that companies have a reputation for being able to influence people’s behaviour – that’s what successful marketing is right? The ability to influence people’s purchasing behaviour in their favour. But that’s where it can all turn bad for a brand in partnership. They are investing in a cause so ultimately they can look good, do good and be more relevant, but then when they try and talk about how they are making a difference, it can backfire. People think that corporates can be too smooth and use ‘marketing speak’, which is not real enough.
That’s where you come in. When it comes to the great work that you have been able to do with your partner’s involvement, then you have a big role to play in helping them communicate that positive impact. In short, be real. Show statistics, infographics, take photos, share real stories (videos are great!), reveal how much they’ve raised and where that money has gone. If there were successes, help them celebrate their efforts to make that happen. If there were things that didn’t work or quite go to plan, then help them talk about that too – it’s OK to show some rough edges if that’s the truth. Most importantly, help your partner talk about what you’ve learned together and what you’ll do next time. Give them the information they need to be taken seriously out there in the world. Selfishly, this is really important for you, because if they don’t feel that this partnership is giving them the kind of kudos they are seeking, they will start looking elsewhere. Be smart – arm them with great stories of the positive impact that they can share.
Tell YOUR world about their good deeds.
Everyone loves recognition. I believe it’s a basic human need to be valued and affirmed. To be ‘seen’. Your partners are no different – especially in the current climate of distrust. If they are doing good, then let your community and key stakeholders know about it. Every time you do so, your partnership becomes stronger. And believe me, you want this strength, not only because you are relying on their investment and support, but you want your partners to stay with you. Never forget that you have competitors out there in the sector: ones that will be approaching your partners for a relationship – trying to woo them away with promises of great outcomes and opportunities. The more you ‘talk up’ your partners and how valuable they are to your organisation, community and mission, the more they will be fully focussed on what else might be possible together, instead of entertaining distractions. From a practical standpoint, remember to tag your partners, use press releases, hashtags (you’ve created together), announce their contributions at public events and even think about awards and recognition for your partners. Most importantly, make sure they know you’re sharing the stories of the good work you’ve been able to achieve together with their invaluable contributions. They’ll want to leverage those accolades too by sharing it with their communities. It’s always more powerful to have someone else say how good you are, than trying to tell people yourself!
Everyone loves a photo opportunity!
If you are running live events, fun runs, conferences, projects or programs, then ideally you are offering opportunities for your partners to be actively involved in some way. Staff and customers who participate, fundraise and volunteer for your organisation should be recognised and a great way to do this is by using a professional photographer. Imagine your partners proudly hanging a big group photo of their staff at your events (having a wonderful time whilst furthering your mission) on the wall in their reception area? Now go one step further and allow them to track the pride, progress and success of your partnership year on year as you gift them with a lovely framed photo annually? Remember that ideally, your photos should be co-branded – that’s your logo AND their logo. Think banners, branded t-shirts, caps, drink bottles etc. There should be no question in anyone’s mind (for those looking at the photo) about who the partnership is with. But don’t despair, even if you get a great photo and there was no branding to be seen, there are wonderful photoshopping packages that can fix that up in a jiffy! Make sure you add the date, relevant hashtags and even a handwritten thank you note from your CEO or President in the bottom corner. Viola!
Keep your promises.
Under promise, over deliver. Always. We’ve all heard that. But even more important is to keep your promises. Being true to your word establishes trust. Trust needs to be revered for the incredible power it has. When times get tough, issues arise, personalities clash, communication is challenged, whatever it is, trust is the thing that will get you through. You need to establish it and fight to maintain it. The best way to do that is to be dependable. Your partner’s investment is not a donation. They are not writing you a cheque and then getting back to ‘business as usual’. A partnership with you IS their business – their opportunity to be more successful as a result of aligning with your cause. Be a regular communicator. Keep them in the loop. If something is not going to well, let them know. If you need help, let them know. We often ‘go quiet’ when we get extra busy or when the going gets stressful, and whilst it may feel counter-intuitive to speak out at these times, just do it. Your partners need to know you see them as a partner. You are partners in each other’s success story. They are providing you with the funding that is helping you ‘lift’ your community. You are providing them with the ability to be involved in social good. It’s a win, win, win. So, stay in touch and keep your promises. Trust can only be established by doing what you said you’d do.
Communicate with their team.
It’s so important to build relationships within your partnerships. What I mean by that is foster relationships beyond your initial contacts. You may have started out connecting with the General Manager or the Sponsorship person, but as you develop more layers to the relationship you may need to get to know the HR Manager to understand how their volunteering program and policies work. If your partners are asking their customers to donate to your cause, then you will need to play a role in training and supporting teams at the point of sale so that they can effectively communicate your messages to their customers. Ultimately it will be them that is your unpaid sales team, and boy do you want them to feel confident and know exactly what they need to say when a customer wants to engage them! Sometimes it can feel like you need to ‘let go’ of your brand a little, especially in a bigger, multi-faceted partnership where your corporate partner has lots of PR and marketing expertise. I even know some charities who want to leave the messaging entirely up to their partners, hoping their brand will be ‘professionalised’ a little. But the truth is, it is the power of your brand, your messaging, and your mission that will create the biggest positive impact. You need to work with your partner to ensure that messaging stays consistent, that your messages are ‘front of mind’ to staff and customers – after all, you are the reason they are donating, volunteering and participating. There is so much research about how aligning with a cause that people care about increases staff morale and customer engagement. That’s because of you. Your organisation does that. So, above all else, your job is to help your partner understand your strategic role in their success and be constantly looking for ways to communicate. Social media can reach customers. Newsletters can be circulated to staff. Internal fundraising or participation competitions within the company can be hugely successful. Whatever it might best look like for you, keep talking to your partner and keep involving their teams. They are your eyes and ears on the ground.
Ask for input.
The truth of the matter is when you get the alignment of the partnership right – that is, when your core values and their core business aligns, you are better together. You are the change-maker, achieving social good day in, day out. They have the ways to inject marketing smarts and financial investment in ways and amounts it would take you too long (and away from your mission) to be able to achieve on your own. You need each other. And the strength of the partnership as it grows should be a result of the collaboration and co-creation of new and diverse ways of engaging with mission and business that will keep it fresh and relevant.
Brands can spend big dollars researching and getting to know their ideal customer. They will have ways of engaging with them that you may not have thought of. Ways that with you involved in the mix (a cause that is meaningful to them) will only reap great engagement and support. Be sure to stay open is my advice. Ask for advice, ask for input so that you can work smarter not harder to be a powerful force for good.
So, as consumers demand a clearer sense of social responsibility from their favourite brands and more companies realise the benefits of exploring the world of social good, you have a big part to play. One that you’re perfectly suited for and one that can command huge benefits for your community of followers. If you hold your community (and your partner’s customers) as your focal point and keep communicating with your partners, you will have relationships that endure, become recession-proof and create the kind of impact you’ve always dreamed about.