Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
November 14, 2013

Philanthropy as a Brand Exercise

The third, fourth and fifth floor conference halls at Philadelphia’s Center City Marriott Hotel were packed last month with the world’s top communications professionals at the PRSA 2013 International Conference.

Breakout sessions, keynotes and “off the record” buzz ranged from best practices in crisis management following some of this year’s biggest challenges, like the Boston Marathon bombings, to new trends for engaging customers over digital platforms, and how social media is changing the way big banks connect with stakeholders in an era of compliance. 

A topic that garnered the attention of a couple of dozen professionals has great potential to make a profound difference on the craft of corporate positioning: philanthropy. 

We had the opportunity to sit in on two panels that showcased the success philanthropy can have on reputation management. SPOILER ALERT: The companies were invested in the partnership beyond a monetary commitment.

The sessions, hosted by companies from two different industries, examined their corporate giving and how it helped to enhance their exposure in the community. 

One session, hosted by Saint-Gobain — the world’s largest building materials company, as well as a global leader in the production of high-performance materials — explained how their partnership with Philadelphia Youth Build has evolved from underwriting the rehabilitation of rundown properties to a deep partnership that benefits the families who inhabit the homes and the image of a French multinational corporation. Most important, their partnership (as evidenced by their decision to co-present at the session) is one of upmost integrity that has grown and deepened over the years.

Over the past three years, Saint-Gobain’s investment in Philadelphia Youth Build has grown, and professionals responsible for managing the project spend an increasing amount of time on the initiative. What started as a small partnership that focused primarily on financial support has grown to encompass employee volunteerism and involvement from the community as well as an increase in monetary giving — which led to the partnership realizing its full potential.

Another session examined the role of corporate giving and helping to rehabilitate the image of a community bank. The bank took up an initiative centered on community engagement in the areas they served as a way to repair reputational damage by showing a softer and more caring side of the company.  Simple steps went a long way to helping the bank — from participating in and sponsoring food drives, to helping organize holiday drives in their branches. Again, like in the case of Saint-Gobain, this was not limited only to financial giving, but through employee volunteering and true community engagement.

In both cases, the key takeaways were:

  • Philanthropy, if done right, can improve a company’s brand, but the company should be invested beyond monetary donations.
  • For brands that have suffered, it is no different. Helping repair the reputation of a company in a community requires a long and lasting commitment.

In all, PRSA went a long way in tying a very simple concept of corporate philanthropy to reputation management.

Mitchell Schwenz is an Account Supervisor with WalekPeppercomm, a niche financial services practice within Peppercomm. Mitchell’s clients range from public companies, national banks to alternative and traditional asset managers.

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