Tread carefully on tragedy

May 30, 2018

tragedyWhen our country endures a tragedy like the Parkland shooting or a natural disaster like the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, we get completely wrapped up in the stories, the people, and the emotions. We want to show our concern, to connect with each other to mourn together and, of course, we want to do something to support the victims.

Immediately after the Parkland shooting a few months ago, we saw people changing their social media profile pictures, expressing their support and starting fundraising campaigns. Because of the nature of the tragedy we also saw a flurry of conversation about gun control, mental health and other social issues that played a role in the shooting.

As a country, we were horrified, afraid, angry, sad and struggling with our feelings of helplessness. We expressed all of those reactions for many days following the shooting.

My guess is that if your social media channels are like mine, some people expressed themselves more eloquently than others. And some, it seemed, just talked to talk, as if they didn’t want to be left out.

But the people who really touched my heart and inspired me were the ones who didn’t say very much but they did something. They donated blood or shared a link to a site collecting donations. They found a way to help and quietly did so.

Brands can probably take a lesson from that observation. After all, organizations hurt and feel compassion in the same way we do. They want to express their support as well. After all, they’re just big groups of people.

Much like our friends and family – some companies express their support better than others. There’s a thin line between solidarity and trying to capitalize on a tragedy to position your brand/organization in a good light.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s very bad form for any organization to use a crisis or tragedy as a marketing tactic. But you sure don’t want your well-intentioned gesture or words to be labeled as self-serving or an attempt to capitalize on a tragedy.

If your company wants to conduct itself in a way that’s above reproach, follow these guidelines.

Say very little, do something meaningful: JetBlue offered free flights to/from Parkland, FL for the families of the victims while Delta Airlines offered free flights to the Washington, D.C. march that many victims and their families attended. Local restaurants donated food feeding the family and friends of the victims and the injured at hospitals, churches and at their homes. Organizations like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Macy’s, AutoNation and Cigna all donated hundreds of thousands of dollars without any fanfare.

Mourn together: Nickelodeon and MTV – the networks of legions of children and teenagers – went off the air for 17 minutes to honor those killed in the Parkland shooting.

Show your support: Many companies and entities lowered their flags to half-staff and donned ribbons in the colors of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – maroon and white.

Help others offer a helping hand: Professionals United for Parkland – an all-volunteer group of more than 250 licensed mental health workers provided free counseling via their referral hotline 24/7 for as long as necessary to anyone in South Florida affected by the shooting.

These companies all showed their compassion and humanity. It’s worth noting that none of their gestures required a lot of talk. In times of tragedy and when people are hurting, actions definitely speak louder than words.


Your Organization’s Mark

April 25, 2018

MarkIn marketing terms, an organization’s trademark, or “mark,” is any word, phrase, symbol, design, sound, smell, color, or combination of these, used by a company to identify its products or services, and distinguish them from products and services provided by others.

We’ve talked many times about the importance of having a unique mark and protecting it both legally and by using it wisely. It’s one of the most valuable and important assets your company has.

But that’s not the kind of mark I want to talk about this week. I want to turn your attention to a much grander, broader mark. I’m talking about the mark that your organization is leaving on your community. When we think about companies that have helped shape Des Moines, we can’t help but point to the Principals, Merediths, and Wellmarks of our world, whose civic-mindedness has changed the landscape of our shared community.

For every company the size of those giants, there are hundreds of businesses with a handful of employees. Normally those companies fly under the radar because it’s assumed they can’t possibly have that kind of impact. I want to challenge that belief. Whether you are a solopreneur, have fewer than 20 employees or maybe have a few hundred people who work in your organization – you can leave your mark.

Think I’m crazy? I offer my small agency as an example. I’m very proud of the work we do for clients across the country. We help them connect with their best-fit prospects and create lasting relationships with their customers. But honestly, that’s just us doing our job and what we get paid to do. Important – yes. Our legacy in this community? No.

20+ years ago, we were part of the team that conceived, created and launched Jolly Holiday Lights for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and 10+ years ago, we conceived, created and launched the YESS Duck Derby for Youth Emergency Services & Shelter of Iowa.

These events raise a combined $500,000+ a year for those organizations. They are the largest fundraiser for each of them and they have become a significant part of their brand, their connection to the community and help them serve more children every year.

That’s our true mark. We used our best resources to change our community for the better and hopefully those non-profits will live on for many, many years, caring for the children who need their help.

My point is this – if we can do it, so can you. Lest you think I’ve forgotten that this is all about marketing, let me connect the dots. Being an organization that changes the course of your community is good for business. Here are some of the ways it translates to your bottom line.

Brand building: No doubt, being perceived as a company who serves the community is a powerful way to generate awareness, respect, and appreciation for your brand.

Employee attraction: Today’s employees want to work for an organization that has a greater purpose than just making a profit. They want a company with a connection to the community and a conscience.

Tip the scales: If a prospect is trying to decide between you and your competitor and one of you is known for doing something special for your shared community – who do you think will get the nod. No doubt you have to be good at what you do and fairly priced, etc. But being a good corporate citizen may just be what gets you the nod.

I challenge you because this doesn’t happen by accident. What mark will you leave on this community?



Year-end charitable giving

December 14, 2016

year-end charitable giving

Is that your hand in my pocket?  Every holiday season my mailbox is stuffed and my phone is ringing off the hook. Alas, the increase in activity is not just holiday greetings – it’s mostly people asking me for money. It’s time for the year-end charitable giving appeals.

Call me Scrooge if you will – but it’s annoying and ineffective. In most cases, I’m receiving communications from charities that I haven’t heard from since last holiday season. They’ve made no attempt to engage me throughout the year. They haven’t shared their successes with me along the way or even bothered to see if I was interested in the work they’re doing. In other words – they are shooting blind.

They have a huge list of people that includes anyone they can think of that should give, might give, attended an event 5 years ago or sold them something and BOOM – out goes the generic, “hey stranger give us money” mailing.

I sit on enough boards to understand why nonprofits feel compelled to send out a request for money between Thanksgiving and Christmas but the truth is – while they may enjoy a small surge in donations, they’re doing some damage too.

If you know that part of your organization’s business plan is to send out a year-end charitable giving appeal – let’s do some things throughout the year so your efforts drive more results and cause less of a disconnect.

Identify your target list in January: Don’t freak out – you can always add appropriate people to it – but let’s identify a list of people that you can spend an entire year preparing for your appeal letter.

I know this is counter-intuitive, but your job in selecting these people is to reduce the list, not add to it. Your goal is not to reach out to every breathing human being but to really narrow the list down to likely donors. Why? Because rather than the one gun and done method, we’re going to communicate to them throughout the year – increasing the likelihood that they will give.

Share throughout the year: You don’t want to be the nonprofit I only hear from when you want to put your hand in my pocket. So this year, you are going to work this donor list all year long. Yes, it’s going to cost you a little more but remember, we’ve reduced the list so hopefully there will be less waste and a better yield.

At least once a quarter you need to reach out to this list. Share success stories. Show them how you are spending your 2015 year-end appeal dollars (actually say it, don’t assume they infer it) and talk about your impact on the community. In short – do all of the things you try to cram into the year-end fundraising letter throughout the year. If you skip this step – you can count on mediocre results at year’s end.

Yes, I know it costs money. But you can’t expect them to invest in you if you don’t invest in the relationship. Think of how many charities are out there – and every single one sent out a letter asking for money between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most people are going to choose one or two at the most. They all do good things to make this community and the world a better place. Sadly – those are the table stakes. If you want to make the most of your year-end charitable giving appeal, you have to do even more.