Corporate-Cause Partnerships Gone Bad

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Recently, Susan G. Koman and Kentucky Fried Chicken have come under much fire for their Buckets for the Cure campaign. The Aquarium of the Pacific has also been criticized for embracing energy giant BP as a corporate sponsor (you can check out this article and this blog post for more background). I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, but even I scratched my head when I heard about Buckets for the Cure. An alliance between an organization that is so health-focused and the one of the nation’s largest fast food purveyors feels like a less than natural fit, to say the least. Nor does an alliance between an aquarium and a major oil company make sense, even when said company is not dealing with their own PR nightmare.

Before entering in any alliance or partnership, whether informal or more structured, there are a number of things to consider. Kurt Aschermann, Chief Marketing Officer and Managing Director Corporate Opportunities Group, Boys & Girls Club of America  does a great job summing many of these up in The Ten Commandments of Cause-Related Marketing. (While focused on cause marketing, I think these rules are applicable to any partnership or alliance.)

But there was one very important, and very simple, “commandment” that was absent from his piece…and from the examples outlined about: Remain true to your core values.

I think I reacted to Buckets for the Cure and the Aquarium of the Pacific examples because they feel so out-of-line with my perception of the core values for the nonprofits involved, and are bordering on hypocritical.

At their best, partnerships should clearly align with and support an organization’s underlying mission. Not every partnership will be “best case,” but at the very least, they should not directly oppose what an organization stands for…which is what both of these examples seem to do.

When I was growing up, my mother always told me to watch the company I kept, because for better or worse, people are judged by those with whom they associate. This is simple, but powerful advice which applies to organizations as well. Your brand is just as much about the relationships you embrace and how you are perceived  as it is about who you are and what you do, making smart partnership choices that much more critical to success.