Positive PR That Advertising Just Can’t Buy
Yes, there really is such a thing as for free newspaper advertising. Businesses of all sizes really can get free newspaper and radio advertising by adopting a cause-related marketing strategy.
If free advertising alone isn’t good enough reason, by having your business support a cause you may also be making the world a better place and attracting employees who want their ideals reflected in their place of employment. Cause marketing is, at its core, a three-way partnership between an astute for-profit business like yours, a non-profit charity with a worthy cause at heart, and a local community-centric news outlet like a newspaper, radio station, TV station or news website.
Here are some examples of cause-related marketing:
- A hardware store might partner with a local homeless agency to help design individual portable shelters.
- An art supply store might host a monthly art class for the Boys and Girls Club.
- An accounting company might partner with the local no-kill animal shelter to help walk the dogs awaiting new homes.
Cause Marketing is considered “News” by the local media outlet (which doesn’t cost anything), rather than “Advertising” (which you have to pay for). If a for-profit business asks a news media outlet for coverage then it is considered advertising and the radio station, TV station or newspaper expect money for it. If a non-profit organization seeks coverage then the TV station, newspaper or radio station are likely to consider it news and not ask for payment. When a business has an event and looks to a newspaper, radio station or TV station for promotion it is considered advertising. When a charity or other tax-exempt cause has an event that affects the community, it is considered news:
By partnering with the charity, the business can take advantage of the news outlet’s desire to educate their readers or viewers and improve their community. A cause-related marketing strategy is likely to not only garner your business free advertising, it has the additional benefit, depending on the charity, of making your local community a better place AND attracting employees that want to feel good about working for you.
The tactics to develop a cause-marketing strategy for your business are: Identify the broad cause you want to support, brainstorming specific charities/causes, contacting specific charities to offer support and brainstorm event ideas, and regularly sending press releases to news outlets to let them know what the partnership is up to.
First, identify the broad themes that are important to you personally, and to the business.
Is the environment more important to you than homelessness? If you’re in business for yourself, try to separate your personal tastes from the businesses. If you’re running a larger business, try to think not only of your personal causes but also those that are important to your employees. You can just look at the bumper stickers on the cars in the employee parking lot, or even better, ask your employees for ideas of causes they’d like to support. At this stage, you’re just trying to find broad topics for causes like breast cancer awareness or literacy and not specific non-profit agency names. In all likelihood, a cause that is important to the majority of your employees will probably also be appropriate for your business. Having the support of your employees now will be important later when you need their support, and it will help them feel like they are making a difference by working for you.
Religious or political causes may alienate potential business customers without any benefit, so only choose political, religious or controversial causes if you are willing to take the risk of doing so. Alienating some potential customers might be OK if it helps attract a more dedicated (but smaller) audience to your business.
Next, identify one or more specific charities or non-profit causes.
Don’t just pick the first charity that comes to mind! After all, the first one you think of probably already has enough sponsorship support and media coverage; that’s why you thought of it! Instead of taking the first charities that pop into your head, do a bit or research to find worthwhile causes or non-profit agencies that aren’t already well known. Your community is probably teeming with after-school programs, park cleanup committees, pet adoption leagues, cancer patient ride services, senior meal delivery programs and the like that will welcome any pat on the back and will eagerly accept a formal partnership.
Your research for potential causes might be as easy as doing a web search for “Volunteers Needed” and the name of your town: “Volunteers Needed Vail Colorado”, for example. But even finding a cause can be your first opportunity to get the free advertising you seek. Write a press release or send a Letter to the Editor to your local newspaper explaining that you are looking for community input on which non-profit causes to support. You will receive a deluge of suggestions and may even get a news article published as a result.
To find a local charity in your area, look to your local newspaper or to a web search on sites like GuideStar which have thousands of charities dealing with animals, human services, arts, and culture, etc.
The interests of the business and the charity don’t necessarily need to overlap, but the interests of their supporters do. The benefits to each don’t have to be as obviously self-serving as a grocery story supporting a food bank or a pet store supporting a pet-rescue charity. Better partnerships are those in which the audience of support overlaps, AND when that audience overlaps with the local newspaper or radio station audience.
Then, get in contact with the specific charity/cause:
After you have some initial charities or causes in mind, contact their spokesperson and let them know you’d like to help support their cause. The spokesperson for smaller charitable organizations might be able to agree themselves to be you partner. Larger organizations might have a board that has to agree or even rules against entering into a formal partnership. Be upfront about your need to both help support their cause, and to have the cause support your business.
Once you’ve decided on which cause/charity(its) to support, make a big splash of it! This is your second opportunity for free advertising. Send a press release to your local TV stations, newspapers or radio stations and let them know you’d love to come on-air to discuss the cause and your partnership.
Finally, give the cause your wholehearted support:
Now, get into the regular habit of supporting your cause! Help produce their monthly newsletter. Offer to let them have their monthly meetings in your conference room. Show your support by linking your website to theirs and include their name as a beneficiary of any other paid advertising you do. Ask for time on the monthly agenda to discuss how the needs of your business overlap with the cause organizations’.
Most importantly, plan opportunities to highlight the partnership with free or no-cost events like community cleanups, how-to seminars and the
like. Most importantly, every time there is a co-sponsored event, alert the news media outlets in the form of a press release or event submission in a continual cycle of news releases. The news outlet, anxious to make the community informed and always in need of uplifting news, mentions the partnership or event in their coming events calendar, news brief or even as a full news story.
Once the media outlet has made an article about your co-sponsored event, make sure to promote their articles on your own social media accounts. Sharing the journalist’s coverage of your event will have a greater impact than promoting your own coverage.
Cause marketing is a great way to enhance your marketing strategy with free publicity, but the most successful marketing strategies build this message into paid campaigns. Make the cause partnership part of your branding. Make sure that your advertising account manager is apprised of your partnership and each event so they can promote it in all paid radio spots, online banner ad campaigns, and print ad campaigns.