Brands need people to feel good about them. Cause Related Marketing, joint campaigns involving charities or good causes, has proved successful in raising the profile of some big food industry brands, as well as raising money for charity. Chris Lyddon asked how it's done.

"There's a massive benefit to be had here," Catherine Sermon of Business in the Community told just-food.com. "Yes for the business, but also for the charities and society as a whole."

Business in the Community works on getting companies and charities together. "We see ourselves as promoters of best practise," she said. BITC's activities include seminars on CRM for businesses and charities.

It is important to be aware of the pitfalls. "There are massive potential benefits and massive potential risks," she said. Many of the risks were the same as with any form of marketing. "The promotion won't succeed or issues may damage the brand." But there were other issues. "It must be founded on integrity, partnership, mutual respect and transparency," she said. "You want to avoid the charities feeling exploited."

CRM requires thorough planning on both sides. "The company has got to do its thinking and be thorough about it," Sermon said. "Cause Related Marketing isn't a fig leaf for covering a product's or a company's failings." But the operators of the charities needed to think about what they were doing. Above all they should not rush into a deal because of the financial rewards. "We say to the charity, "don't sell your soul," she said.

Lighthearted approach

One campaign which was conspicuously successful was the Belfast-based Nambarrie Tea Company's link with Action Cancer's breast cancer awareness campaign. The involvement was close. At one point the factory closed for a day while every member of Nambarrie's staff packed pink ribbons alongside Action Cancer Staff and volunteers. Nambarrie's drivers then delivered ribbons and collection boxes throughout the province.

Witty advertising helped get the point across. Bra-shaped tea cups made the message memorable, without offending the sensitive.

But while it definitely raised Nambarrie's profile, it is hard to say whether it actually sold more tea, Nambarrie's Naomi Waite told just-food.com. "That's a hard thing to measure," she said. "It certainly improved our brand perception." But with a wide range of campaigns running at the same time, the exact effect on sales was impossible to quantify.

Targeting a common market

The important thing about Nambarrie's campaign is that they and Action Cancer were trying to get through to the same people. The people who buy the most tea are overwhelmingly women of the age to be most concerned about breast cancer. "We were both trying to reach a similar audience," Waite said.

Even though the campaign had come to an end, Nambarrie was interested in future CRM projects. "We're open to similar proposals. It's not that we've lost interest in cause related marketing," she said. "We are still searching for suitable partners."

Another company which has been very successful at making its customers feel good about its brand is Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate, makers of Yorkshire Tea. To date over two million trees have been planted under their "Trees for Life," scheme Katy Squire of Bettys and Taylors told just-food.com.

"The response has been tremendous," she said. "It's not unusual for us to receive cheques in the post from customers towards the scheme." The project has been running since 1990, predominantly with Oxfam, although other charities have been involved along the way.

Giving back to producer countries

It focuses on the countries which export tea and coffee. "We recognised the need to give back to the countries where we buy coffee and tea," Squires said. "Consumers were calling for it." The campaign started with trees planted by local communities. Tokens on tea were used to plant trees in Ethiopia.

Taylors is donating £100,000 (US$163,000) a year to Oxfam, but there are elements to the campaign nearer home. Last year the slogan was "Saving Britain's Ancient Woodland," planting native broadleaved trees in cooperation with the Woodland Trust.

Meanwhile Action Cancer, the charity which worked with Nambarrie, was so pleased with the success of its initial foray into cause related marketing that it has started a new campaign, this time focused on men. Leo Donaghy, Action Cancer's corporate fundraising manager, told just-food.com. The new campaign is being run jointly with local IT firm Sx3. "With this campaign we touted around a few companies and found this one," he said. "Nambarrie came to us."

There was the same fit, with a company with an overwhelmingly male workforce. "As far as possible if you can, get a good fit," he said. In Action Cancer's case a locally based charity is working with companies based on the same area, but there was more to it than that. "You want someone who understands your cause, who buys into your ethos," he said.

The search for an ethically sound partner

There was concern about the ethical issues. "You lay yourself open to charges of having sold out," Donaghy said, well aware of problems where there have been conflicts in CRM campaigns. "You're looking for an ethically sound partner if possible," he said. "You don't just want them piggy backing on your brand. And if your message is being overshadowed by who your partner is, then it's time to review the relationship," he said. For that reason it was important to make sure an annual review was written into the agreement at the start, he said.

There were cases where the fit was wrong, said Action Cancer's Leo Donaghy. Nestle's partnership with the Red Cross had gone wrong for the charity, he felt. The Swiss multinational was heavily criticised in Britain for a compensation claim it made in Ethiopia. UNICEF's partnership with McDonald's had triggered demonstrations by activists who said that the UN childrens charity should not be in a partnership with a company whose products they claim cause obesity. Donaghy also pointed to reports that alcohol increases risk of breast cancer which he felt had damaged a joint campaign by Hardys wines and the Breast Cancer Campaign.

Jo Symington of Cancer Research UK also stressed the need for a good fit between the company and the charity. Tesco's sponsorship of Cancer Research UK's Race for Life was a good example. "They're a perfect partner," she told just-food.com. The Race for Life is a series of events for women and 62% of Tesco's staff and the overwhelming majority of its customers were women. "They're very keen to position themselves as a community store and Race for Life, although it's national, is a series of community events," she said. "You need to have a brand which fits with your own brand."

Symington quoted the New Covent Garden Soup Company's work with homeless charity Crisis, as an example of a good fit.

Cancer Research UK does check companies carefully, before entering into a partnership. "We wouldn't work with any company linked with tobacco," she said. The checks involved looking at parent companies as well as the direct partner.

£30m raised in 2001

Business in the Community tracks the value of CRM to charities and good causes. They reckon it at more than £30m raised in 2001, Catherine Sermon said. "That's just the ones registered with us," she said. "For a small charity a £10,000 donation is fantastic. £30m is really significant for charities and good causes." Now she is reminding companies to give details of payments made in 2002 to bring the figures up to date.

What it is worth in sales to the commercial partner remains harder to calculate. "Business in the Community is looking for ways of pinpointing the value of CRM," Sermon said. "We're considering research on how CRM can impact on consumers' perceptions of a brand," she said. "Some companies can talk about uplift of sales, enhancing brand reputation."

For Leo Donaghy of Action Cancer there is no doubt that CRM is a success story. "The two partnerships we've had have been fine. The one with Nambarrie we were very pleased with and the one we've got now we're very pleased with."