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The Perfect Fit for Good Corporate Communications: Aligning CSR, Brand and Philanthropy

By DeShele Dorsey on December 19, 2008No Comment

According to Kellie A. McElhaney, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business at the Haas School of Business, University of California and author of Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Responsibility and Brand, PEDIGREE is among a small set of corporations that has done an exceptional job of communicating its citizenship efforts successfully to the general public.  In an interview with OnPhilanthropy, McElhaney notes that “we live in a world with no shortage of bad stories… companies must establish good CSR programs that align with their business strategy and brand, and then take the next step by telling their story.” McElhaney observes that discussions regarding CSR are no longer about why companies should implement a platform but how to measure it, demonstrate impact and communicate meaningful stories to stakeholders. Just Good Business provides a practical and step-by-step roadmap to help corporations get to the place where they can broadcast their efforts to the public.

McElhaney advocates for corporations to “back away from scatter shot approaches to CSR and move towards a laser-sharp focus that is linked to core competencies and weaved into every dimension of the organization’s operations.” She further advises that corporations should not shy away from talking about their efforts, particularly if the CSR strategy and program is substantive and can demonstrate impact.   

So how can companies check to see if they are on the right track with telling their story? In her opinion, a good place to start is to assess how much its current employees know and understand about their own CSR programs. McElhaney cautions against making communication efforts about CSR complex and suggests that corporations examine natural internal outlets to share tidbits and stories.  A CEO’s speech, division planning sessions, sales meetings, new employee orientations, and annual events are just a few of the options to consider. It is also important to keep key questions in mind such as “Is your message bite-size and easy to remember?  How often and when have you repeated your key messages?”

PEDIGREE employees were already in the community supporting dog rescue efforts, but beyond company walls no one knew these volunteer activities were taking place. A leadership team dedicated time to conduct a competitive assessment and landscape analysis of pet food brands.  The team grappled with how to distinguish itself in the marketplace, take ownership of a charitable cause, and broadcast publically the good work of its employees. The result was the launch of The PEDIGREE® Adoption Drive campaign which began five years ago. The Adoption Drive’s primary objective is to raise awareness of the nearly 4 million dogs that end up in shelters every year and the fact that only 50% ever make it out.  As a natural extension of the adoption drive, the PEDIGREE Foundation was formed to help deepen consumer engagement activities and facilitate an online grants program that supports animal shelters and breed rescue organizations nationally.

John Anton, President of the PEDIGREE Foundation, explained that “our mission is easy and makes sense for who we are as company the PEDIGREE brand is dedicated to helping shelter and breed rescue dogs find loving homes.  We are a company that at its core really cares about the welfare of dogs and leverage our brand equity to enhancing the public’s understanding of the oversaturation of the dog population in shelters.”  OnPhilanthropy interviewed Anton to learn more about PEDIGREE’s philanthropic initiative and to reinforce some of the key principles shared in McElhaney’s book.  The key take-aways include:

Authentically link your philanthropic efforts to your brand and CSR platform. Anton observed that it has been common practice among corporations to participate in charitable causes that don’t necessarily make sense for the company or its brands.  From his perspective, this dilutes the results and impact of a company’s philanthropic efforts. The PEDIGREE brand is owned by Mars, Inc. and the corporation’s overall CSR strategy has four primary focuses: youth enrichment, animal welfare, hunger relief and sustainability.  PEDIGREE squarely maps to Mars, Inc.’s CSR platform by delivering a high-quality product to the market, instilling sustainable product development and manufacturing practices, and executing the Adoption Drive campaign.

Be sensitive to your key messaging and how it complements product advertising and marketing.  PEDIGREE is known by its cheerful, fun-loving ads with healthy, happy dogs.  In debating how best to deliver the right imagery and content for the Adoption Drive, PEDIGREE had to carefully assess its consumers’ responsiveness to more gloomy pictures of pets behind bars.  PEDIGREE calculated the risk and decided to move forward because it believed true dog lovers would have “a soft spot in their hearts for dogs that aren’t as lucky.”  The campaign worked and to date, PEDIGREE and the PEDIGREE Foundation have donated nearly $5 million to shelters and breed rescue organizations, in addition to thousands of pounds of PEDIGREE dog food. 

Identify how your brand can uniquely leverage consumers’ desire to actively participate in your company’s cause.  The PEDIGREE Foundation website offers several options for consumers to get involved. Visitors to the website can get information on adoption and volunteer opportunities; they can also make direct contributions to the Foundation, tax-free.  On the brand website, visitors can research and view pictures of various breeds, search for dogs that are available for adoption in their local community and sign-up for a newsletter. Starting in January, Pedigree will partner with a new movie, Hotel for Dogs, and make up to a $250,000 contribution to the Foundation based on tickets sales through July. This is another simple way PEDIGREE plans to reinforce its belief that all dogs deserve a loving home in the public sphere.

Explore new opportunities to tell your story.  The annual adoption drive has been very successful over the last five years.  However, Anton and his team continuously look for new and bigger outlets to share the company’s message about the importance of dog adoption.  In 2009, PEDIGREE will run an ad during the Super Bowl and harness the attention of millions and millions of viewers to connect the brand’s philanthropic message with its product. 

Find ways to reinforce your philanthropic efforts internally. Employees at PEDIGREE are encouraged to volunteer in shelters and breed rescues. The culture is such that PEDIGREE has a pet-friendly environment and owners are allowed to have their animals on site during the work day.  Associates’ business cards are distinctly co-branded with the company’s information and logo as well as a picture of their personal pet on the back. Anton indicated that it was important for the company and its employees to know that an infusion existed between the brand’s belief and attitude that everything that it does is for the love of dogs; this infusion can be easily identified in the adoption campaign and general product marketing.

Create partnerships that are natural fit for your program. The PEDIGREE Foundation established a relationship with for a shelter make-over contest that took place between October 2007 and March 2008.  The contest allowed shelters to engage their supporters by logging on to and gave PEDIGREE an opportunity to further its key message about dogs living in shelters with a company that is also passionate about the cause. The Stray Rescue of St. Louis was awarded a make-over worth approximately $1 million and smaller cash awards were provided to 19 other organizations across the country. PEDIGREE has also been a lead sponsor of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and utilizes this platform to inspire and engage dog lovers to support dogs who are less fortunate.

PEDIGREE’s competitive mileage among pet owners is strong and Anton believes the intrinsic link between brand attributes, company culture, and philanthropic efforts makes the Foundation’s program a huge success.  “The adoption campaign and traditional advertising together hit our consumers with a crisp message that is easy to grab on to and understand all that we do ladders up to the belief that Pedigree is the company that really loves dogs.  This is why I believe consumers side with us, because they can see the authenticity of our platform in concrete ways.”

McElhaney foresees companies “doing CSR smartly” in the future just as Pedigree has done. Executive leadership and others will be looking for “intrinsic links and those activities and programs that don’t align will be cut.”  PEDIGREE and other CSR platforms such as General Electric’s Ecomagination, Dow’s Human Element campaign and Wal-Mart’s Save Money. Live Better. campaign are leaders in this regard according to McElhaney.  Every company is looking to master the formula that yields the benefits of the triple bottom line financial, social and environmental success.  The demands of this information-driven world require that corporations are forthcoming about what independently and collectively is being done with respect to CSR and charitable investments. The companies that can get their message out in a simple and concise manner are ahead of the game.  Companies can utilize the promising practices put forth here as a starting point to sharpen their competitive edge and be a leader in showcasing and communicating effective CSR.

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