In September 1997 Marjorie Thompson met with Tessa Jowell MP, then minister for public health, and proposed the idea of tripartite partnerships between government, corporates and charities.
Jowell responded favourably and this led to a meeting with the Department of Transport at which we pitched the idea of a campaign to reduce the number of suicide attempts on the railways. This was to be a tripartite relationship between the Department, Network Rail, and The Samaritans. Nothing came of it then, but clearly the seeds of something really powerful were sown.
This initiative was based upon the then new insight which was that brands needed to add ethical or even spiritual values on top of the more familiar rational/functional and emotional/psychological ones. Many major brands have now embraced this concept of corporate social responsibility and focus on delivering on the triple bottom line of financial, environmental and societal return.
17 years later and government has also embraced this notion; partnership marketing is now a key channel in delivering its policy objectives. Indeed many of the recent tenders run by The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) include it as a requirement with communication planners considering it alongside all the other owned, earned, and bought media available.
The benefit for government is that it amplifies its own campaigns and gives them more acceptability by cascading messages via partner brands. These partner brands are able to add CSR values through supporting a good cause, and get closer to government. Meanwhile citizens are exposed to more relevant and meaningful communications which lead to helpful behaviour change.
From first-hand experience of delivering partnership marketing campaigns for the likes of Public Health England, NHS Blood and Transplant and The Electoral Commission, among others, at 23red we’ve certainly seen that partnership marketing can deliver against a brand’s CSR objectives. This is equally evident among many brand-charity partnerships, from Marks & Spencer and Oxfam, to Boots and Macmillan.
Each of these partnership marketing programmes is tailor-made to the particular policy objective but some common themes have emerged. Firstly it can help to turn an advertising idea into a compelling brand platform which generates engagement and changes in behaviour.
For example the Change4Life advertising created by M&C Saatchi with its highly distinctive graphic style has been translated very effectively by 23red into activation materials. These have been delivered at the grass roots via a coalition of over 200 organisations and 75,000 local supporters ranging from supermarket giants like ASDA to small local organisation, charities and individuals.
Secondly, it’s a great way to engage the employees of partner companies and organisations in the cause. In the case of the ‘Dementia Friends’ campaign, staff training is at the core of the programme and this produces the classic partnership marketing ‘win win’. Founder partner companies, like M&S, benefit by being ‘first to market’ with better-trained brand ambassadors. Their employees not only become more effective when dealing with customers, they are more empathetic in their personal lives with elderly family members and their friends.
Thirdly, the partnering companies can enhance their brand by adding CSR values via co-branding. For example, Innocent’s smoothie sales and brand values continue to be boosted by its relationship with Age UK and their joint Big Knit initiative. It’s a brilliantly integrated campaign that raises funds, provides activity at a community level and provides distinction for Innocent.
Ultimately though, the largest factor driving responsibility-led partnerships is the consumer. It’s debatable how much progress in the last 17 years has been led by forward thinking corporates or government and how much it has been a response to consumer demand.
It’s no secret that consumers are prepared to actively reject brands that do not share their values (ask Starbucks), and that they are looking for evidence of a higher purpose from those they spend with. Responsibility-led partnerships are creative shorthand that helps brands show the consumer where their social priorities lie.
Hamish Pringle is a strategic advisor to 23red