Make Charitable Contributions Work Hard for Your Brand
I love that the restaurant industry has adopted giving back as a standard practice. Just today, I read that SONIC, the number one drive-thru brand in the country, donated $1MM to fund 2,315 public schools through DonorsChoose.org.
As you develop your cause-related marketing program, here are a few things to learn from restaurants that have done a nice job promoting their community involvement.
Be Authentic: When choosing an organization to partner with, make certain to select a cause that not only makes sense to your target audience but to your employees as well.
If you’re a family restaurant, like SONIC, consider something around children or education. If the majority of your restaurants are in urban settings, addressing access to food is a nice option. Whether you choose a specific charity or a theme, make a decision and stick to it. And then, pull it through all of your internal and external marketing materials.
Go Narrow and Deep: A common mistake made by companies across all industries, not just the restaurant industry, is the desire to solve all the world’s problems.
But realistically, that’s just not possible. So, rather than donate small amounts to a handful of charities, choose ONE organization and create a meaningful partnership that will have a lasting impact. This is not only helpful for the charity but it allows your restaurant to own a solution.
Make it Easy: Develop an overall strategy with supporting tactics that are easy to understand for employees and customers.
Matching contributions, dedicating a day of sales or simply a social call to action are all easy to understand and, perhaps more importantly, simple to execute. When your internal team and external customers know how to plug in, they become more interested and thus are more likely to participate.
Choose Your Words Carefully: A local restaurant here in Boulder ran a promotion where an entire day’s profits went to a local food bank. My immediate thought was, “Wow, that’s generous.” But when digging a little deeper, it turns out that it’s only 20% of sales as the other 80% cover operating costs. Smarter messaging means full credit for your donation.
Be Realistic about PR Expectations: The general consensus for newsworthy contributions is $1MM for national press and $25K for local press. That’s not to say that if you have a very unique promotion or a sympathetic reporter, you can’t place a few stories. But, just be mindful to approach your outreach with reasonable goals.
With these best practices in mind, adopt a cause, conduct an internal launch, create in-restaurant collateral and promote it via social media and newsletters to encourage participation. Once the campaign ends, close the loop by sharing the success.
At the end of the day, charitable giving is not meant to serve your restaurant’s bottom line. But, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get credit for your contribution.
Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.