posted by Teresa Coles Sep 23,2015 @ 05:11PM

The social company as bedrock for success

Open any business book or magazine these days, and you’re likely to encounter narrative around the benefits of being a “social” company. In fact, there are no less than 131,960 book results on Amazon under this exact heading.

What's that all about? And how could there possibly be this much fodder around the concept? Corporate social responsibility and the use of social media appear to have grabbed the microphone on this issue, given the prolific conversations in each of these two spaces.


The path of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has made its way from a self-regulatory construct for major corporations in the 1960s to an element of the “triple bottom line” in the 1990s. Practices include a wide range of endeavors, from environmental sustainability and product innovation to skills-based employee volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. In 2011, the concept of corporate social responsibility was identified as a driver to creating shared value (CSV) by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School fame. This advanced model seeks to link economic and societal factors through conscious decisions that:

  • Identify unmet human needs.
  • Inform new products and services.
  • Optimize productivity in the value chain.
  • Build economic development clusters.

Social media, the great connector

The skilled use of social media has been credited as a catalyst on a seemingly endless list of strategic corporate objectives: trend and product launches; long-term brand influence; short-term sales; customer service; venture capital; crisis management; recruiting, and many other areas. While there’s no denying the impact of social media on these business imperatives, some thought leaders contend that the deification of social media can sometimes become a crutch for corporate leadership and effective decision-making.

 Which brings us to the third — and I submit, most meaningful — definition of what it means to be a social company.


Social core, social company, social brand

Social companies are those in which culture, products and services are in complete alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision and mission. These corporate beliefs impact everything in the company, starting with internal behavioral systems. For example, employees in social companies behave in a way that is highly collaborative, self-sacrificing and committed to group interests. Employees in companies that are more transactional — as opposed to social — typically are less collaborative and guided by their own self-interests.

The business world has become familiar with the characteristics of social companies through the work of leading authors such as Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Terrence Deal and others. They’ve exposed us to the social infrastructure that has defined success for companies such as Amazon, Google, UPS, Hewlett Packard, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Trader Joe’s and many others. Their research has yielded data that clearly connects social companies to higher performance levels; one study indicates that social companies consistently perform at three times the Standard & Poor’s average.

Social companies achieve this kind of outward, quantifiable success by connecting their cultural expectations to exceptional product and service delivery systems, then bringing those to market through highly authentic brand marketing. There’s no question that the Patagonia brand is a direct reflection of Patagonia, the social company. Newer companies like Warby Parker and Harry’s are bringing fresh interpretations of what it means to be a social company, and their performance is there to back it up.


Size does not make social

Being a social company is in no way restricted to Fortune 500 corporations or national retailers. Any company — no matter the size or type of market — can apply the principles of social business. All it takes is the willingness to stop and consider three important whys:

  • Why your company really exists.
  • Why defining your belief structure is important.
  • Why the way you deliver your product and service is key.

Understanding these three concepts paves the way to an effective internal culture and an external brand that resonates with the market.

I believe American business is on the precipice of creating more value for humankind than ever before. As a marketer, it’s my great pleasure to work with companies that realize this and are building cultural and operational systems that support it. The social company knows its core, nurtures it and demonstrates it in the market. Executed well, success is the only outcome.


This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Katy Miller Oct 20,2014 @ 05:48AM

Camera Ready

It’s not often we get the chance to help a start up, but that’s exactly what we are doing for Film Columbia, the newest initiative of One Columbia For Arts and History.Unknown

As the city’s “unofficial” office of cultural affairs, One Columbia’s mission is to strengthen and unify the arts community with an ultimate goal of attracting more visitors to events and activities. They do this through a number of high profile projects like public art and the Cultural Passport. But, they haven’t stopped here.

The idea behind Film Columbia is to create a video library of art events and activities that groups can use to promote their own endeavors. It works like this: One Columbia hires emerging and established local filmmakers to shoot video of cultural events that take place in the city (most artists cannot afford to do this on their own). The filmmakers edit the footage into shorts videos that can be used to market various events, festivals, gallery openings, performances and lots of other happenings. Attendance goes up, artists are happy and Columbia is better known for its robust arts scene!

With several videos completed, it’s time to take the initiative to the next level. That’s where CreateAthon can help. One Columbia already has a good foundation from which to build—a strong visual identity, a great website and an even better digital newsletter. The challenge is carving out space for Film Columbia within the One Columbia brand and increasing awareness among local artists of the free service. CreateAthon deliverables will include positioning, marketing planning and collateral. With the right tools in place, Film Columbia will be ready for its big premiere!

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 16,2014 @ 03:32PM

Helping Y Guides Grow

We’ve seen our fair share of great youth programs over the past 17 years of CreateAthon. This year, we’re pleased to have discovered yet another program that offers a positive experience for kids: Y Guides. Founded in 1926 by Harold Keitner, Director of the YMCA in St. Louis, Y Guides is dedicated to forging bonds between fathers and their children through dedicated time together and specific activities designed especially for them.

Nation Chief Chris Miller and his favorite Y Guides at a Longhouse camping event: daughters Eva (left) and Helen (right). Nation Chief Chris Miller and his favorite Y Guides at a Longhouse camping event: daughters Eva (left) and Helen (right).

Inspired by Native American culture, dads and their kids form tribes and get together on a monthly basis to enjoy activities ranging from arts, crafts and outdoor exploration to discovering local, family-friendly attractions. These individual tribes combine to form a larger federation and gather from time to time for signature events such as campouts and other excursions.

Chris Miller, as Nation Chief, leads the dads in the local Three Rivers Federation. He has been involved in Y Guides for several years with his two daughters, Eva (9) and Helen (7). “I did Y Guides with my dad as a kid, and it was something really special between the two of us. It’s time that’s set aside just for dads and their kids — no relying on moms, no dropping off with other leaders. Dads are 100% responsible for the programs and for time spent with their children. I’m thankful for this time that I have with my girls, and my greatest hope is that we can make the kind of memories together that I did with my dad. I can’t imagine a greater gift than that.”

As well-established as the Y Guide program is, Chris tells us that participation in the Midlands is at an all-time low. “That’s why we applied to CreateAthon,” he said. “We know the program is growing in other similar markets, but for some reason it has dwindled here. There’s also research that shows the positive impact Y Guides has on young boys and girls as they grow. So we need to turn this enrollment trend around, and we know the CreateAthon team can help us do that.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Y Guides, help out now by spreading the word about this wonderful program for dads and their children. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more news about Y Guides and the work we’ll be doing for them during CreateAthon next Thursday, October 23. While you’re at it, check out all the national CreateAthon action that’ll be taking place next week as part of international Pro Bono Week. As an official Pro Bono Week partner, CreateAthon is bringing together 14 groups across the country that are hosting CreateAthon events next week. We couldn’t be more pleased!

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 15,2014 @ 04:58PM

The Arts Empowerment Project: Anticipating the Power of Pro Bono

I feel so energetic just being here.

I’m bowled over by their passion and thoughtfulness.

It’s already more than I ever imagined.

This was the take from Natalie Allen, founder of the Arts Empowerment Project in Charlotte, NC, in a post-briefing-meeting interview with our friends from GreyHawk Films. These generous folks were on hand to capture initial footage for a short film that will chronicle the CreateAthon experience from a nonprofit organization’s point of view. Not surprisingly, we chose to capture the briefing meeting as the nonprofit organization’s first official encounter with the CreateAthon model. We were also interested in getting Natalie’s immediate response coming out of that meeting.

“I’d heard about CreateAthon, and knew the program could be effective in helping us shape our brand strategy,” said Natalie. “But I was not expecting the depth of insightful questioning, from the need we meet in the market, to how we deliver our services and how we’re funded. I can already see that this process will facilitate a great deal more for us than developing marketing messages.”

Oh. Yeah.

We’re totally in awe of the Arts Empowerment Project, which is dedicated to helping at-risk children see new opportunities for their lives as a result of being exposed to the arts. Our CreateAthon team plans to address brand strategy, development strategy, and specific marketing and communications tactics to help the organization build scale behind its efforts.

Natalie tells us she fully recognizes the need for nonprofits to have clarity around their brand. “With information at our fingertips all the time, you really have to capture someone’s attention immediately,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have this team of professionals helping us translate what we’re all about, in a way that inspires people to respond to our cause.”


Natalie Allen presents the Arts Empowerment Project's mission during a fundraising event. Natalie Allen presents the Arts Empowerment Project's mission during a fundraising event.


She adds that the CreateAthon experience is well timed for her organization. “Like so many young nonprofits, we were faced with the challenge of putting all of our upfront resources into program development versus investing in brand strategy and communications,” said Natalie. “We know that both are equally important, and the gift of these marketing services through CreateAthon will take our program to the next level. We feel honored to be here, and to have been selected by the people at Riggs Partners who started the whole concept of CreateAthon.”

Telling the story of how young people can redefine their lives through the arts? The honor is all ours.

Stay tuned for more on the Arts Empowerment Program and their journey through CreateAthon, as it all unfolds during Pro Bono Week 2014.

posted by Kelly Davis Sep 25,2014 @ 11:43AM

The Power of a Smile

“Thank you,” she said to me as she sat on the steps, caressing her sore jaw.

“Me?” I said, turning to be sure she wasn’t talking to someone behind me, someone far more worthy of appreciation. “Oh, I’m just here to work with the media today.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, as her eyes welled with tears. “Every person here made this possible. I can’t thank you enough.”

This was the unexpected exchange I had with a woman at the South Carolina Dental Association’s Dental Access Days, a two-day free dental clinic that was held last month in Rock Hill, SC and sponsored by our client, Delta Dental.

Dental Access Days brought together 300 dental professionals from all over South Carolina, aided by more than 700 volunteers from the Rock Hill area, to deliver more than $1.2 million in dental services to more than 1,400 adults.

When I arrived at First Baptist Church Rock Hill that morning at 5:00 a.m., there was already a long line of people waiting outside. This line of 250 individuals had been pre-screened the day before and had already obtained a color-coded wristband that designated the type of dental procedure they were to receive.

Working with reporters on this side of the building for more than an hour, it wasn’t until mid-morning that I realized the “bigger” line was on the opposite side of the building. That line contained more than 750 people who had just shown up that morning, hoping to have a long-awaited dental procedure performed.

Many of these folks have been in pain for years. None of them have dental insurance. Many of them are out of work, or between jobs, or retired. Or their job doesn’t pay enough, and they have to decide between putting food on the table or getting a tooth pulled.


Dental students from the Medical University of South Carolina perform professional cleanings on patients. Dental students from the Medical University of South Carolina perform professional cleanings on patients.

Whether they needed an extraction, a filling or a professional cleaning, it was worth it to them to wait in the dark, and eventually into the heat of the day, and in the rain, in the hopes of receiving care that they currently can’t afford.

It was a powerful scene, and one that became even more so as I moved inside to observe the church sanctuary/multipurpose room that had been converted into a full surgical theater. Rows and rows of dental chairs and equipment waited for the hundreds of patients, many of whom had driven long distances with high hopes that they would be able to get through the line before it was cut off.

The best vantage point was the stage at the front of the room, from which TV reporters and photographers set up their equipment to try and capture the sheer magnitude of the event. Everywhere you looked, you saw dentists, periodontists, oral surgeons, endodontists, dental hygienists, assistants and dental students as they worked patiently but swiftly to treat each patient, and then quickly move to the next one.


The view of Dental Access Days from the stage. The view of Dental Access Days from the stage.

And here I was, the PR person whose job was to greet and escort members of the media and local dignitaries. I felt an incredible responsibility to tell the story of the dental professionals who so selflessly gave of their time and expertise to help so many strangers, as well as preserving the dignity of patients while capturing and sharing their powerful personal stories.

In addition to the woman who greeted me on the steps, throughout the day I observed patients crying tears of gratitude, hugging “their” dentist as they completed their procedures, and even taking photos with the person who had pulled their teeth!

Most people probably underestimate the value of a smile, but as one of the event organizers pointed out to me, a healthy smile can greatly increase someone’s self esteem, giving them the added confidence they need to go on a job interview or to otherwise get involved in their community.

“It’s not just about the dental work,” he said to me. “It’s about giving people their smile back, and helping them become contributing members of society.”

Including this year, Dental Access Days has provided more than 8,900 adults with $4.5 million in free dental care since the event’s inception in 2009. Delta Dental has a social mission to improve oral health in the communities they serve. Learn more at




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