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posted by Courtney Fleming Sep 21,2016 @ 03:40PM

Counting Down to CreateAthon

It's hard to believe that our annual CreateAthon is only a month away. This will be Riggs Partners' 19th year of pro bono magic, and my personal third. It's interesting that even though you've done it before, you still get the night-before-the-first-day-of-school-jitters every year. You truly never know exactly what to expect. But every year, it's just as exciting, intense and rewarding as before.

The unfortunate reality is that most nonprofits can't afford professional marketing services, making it difficult for them to convey their purpose and move their mission forward.

That's where we come in.

For one day (24 hours of hands-on work, plus presentations afterwards), we work around the clock to produce a wide range of marketing materials that are as unique as each nonprofit we serve. And remarkably, CreateAthon as a national nonprofit organization has generated more than $24 million in pro bono marketing services for over 1,300 organizations.

CreateAthon plans to deliver $100 million in pro bono marketing services to the nonprofit marketplace by 2020. You can learn more about that here.

In the meantime, take a glimpse through last year's event in the SlideShare below and be on the lookout for more information about our upcoming event on Oct. 20-21.

 

posted by Kevin Smith Aug 31,2016 @ 02:29PM

Start by Thinking Like a Startup

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Established businesses don’t reach out to marketing communications firms like ours when things are fantastic. Typically, something has changed, and not for the better. We get called when sales have dropped, when the brand has become unclear or when past leaders have stepped aside to make way for someone new.

Beyond these conditions, established companies often have other things in common that contribute to lackluster performance. Many times, they lack a clear or a universally understood purpose that drives their organization. We define purpose as an understanding about the difference your enterprise is trying to make in the world.

Examples include:

Johnson and Johnson: To alleviate pain and suffering.

Charles Schwab: To be a relentless ally of the individual investor.

Whole Foods: To provide choices for nourishing the body, the community and the planet.

Without a shared sense of purpose in their organizations, businesses tend to be reactionary. Leaders tend to make decisions slowly. They spend their days, quarters and years trying to respond to shifts in the market, changes in customer or client demands, evolutions in the competitive landscape, and so on. The result is a lack of focus, and the desire to leave open every possible revenue opportunity, product and service line or geographic territory. Not surprisingly, none of these strategies perform adequately.

This dynamic is exacerbated by shifts in today’s business climate. Increasing competition, rising costs of goods and labor, changing customer needs – all are happening at an ever-quickening pace. The good news is that with effective counsel and a willingness to look at making some changes, established companies can become more competitive through a new commitment to their organizational health: taking the time to understand what drives them, what they are best at, and what it takes to get everyone on board with that mission. While it may be more difficult to make these types of strategic redirects in a more mature company, the organization is always made stronger by the effort.

Conversely, we see startup enterprises coming to the table with very intentional thinking as it relates to organizational health. Founders arrive with total clarity about their purpose as an organization, from HR considerations and behavioral expectations to product innovation and customer service. They use purpose as a strategic lens to guide decisions in many key areas.

Corporate Culture: Entrepreneurs understand that a strong culture begins with purpose. They also know that a company’s culture is vital to recruiting talent. Younger employees want more than a paycheck from their employers and demand their work accomplish something that makes them fulfilled.

Product Offering: Should the product line be niche? Appeal to multiple targets? Beyond the market data, effective startups are using organizational intent as a guidepost for making objective and decisive calls.

Sales: When purpose is foremost, so is the selling proposition. Further, expanding from one salesperson to a team is easier when everyone shares a common goal. Successful startups understand the power of a sales team that operates from the same playbook.

Pricing: Should the product be charged at a premium? Or should a certain feature be considered a value-add? Today’s new business leaders know if a price increase means you can better accomplish the mission, yes. If it goes against what the company stands for, no.

Corporate Social Responsibility: No longer a nice-to-do for large companies, startups recognize the importance of aligning their founding principles with work that can be done to support their communities. In mature organizations, CSR program decisions can also be made with the company’s core ideals in mind. For example, Johnson & Johnson provides drugs to underserved communities in the third world.

While startups don’t have the market cornered on building purpose-driven businesses, they are paying more and more attention to the new competitive realities of linking organizational health with business strategy and brand marketing. Firms like ours don’t create a brand’s image. Done well, our job is to reflect what is already there. So when you think about branding, don’t start by thinking about your logo or website. Begin by examining the impact your company wants to make for your employees, your customers and your community. Start by thinking like a startup.

This article originally appeared in the August 15-September 11 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.

 

posted by Teresa Coles Aug 01,2016 @ 03:03PM

Believable Brands Believe in Something

Your business is doing just fine. Profits are more or less steady. Customers appear to be satisfied. Employees are not complaining, at least openly. Sales and marketing teams have all the busy work they need.

You’re holding steady. Or are you?

If this sounds like your organization, the unfortunate reality is that you’re losing ground every day. What may appear to be a healthy status quo is nothing more than a cry for movement out of the ordinary, into a space that is ripe with meaning and impact for all parties involved. One where success is fueled by a brand strategy and product/service experience that is a complete and uncompromised reflection of your company’s belief system.

Call it Corporate Culture. Organizational Health. Understanding Your Why. What matters most is that your company or organization must have a point of view that sets you apart externally and inspires you internally. To effectively harness this strategy is to connect your company’s belief system — what it stands for — to a brand that is imminently believable in the marketplace.

Evidence is mounting every day to support the importance of building purpose-driven organizations and brands, and it starts from the inside. Consider the prevailing mindset of today’s employees as it relates to understanding what their companies are all about, beyond their day-to-day job functions:

  • 56% say their company’s purpose is not clearly conveyed to all employees
  • 68% don’t think businesses do enough to instill a sense of meaningful purpose in their work culture
  • 81% consider a company’s corporate social responsibility practices when deciding where to work

On the flip side, data indicates that employees are much more likely to be engaged with a company, act as brand advocates and stay longer with a company that openly and consistently leads with a strong sense of purpose. When team members cultivate a shared belief system, the odds of accomplishing more meaningful and productive work grows exponentially.

The profile among consumers as it relates to a company’s purpose is equally compelling: 

  • 71% would help a brand promote their product or services if there is a good cause behind them
  • 91% of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause
  • 90% would boycott if they learned of a company’s irresponsible business practices; 55% have done so in the past 12 months

Like employees, the connectivity and control that exists among consumers gives them a front-row seat to the character and practices of an organization. Given their finger is on the proverbial button of influence, it’s easy to see the strategic advantage of building connections between consumers and brands that stand for something larger that the specific product or service. This kind of goodwill is pivotal in helping brands withstand the temporary setbacks that may result from issues associated with product or service dissatisfaction.

Where and how does purpose show up in brand marketing? Take a look around, and it’s easy to see leading brands that are calling both internal and external audiences to arms through shared beliefs.

Of note is the #LikeAGirl campaign from Always, which debuted in 2014. As a company whose purpose is to empower and instill confidence in pubescent girls, the Always brand created a movement designed to keep girls in sports, noting that 50% typically drop out at the onset of puberty due to a plummet in their confidence. The brand dispelled the myths associated with “like a girl,” turning the language on its side to reflect the spirit, skill and confidence that exists in young female athletes.
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Calling on your company’s belief system as a strategic differentiator is by no means a soft or nice-to-do strategy reserved for the Fortune 500 set. Leading a company through a shared sense of purpose can benefit organizations of any size, from improved team dynamics and accelerated product innovation to market-altering customer service experiences. Align this kind of inspired performance with an external brand that reflects the ideals of your company, and you’ll find yourself with customers who are ready to believe in you. That’s a one-way ticket out of the status quo.

*This article originally appeared in the July 18-August 16 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report.

 Sources:
Edelman GoodPurpose Study
Havas Media “Meaningful Brands” Global Report
Deloitte Core Beliefs and Culture Survey
Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study

posted by Kevin Smith Jul 14,2016 @ 04:09PM

Loving Your Work

Our annual 24-hour pro bono marketing marathon, CreateAthon, is in the works again. We are receiving applications now for our nineteenth CreateAthon. While skills-based volunteerism existed fifteen years ago, it has been heartening to see it evolve from a concept embraced mostly by lawyers into a national business movement.

Part of that momentum is being driven by A Billion + Change, an organization leading efforts to expand the number of companies committed to skills-based and pro bono service. To date, they have engaged more than 5,000 companies of every size, industry and geography to donate over five billion dollars worth of services. The vision of A Billion + Change is to transform business culture so that all companies in America will respond to the needs of their communities.

The benefits of skills-based volunteerism are many: building morale, improving community relations and fostering leadership skills. Every year, I’m amazed at how staying up all night actually reenergizes our company. (After a recovery weekend, of course.) In fact, when I consider all that CreateAthon has meant to our business, it is difficult to imagine why one wouldn’t lend their skills to a cause. Yet I understand the excuses. “We’re too small.” “We don’t have time.” “What we do doesn’t translate well to volunteerism.”

I thought of these excuses, and how each one applied to “Get Fit for Good,” an effort by Matt Potts, a college student and trainer at Fit Columbia. “Get Fit for Good” is a pay what you want, twice-weekly workout class with proceeds benefiting Innersole, a charity providing athletic shoes to children who are homeless or in need. It’s one guy spending an hour a week doing what he loves, helping people get fit, all the while raising money for kids. Matt reminds me that many times excuses are just that, and you can usually find a way to make pro bono work.

Most companies have charitable programs in place. From blood drives to fundraising and corporate giving, it’s always meaningful to give back. But there is a unique satisfaction in knowing that the skills that provide for your family can provide for someone in need as well. It reminds you of what drew you to your field, and provides a renewed sense of energy and purpose to the work at hand. If you love what you do, figure out how to give it away ­– for good.

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.

 

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