How to Sustain a Cause Marketing Partnership

September 18, 2014

Please enjoy this article I wrote, published in the September issue of IABC’s Communications World magazine.

So you found the perfect partner organization for your cause marketing campaign. You self-assessed without mercy. You specified what you’re bringing to the table, researched closely-aligned organizations, compared objectives, and secured a partnership that’s a win-win for everyone.

Nice job!

But before you start handing out the cigars, it’s important to set your partnership up for long-term success. How? By:
•Establishing and maintaining trust.
•Exhibiting flexibility and open communication.
•Specifying measurement criteria.
•Considering scalability and growth potential.

These partnership sustainability safeguards are critical, not only to new partnerships but also to those that have been chugging along for a while.

Build trust and be transparent

All successful relationships, including cause marketing partnerships, are based on trust—and nothing forms trust faster than telling the truth. This means all partners openly discuss their goals, vulnerabilities and needs, and honestly address hidden agendas before they cause problems.

Transparency is vital for effectively engaging both your target market and your partner organizations. A good example of an organization that requires stringent transparency in all of their cause-related partnerships is the American Red Cross, whose required donation language for any cause marketing donation program reads:

“XYZ will donate to the American Red Cross, including the amount of the donation as a flat fee (e.g. $1 for every shirt sold) or a percentage (e.g. 25% of the retail sales price) and the time frame (e.g. from September 1, 2014 until August 31, 2015).”

This kind of full transparency creates trust with the public—and with all partners.

Remain flexible with open communication

Staying on schedule and on target is important, but when a new opportunity appears, stay open-minded about it, and help others in your partnership to do so as well. It could be a special event, a major media interview, or an entirely “off-the-wall” promotional idea. It could be that a new partner wishes to join your campaign. Explore these potential opportunities, while keeping in mind your resources and priorities.

Open communication is key as well. If you’re the point-person from your organization, it’s your job to keep all of your stakeholders fully informed of all aspects of the partnership, whether good or not so good. Keep and publish minutes of your meetings, set regular times to convene as a full partnership team, and when issues, disagreements or other challenges arise, communicate your concerns and work them out as a team as soon as possible. In nearly all cases, overcoming challenges together strengthens the partnership and the individual relationships.

Flexibility, openness, and clear communication will keep your partnership on solid ground.

Set up measurement criteria

Early in your partnership development, collaborate with your partners to determine which partnership goals, both individual and collective, are most important, and create concrete, measurable criteria for evaluation. For example:
•Does one partner want a facility built by a certain date? A specific amount of increased funding or donations raised? Certain pro bono services?
•Does a partner want a certain number of volunteers recruited? A particular number of volunteer hours provided?
•Is a partner expecting a certain value in media exposure, community goodwill or new strategic relationships?

To be most effective in evaluating your partnership’s progress, establish starting benchmarks using specific metrics and measurement processes to use throughout the campaign.

Here’s an example: For its 2006 Prepare Bay Area partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the American Red Cross Bay Area chapter used as a starting benchmark its survey finding that only 6% of San Francisco Bay Area residents were prepared for a major disaster. At the beginning of each year of the three-year campaign, the partnership surveyed its target audiences to understand clearly where the initiative stood against its goals. When they hit 26% prepared at the end of the campaign, they had some serious, verifiable bragging rights.


Mobile billboards like this one in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building showing the potential devastation of an earthquake were part of the Prepare Bay Area campaign, a partnership between the American Red Cross and utility company Pacific Gas & Electric.

Measurable benchmarks and ongoing monitoring allow you to know where you are, see whether you are on the right path to success, and tweak your campaign if needed.

Scalability and growth potential

The clearest indication of a successful partnership is when all partners want to continue their relationship. Following the success of Prepare Bay Area, PG&E and the American Red Cross Bay Area chapter again teamed up to expand the preparedness program through a broader Ready Neighborhoods initiative.

In order to deepen their impact by scaling the program out beyond the Bay Area and across the state of California, PG&E more than doubled its original US$1 million over three-years financial commitment–and has continued to partner in this important campaign ever since.

The recognition PG&E and the American Red Cross chapters have received due to their Ready Neighborhoods partnership has been tremendous: Last year, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency presented these organizations with its prestigious Community Preparedness Award in a high-profile ceremony and community event.


The most successful partnerships do not hit their stride until the second or third year. But if you’ve built trust and confidence, remained flexible and communicative, measured your pre-set criteria and kept your eye on future growth, you’ll have a strong support system of energized team members and partners who want to keep it going, establishing a continual cycle of creating a greater good.

The winning partnership between Levi’s and Special Olympics

February 7, 2014

Part 2
All we wanted were 10 soccer balls.


It was 1979 and I was a volunteer with the San Francisco Special Olympics. One of our athletes was Joey and Joey had down-syndrome. He was about as round and he was tall, and he was always running, always smiling, always coming up to me saying, “Coach, what are we doing next?” Very special people like Joey are why I wanted to be part of Special Olympics. And Joey wanted to play soccer. But we didn’t have a soccer program. We realized that soccer would be one of the easiest sports that could reach almost all of our athletes, and at very little cost. We had free use of sports fields, all of our athletes had some form of a running or tennis shoe and we had volunteers with some background in soccer. All we needed were the soccer balls – about ten dollars each.

Like any nonprofit, we didn’t want to pay for anything we could otherwise get donated, so we connected with a friend who worked in the Community Relations Department at San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. We asked her if Levi’s would donate $100 to buy 10 soccer balls for our new program. Levi’s agreed and the first Special Olympics soccer program in San Francisco was born. And Joey was ecstatic.

We soon realized, however, that we didn’t have enough volunteers to handle the number of athletes now interested in playing soccer. We then went back to Levi’s and asked if they might have some volunteers to help us. They did and our soccer program grew even more.

Levi’s Employee Relations Department took notice of this enthusiasm from their employees and wrote an article in the company newsletter. That brought not only greater recognition to our program but even more volunteers. Then a local newspaper did a story on this burgeoning relationship between Levi’s and Special Olympics. In time, one of Levi’s executives joined our Board of Directors. Levi was also becoming one of the largest financial supporters of our Special Olympics program.

Meanwhile, apart from being a board member of San Francisco Special Olympics, my day job was Director of Public Relations for the United States Olympic Committee. I was gearing up for the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow. But the Cold War was getting hotter, Russia invaded Afghanistan, and because of that, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States was boycotting the Olympic Games. From this huge disappointment came a surprise gift.

Fred Banks, then president of Levi’s Women’s Wear division, called me up. He said, “Bruce as you certainly know, Levi’s was the official team outfitter for the U.S. Olympic team and because we are not going to the Olympic Games we have all of the official U.S. Olympic Team uniforms and warm-ups. We cannot sell or use them in any commercial manner, and they’re just sitting in a warehouse.” Then Fred said the most amazing thing: “Would you be interested in Levi’s donating these Olympic Team uniforms to Special Olympics?” After I picked myself up off the floor, we discussed the logistics.

One of the most moving experiences imaginable is watching Special Olympics athletes enter a stadium for their games. Every athlete is brimming with pride and excitement. Now imagine that following summer at stadiums across the country, Special Olympics athletes making their entrance while wearing the official uniforms of the 1980 United States Olympic team, emblazoned with a large USA across the back. To everyone involved, it was a magical, emotional moment.

The relationship between the Special Olympics and Levi’s kept growing. It certainly helped the Special Olympics. But in terms of positive media coverage, employee morale and much more, it also helped Levi’s.

And it all started with 10 soccer balls.

Please visit for more information

My Holiday Gift to You: Win-Win for the Greater Good

December 26, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Beginning the first week of January, I will be publishing a series of blogs taken from my new book Win-Win for the Greater Good. Launched to exceptional reviews and testimonials, Win-Win is the most comprehensive “how-to” guidebook on the development of cross-sector partnerships-partnerships between the nonprofit, for-profit, education and government sectors. In this series you will discover:

• How a for-profit organization can go from good to great to glowing.
• How to embed a “cause consciousness” into your organization
• How to raise revenue, funding, brand awareness, community goodwill and much more through partnerships
• How to stimulate employee satisfaction and retention

Most importantly, you will discover over 60 benefits that can be received by partners when working together for the greater good.

My New Year’s wish is that 2014 will be the year that we join together and form partnerships that will change our lives, our organizations, improve our communities and benefit those in need in our world.

“Win-Win for the Greater Good provides the ‘how to’ blueprint for organizations of any size and from any sector to build highly productive partnerships. It reveals the true essence of success – focusing on the business objectives of your partner, while striving together to create a greater good.”
Casey Sheahan, CEO, Patagonia, Inc.

“Win-Win lucidly captures Bruce Burtch’s decades of practitioner wisdom on cross-sector partnerships. The book is filled with rich examples and insightful practical guidance on how to build powerful partnerships. Read it and learn from a master!”
James E. Austin, Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, Harvard Business School
Author, The Collaboration Challenge

“A “must read” for any organization. Through real stories and his deep experience, Bruce Burtch proves that magic can happen when a partnership is focused on creating a greater good.”
Howard Behar, President, Starbucks Coffee International, Retired

Worth its weight in fundraising gold. Win-Win for the Greater Good turns the tables on traditional approaches to nonprofit/for-profit funding relationships. It challenges you to build a business value proposition and provides over 60 ways to beneficially impact your organization through partnerships, while greatly increasing your service impact.
Peggy Duvette, Executive Director, WiserEarth

Interview with Villy Wang, President and CEO of BAYCAT

February 12, 2013


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cause marketing and cross-sector partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations

Part 3

BB: How do you find the people or companies you think would best fit the BAYCAT model?

VW:  Starting really with the basics with whom you know and asking about what organizations need; networking 101 also means good quality work naturally creates referrals.  We generally look for for-profit organizations that have evolved in a certain way with people who already have a heart and an intention to help nonprofit organizations. These are businesses that range from law firms to banks to tech companies to other social enterprises. Even foundations are naturally in the “business” of supporting nonprofits and need event capture and media services.

BB: When they look at you and as a nonprofit, do you see any misconceptions or any challenges that you need to deal with in working with the for-profit community?

VW: I think some of these misconceptions are about the level of professionalism, quality and service that a nonprofit can provide, and that a sustainable nonprofit is a business as well.  Instead of feeling that, oh, this is a nice charity, we want clients to know that we are also a business.

Sometimes because we are a nonprofit, some may think we can have our interns be able to work for free or we can do everything pro bono.  Why is it that when one goes to a commercial business for services one expects to pay them, but for a nonprofit, one thinks the quality of services won’t be as good so it should be cheaper or free?   I think that misconception comes from both places.  It’s not just the corporation’s responsibility, but it’s also the nonprofit’s responsibility to present themselves as a business, present the challenges in a strategic way.

BB: Do you do a lot of research before you go in that door to find a new partner?

VW: Absolutely.  You have to do your homework.  You have to understand what the focus areas are that the corporation is interested in. If they have some type of foundation, they will outline that on their website or obviously, if you could get in front of them in person, that’s better.  These days I feel people are so busy, the program managers and community affairs people, that you better know the answer to their questions that appear on their websites before you even ask or knock on their door.

BB: Do you ask your board or others to help you?

VW: Yes, everyone can be a spokesperson for our organization from our board, donors and even our parents and students. If you have strong board leaders, if you have really strong donors, and if you have students and parents who believe in your program, then you already have a tie-in.  That personal relationship will make a giant difference, especially if they can give your elevator pitch to the prospective organization, and then you come in and talk about the details.

You don’t have to talk to just one department like community affairs, if you know somebody in marketing, or if you know somebody who’s in any department – anybody you know is better than a cold call.

BB: What about just starting on a smaller scale to work your way into an organization?

VW: Yes, just start with the people that you know. We’ve had a lot of luck with people saying I love what you’re doing at BAYCAT so much, and I don’t have a lot to give, but I could get 10 people together and we’re going to go do a bowling night and whatever we raise that night, we’re going to give you.  That simple little gesture creates not only the money at the end of the night but it creates 10 new people who know about you and with whom, you would have had to pound the door yourself to meet.

Up Next: Part 4: Working with Volunteers

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: 

Interview with William Murray, President and COO, Public Relations Society of America

December 18, 2012


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

Part 5

BB: There is significant research showing that the public wants to be associated with and buy their products and services from socially-responsible companies.  Additionally, employee satisfaction and retention, brand awareness, community goodwill and of course, sales of products and services are greatly influenced by an organization’s involvement in cause-related efforts.  I would think that there is no other profession more aligned to be proactive and the instigators of such cause-related good than the public relations profession.  What has surprised me is that I’ve seen very little, if any, information on the national association level encouraging partnerships between the different sectors – nonprofit, for-profit, education, government – and yet these partnerships have a large influence on what the general public sees as important, especially from the corporate sector.

WM:  This doesn’t really sound like a good answer but what I will tell you is the diversity of the profession, not with respect to cultural and ethical diversity, but with respect to professional diversity is, at times, overwhelming and trying to figure out how to deliver education to everyone in a different box on the matrix is very challenging.

We have an awards program that we run every year and there’s dozens and dozens of categories – community PR programs, government-related and national charitable organizations.  We take those award winners and we create abstracts and put them in a database so our members can use them. So it’s clear that it’s happening a lot because you’ll see a lot of the award winners on the annual program that are doing some type of community service or public service type work.

However, you raise a very interesting question and the question is, why aren’t there more explicit courses that are out there that teach this, that recommend it and encourage it?  I don’t know the answer to that and I’m going to take away this discussion and look into this and see what we could be doing and how we could be doing it.

BB: The perspective of yours which I’m really valuing is that kind of the impact a national organization can have and yet the limitations you have to try to be dictating anything to 30,000 members, in any subject matter.

WM: The relationship between the national organization and the local chapters, it’s a very interesting one because we want to provide high-level direction with respect to strategy, we want to provide training, how to be a better leader and a chapter manager, we want to provide support and infrastructure, but when it comes down to exactly what they should be doing in a local context, I think it would not only be presumptuous for us to tell them what to do, it would be disastrous.  Our role is to provide encouragement and cross-chapter communications, but when it comes to something like community service, if there was ever an issue that should be tailored locally, that’s got to be it.

BB:  Are there any other initiatives that you’re working on or hoping to develop?

WM: This is a very different kind of animal, but last year we did some work with the American Statistical Association.   The ASA is a membership organization comprised of statisticians across the country and their mission is to support the good use of statistics.  And, one of the things they felt was needed was more transparency and more accuracy when statistics were used by companies and organizations in press releases and in other types of situations to justify something the organization was doing.

So, the ASA came to us and said, how about we develop some best practices with respect to the use of statistics?  We liked that idea because one of the key strategic goals we have as an organization is to encourage our members to be more quantitative, to talk about ROI, to measure the impact. Obviously, they need a very good understanding of the use of statistics and numbers and data, and so this could be the kind of thing that could benefit our profession.  We put a working group together from each organization, they worked on this for six months and we released a guide to our membership.  The ASA felt that this helped fulfill their mission for the better good use of statistics and we felt that this fulfilled our mission because it gave our members a tool that they could use in their day-to-day practice to be a more effective communicator and practitioner of PR.  From our perspective this was an effective partnership that advanced the strategic goals of each organization.

End of this interview. 

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit:

Interview with William Murray, President and COO, Public Relations Society of America

December 13, 2012


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

Part 4

BB: What challenges do you see when working with different sectors?  Do you see communications challenges or barriers between getting these organizations to work together?

WM: I think the biggest issue and I think this is particular to the field of public relations, these relationships are all about strategic objectives.  At an institutional level, what do we want to accomplish as an organization. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had executives from nonprofit organizations will come to me and say, we should do something together, you’d make a good partner. But I think the conversations have to move beyond this discussion of let’s just do something together. They have to start out with what are their objectives as an organization, what are my objectives as an organization, what are the resources that I have, what are the resources that you have, and is there a way to match these up so they fit together very well. And especially, can we move things to a place that we wouldn’t get individually on our own.  PR is a very intensive profession. I know it’s a cliché but it’s a classic 24/7 type of work that our people do. They’re under the gun continually and very often the emphasis is on meeting the deadline, getting something out the door and that’s a necessary part of what we have to do as professionals.  But when you’re talking about something bigger and longer term, it comes back to these strategic questions; where am I trying to move my organization? What do I not have to get there? Who might offer this to me that would help me move this thing along?  So, I think the biggest issue is being strategic consistently and then building the tactics and the program and the relationship around some strategic goals.

BB: And knowing when to say no.

WM: Exactly. The reality is I’ve had those conversations pretty bluntly with people and you know they’re not easy conversations but I think they’re necessary conversations.  The directness has to be there or else you end up with miscommunications and potentially hurt feelings. So when I have people come in and say we should work together, what I tell them in all honesty is that I’m flattered that you want to partner with us, but the truth is, in any given month, I probably hear from half a dozen organizations that want to partner with us.  Let me talk about some of the things that we’re looking at doing these days and let’s see if any of them match up to where you’re trying to go as an organization and then let’s see where we can go from there.

BB: That’s a good segue into the next question: As an organization, do have particular areas of strategic interest that you would be more inclined to partner in?

WM: Absolutely, and these are reflected in our strategic plan.  I think your focus for your partnerships and your sponsorships really shouldn’t be any different than your organizational focus and of course, your organizational focus should be driven by your mission, your vision and your strategic plan.  If you look at our strategic plan, there are a number of areas where we have a special focus.  We’re concerned about ethics in the profession.  We have a code of ethics and we ask each of our members to pledge to that code of ethics. We provide guidance to them about ethical conduct.  Diversity in the profession; the public relations profession is not as diverse as our country is as a whole and as our country is becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse, we think it’s important that our profession moves in the same direction.

Demonstrating the value of public relations is a focus for this organization.  For many years it was difficult to measure the ROI or the impact of public relations. With new technology and new tools that are out there and new pressures in the workplace, I think it’s not only more possible but it’s more important for practitioners to demonstrate ROI, to demonstrate the impact of what they’re doing on organizational outcomes.  So that’s an area where if a partner came to us and said we have this project and it looks like the outcomes are especially measurable and we can demonstrate how the needle is moved here or there – that would be of particular interest to us.

Up Next: Part 5 in Series, The impact of a national organization

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit:

Interview with William Murray, President and COO, Public Relations Society of America

December 11, 2012


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

Part 3

BB: You mentioned the term pro bono (free services) before.  Does PRSA actively encourage pro bono services form your members?

WM: Yes, we encouraged more chapters to do this. I hear from not-for-profit organizations that approach us and they say we’d love some pro bono PR help here.  A number of our agencies do offer pro bono work on their own.  We don’t keep track of that but when we get these inquiries we’ll say to the folks who approach us, we at national can’t help you, however, you’re running in this particular geographic area and there’s a PRSA chapter there, call up the chapter, and see if this is something they’d like to help you with.

BB: I guess I’m a little surprised in the fact that PRSA, which understands more than anyone the need for community social responsibility and corporate responsibility, would just be entering into doing it for themselves.  Was this something you saw that was noticeably lacking and that’s why you wanted to do this?  It just seems like it would have happened earlier.

WM: I don’t know why it hasn’t happened earlier.  What I can tell you is when visit our chapters and somebody says we did public relations to help a disease-related organization raise money and we did it pro bono and I’m sitting there listening to it, the light bulb goes off, I think, that is wonderful.  At every single level, in my role as the national guy, how can I help that happen more? So I can’t tell you why no one thought of it earlier but I think we’re happy to be where we are right now.

BB: I’m a huge believer in pro bono services because of what it gives and also what it gives back. What do you like that comes back to your organization from these relationship/partnerships?

WM: There’s a number of ways that I think such pro bono services benefit.  At the local level, we actually help improve a community.  For example, the chapter that won the award for their work last year did CPR courses, they publicized a mass CPR training event. Undoubtedly at some point somebody who passed through that room is going to use CPR probably to save a life somewhere.  So, the first issue is the practical impact of giving the services away to help people in their community.  The second thing, PRSA is a very big organization, it’s a national organization and I think when you’re a national organization, sometimes folks wonder where the heart is in the organization.  Okay, you’re delivering a webinar to help me be a better professional but do you really care about where I live or my community, do you care about the people I live with?  We want to send a signal that yes, we’re about who they are professionally but we are a community, PRSA, and as a community we like our community to give to other communities.  That’s very important to us.

The third thing is, and this is sort of an unintended consequence, I often hear about PR professionals who are looking for work or they’re recent graduates.  The job market has been difficult and not everybody can afford to take an unpaid internship or to work for free but one of the things that I recommend to people who are transitioning or looking for work is that they look into this idea of participating in a chapter’s pro bono project.  I’ve had people say to me that purely by accident they met other people who helped them network their way into a job or they worked for a social service organization and that organization came back down the road and said, we really liked the pro bono work that you did, would you like to take on some work as an independent contractor?  I think that says something important about the organization, about who we are. It also opens doors for people in many ways, shapes and forms and it helps improve our communities.

Up Next: Part 4 in Series, Challenges in working with other sectors

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit:

Interview with William Murray, President and COO, Public Relations Society of America

December 6, 2012


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

 Part 2

BB: When PRSA develops a program on a regional or national basis do you provide specific marketing materials, what I would call a “tool kit”, to support their local efforts?

WM: For the first year of the HDTV relationship we provided local chapters rough ideas and examples, and with the examples we gave them judging criteria as there was a prize contest involved.  We were looking for programs that benefitted from the contribution of PR expertise.  For example, one chapter invited various nonprofit organizations to a type of speed-dating evening.  So you come in and there’s a half- dozen nonprofits set up with different PR folks.  In most cases these nonprofits are running a very resource-constrained social service organization and at this event you get to meet with 10 people, get free advice and go away with a bunch of ideas and maybe a jumping-off point to do something.  So the first year we didn’t really give them a tool kit per se but what we’re going to do for subsequent years is provide all the examples of the programs that were taking place but with more detail by way of example, in hope to give ideas to folks of the types of things they could be doing.

BB: Is the relationship with Rebuilding Together still going?

WM: That relationship is really through HGTV and HGTV said, here’s how we’ll support you, we’re going to put up two sets of prize money.  One set will be for programs undertaken by PRSA chapters for whatever initiatives they would like.  The second set of prize money will be for initiatives undertaken with Rebuilding Together and that way, each chapter can work on an endeavor supported at the national level or they can do something locally that interests them because a member of their chapter might have been involved or there’s a situation in their community they want to address.

BB: So rather than dictate from national that you had to do it this way, you gave them an option.

WM: Yes and what would happen in previous years is we would periodically be contacted by chapters who would say they have a worthy cause and want national to help support this cause, and the reality is for national to pick and choose winners and losers among our many chapters across the country, it was really a situation that was very, very difficult for us.  We wanted to provide some type of support when we heard from individuals in the chapters but we didn’t want to reach a thousand miles across the country and say, oh that’s a great cause and support that.

BB: You couldn’t possibly have the bandwidth if you had 50 different chapters, with different causes, requesting your support.

WM: Several years ago a member of one of our chapters in Pennsylvania was terminally ill and a number of members of the chapter came forward and they said we’re raising money for some of her medicine and for her funeral expenses and they would like national to endorse this.  It was an absolutely heartbreaking situation.  Yet again, it put us in the position of are we endorsing one cause over another? We realized that one of the ways we could help was to publicize what the chapter was doing.  Not formally endorse it, not get involved and stick our fingers in it, but say to our other members, hey, look at the good work that this chapter is doing. And so that puts us in a position where we can say to all of our chapters, we encourage you to help people in your community.  We’re not going to tell you want to do, we will recognize all of you for helping, we will award those of you who do the best contributing work and we think at the end of the day you’re going to reflect admirably upon our profession by using your professional skills to make your community a better place.

Up Next: Part 3 in Series, Offering pro bono services

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit:

Interview with William Murray, President and CEO, Public Relations Society of America

December 4, 2012


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

Having spent the better part of 35 years in the public relations industry, this interview with William Murray was particularly enjoyable and enlightening.  My goal in this interview series is to look not only at the PR profession from Bill’s national organizational perspective, but importantly to see how the practice of public relations can be a positive influence on local partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.  PRSA is a 32,000 member international organization.

Part 1

BB: From an organizational standpoint, as president of PRSA, what are you looking for in partnerships with other organizations?

WM: When they look at partnerships a lot of people up get carried away by the reputation of a company or they think about a short-term thing.  And in every case we look for some way to better accomplish our strategic objectives.  So when we look at a partnership, we may look for a number of things.  We may say to ourselves: Is there an opportunity here for some sort of financial gain?  We’re a membership organization, member dues pay for about 50% of our operating overhead.  So the other 50% has to come from some place and sometimes it comes from our partners. But there are more opportunities here as well.  Sometimes a partnership with another organization brings in-kind resources into PRSA, sometimes it enhances our reputation by being associated with another organization or sometimes we simply get a third-party endorsement of something that we’re doing.

BB: How do you differentiate between a sponsorship, like a sponsorship of your international conference versus organizational partnerships?  Do you see those as separate entities?

WM: Well, they can be separate but they can also be intertwined.  For example, we have an initiative that we launched last year called PR Serving America.  We have local chapters across the country of PRSA and we wanted to encourage our local chapters to do pro bono work, PR-type work in their communities. And we wanted to give them a reason to do this, why it enhances the profession and their chapter as well.  We connected with HGTV.  HGTV had a built-in relationship with an organization called Rebuilding Together.  HGTV was willing to help sponsor this initiative by putting up prize money and helping to offset our overhead, but they were really more than just a sponsor. They were a partner. The director at HGTV came to some of our events.  They connected to this effort very deeply as they wanted to be good members of their communities and connect back to the idea of refurbishing your home.

So on one hand there’s a sponsorship relationship, money is changing hands and we’re passing most of that through to our members, our chapters. But it’s deeper than that, it’s a multiyear relationship.  It’s an initiative wrapped around who we want to be as public relations practitioners in communities across the country and I think it reflects on who HGTV is in terms of a good corporate citizen.  So I think there are purely sponsorship transactions; money changes hands, the company name goes up, they get something back and it’s over, but sometimes there are these deeper relationships and the lines are blurring in between sponsorships and partnerships.

BB: Did you go looking for such partnerships or do they find you?

WM: We were very fortunate in that particular situation. I developed the initiative and I brought it to our PRSA Board of Directors and said: PR people are responsible for CSR programs across the country, so we should develop our own CSR program to give back through our organization.  If the board agrees with this concept, we’ll go out and we’ll find a sponsor/partner and we’ll make this happen.  The board said yes, we love the idea.  Fortunately, we had a member of our Board of Directors, Gary McCormick, who worked at HGTV and he felt his company would be willing to step up and be the partner to help make this work.

BB: Was this the first PRSA CSR initiative?

WM: To tell you the truth, yes.  PRSA is a national organization but we have local chapters across the country.  A number of our local chapters were independently doing good work like this in their communities.  I’d been out visiting our chapters and I heard about these projects, they were happening spontaneously.  When I came back I thought about the nature of a national organization with local chapters.  It’s an interesting relationship because we don’t really want to dictate to our local chapters what they should be doing but we do want to support them.

The best idea seemed to be to publicize the good work that they’re doing, and see where we can add value as a national organization, giving them some independence to operate locally and encouraging what they’re doing.  So that was the genesis of this, how it came about.

Up Next: Part 2 in Series, National and local chapters working together

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