Cause Marketing

In episode six, we’re talking with Sheryl Victor Levy, VP of Marketing and Communications at the Museum of the City of New York, about cause marketing and corporate social responsibility. How does it work? What are the ins and outs?

Sheryl’s been in marketing for a couple of decades and moved into the cause arena a while back. So she brings a unique perspective. It’s a great discussion. Hope you enjoy.

Mark: Sheryl Victor Levy, welcome to Confessions of a Marketer.

Sheryl: Mark, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Mark: So, what is cause marketing?

Sheryl: Cause marketing really has a broad definition, in terms of encompassing a few areas. One could be seen as corporate social responsibility, incorporating sustainability under there–best business practices on how a company is run, to forging a relationship between a brand and nonprofit to do good. A lot of companies and non-profits view it in different ways and there’s many ways to kind of skin that cat on marketing cause.

Mark: So how does cause marketing differ from marketing, say, for a commercial business, which you have a lot of experience doing?

Sheryl: I’m pretty fortunate because I originally started my career in the for profit world spending a great deal of time at media companies including MTV, VH1, USA Networks and Hearst Magazines. And so I was exposed to a variety of different models in terms of marketing–whether it’s licensing, in which you become more of a revenue generator (but it’s a brand extension, so it’s considered marketing) to general promotional marketing and working with cable providers like DirecTV or AT&T and marketing the cable networks through them. And so  my exposure there was not only as a marketer but as a revenue generator.

Sheryl: How cause marketing takes shape really has to do with what the goals of either the brand or the nonprofit are and you ultimately want to have the same results in terms of generating awareness hopefully generating profit or donations for the nonprofit potentially employee engagement for the company. It takes a lot of forms. And so the way to really look at it is: you’re not really just marketing a product or service, you’re actually marketing the halo effect or the “do-good” effect to have some sort of positive result on society or have some sort of social impact that can be measured in a variety of ways. But it’s not really something that leads directly to shareholder price or to bottom line. We’re finding more and more ways to kind of evaluate that. But it takes different forms–like, if you’re a brand, employee engagement, awareness, engagement across your social channels, press relations and PR coverage, employee loyalty, employee retention–things of that nature, if you’re at a brand. And if you’re at a nonprofit, you’re looking at increasing your donations, elevating awareness of your brand, of your nonprofit and engaging communities so you can build community in that way.

Mark: So does it take a different kind of passion? Do you find yourself using different muscles or brain cells than you did when you were working for VH1?

Sheryl: Yes, because I think you have to really look at it from the nonprofit’s perspective. But you also want to look at it from the brand’s perspective, depending upon which side of the table you’re sitting on–but always keeping both in mind and always being aware of what the goals of each of the partners are. You know, I’ve been on both sides of the table–on the agency side working with brands who were looking to forge partnerships and helping them market that partnership, or helping create partnerships. Then, on the nonprofit side, always putting my brand brain on, or company hat on, and being able to think like they think and having their goals in mind. You know, speaking the language that they wanted to hear, always keeping their goals in mind when developing strategies, being aware and mindful of their implementation processes and how it fits in with their overall marketing. So I think just being able to be aware and mindful and strategize, using kind of both sides of your brain, if you will. But always with the same goal in my–it’s usually about elevating awareness, driving engagement, driving donations or driving engagement for employees. So it really encompasses both sides.

Mark: So, Sheryl tell me about the museum and what you do there.

Sheryl: So at the Museum of the City of New York I lead a marketing communications and it’s a really great opportunity because we have what I call an embarrassment of riches in terms of all the stories that we could be telling, or that we are telling, on a daily basis about our exhibitions, our public programs, our FAO Schwartz Education Center and all the great events that we put on at the museum. And I think that, in talking about what kind of differs between a cause and a commercial business, I don’t look at the museum as a cause, per se, even though we have a different business model, if you will. I look at us as a business and as a brand. And so my team is focused on what our revenue generators are. That’s how we prioritize how we’re marketing and how we’re doing public relations and digital. So it’s everything from attendance and exhibitions to third party rentals–we rent the museum out for corporate events, for weddings, for bar mitzvahs–to our shop. I mean, all these areas are generating income. And so our focus at the museum, and the way we do marketing, is always about: Is it generating revenue? What’s the priority? Where how are we bringing in that earned income? What are the most strategic ways to do that? And, so it’s funny because when I walked into the position, it really enabled me to kind of start and create a foundation for everyone and really flip everything on its head to say, “We need to look at ourselves as a business, and this is the way we need to market ourselves and not think of a donation, donation even though that’s really important.” It’s thinking of the model in a different way.

Mark: It’s almost experience marketing, right? That’s what you’re doing.

Sheryl: Yep, absolutely. Because we are creating experiences within our walls but we’re also doing it more digitally outside of our walls–and, besides our Web site and social media–really getting into content generation in apps and creating experiences, and piggybacking on other experiences that people are creating digitally. You know, whether it’s digital walking tours or being part of a bigger campaign, let’s say, with the transit system and leveraging our digital collection–like, we digitized, over time, our entire collection. We have upwards of close to a million objects. And, so to do that and to show kind of our thought leadership in a variety of areas, we want to extend our collection digitally and our experience beyond the walls–knowing that we don’t necessarily have the same user or visitor; we might have a different user outside of our walls versus the visitor who’s coming into the museum itself.

Mark: So, you teach at NYU now. What’s your sense of the next generation of people coming into business or people coming in to cause marketing or marketing in general?

Sheryl: So, I think in terms of the next generation of marketers, I think that a lot of them because they’re mostly digital natives, I think they look to quantify things rather quickly. And I’m not always sure that they look at the broad view, though, and think always strategically. And I think that because of technology and its accessibility and the instant gratification of things, they look for the quick solution a lot of the time and successes all the time. And I think that they miss the long view of things. That just probably comes with maturity and perhaps experience. And so that’s what I would say kind of for the next generation of marketers–everything is just a success, you’re only as good as your last data point. And I think that’s what’s kind of missing from things. But I think that people are very earnest and I think they feel that there is more value to enjoying your job and making a difference and creating social impact or making an impact and doing good, in exchange for perhaps making money. I think there are opportunities out there, especially in the larger companies and larger nonprofits. I think people mistake a nonprofit for not paying well but I think that there are institutions and there are larger nonprofits that pay, you know, a fairly decent salary. So I think that people make that mistake of thinking that. It takes a while but I think that it’s absolutely possible. But the point is that I think that they find the value for their own personal life to be able to make an impact with what they’re doing day to day. And I think they’re also more aware globally and domestically regarding issues and being open to learning and open to listening. Whereas I think, perhaps some gen-xers or even baby boomers are more set in their ways. They’ve been exposed to so much more, I think there’s more of an opportunity for them to have more of an open mind.

Mark: So you have hope for the future.
Sheryl: Yeah, I do have hope for the future. I do. I think that we live in very challenging times and I think that we are being challenged to really rise up and to do a lot of good out there and we should be inspired by a lot of the good and a lot of the hard work. And there is an awful lot of people who are dedicated to that and I think that we have to be aware and mindful of that to keep us going. So I think it’s important for the business world, for people’s personal lives to never lose faith.

Mark: The arts and things like that are why we live, in many ways.

Sheryl: Yeah. You know I just attended a presentation by LaPlaca Cohen called “Culture Talk.” They’re very well-known in arts and culture–so performance, museums, art, etc. And the top thing that people are looking for to engage with some sort of cultural experience or institution is fun. People want to have fun and they also want it to be an analog experience. They’re not necessarily tied to the technology. They don’t want to use technology just to use technology. It’s you really have a purpose. And so there’s a lot to be said in terms of what people are looking for these days in the way that they’re interacting with a cause and interacting with some sort of cultural experience or an institution. And I think that’s important–I think there’s lots of ways to make it fun, fun for yourself, fun for your team, fun for your employees. And I think there are a lot of great programs out there in the way of cause and I think that’s probably another differentiator–just keeping that more top of mind and injecting that into the marketing.

Sheryl: So that’s cause marketing. Sheryl, I really appreciate you being a guest here on Confessions of a Marketer.

Mark: Sure. It was great to be here–thank you for having me.

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