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Restaurant people are hospitality people service people. So having a philanthropic angle — big or small — makes plenty of sense. For measure, there has been a lot of research released lately that supports the benefits of having a cause-related marketing program in place.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 52 percent of adults said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on how much the establishment supports charitable activities.

According to the 2011 MSLGroup Social Purpose Index, in 2011, 37 percent of respondents said they purchased a product associated with a cause and 75 percent said they purchased from a brand because it supported a cause. Sixty-one percent (61 percent) will try a new brand if it is associated with a cause.

Such efforts can also directly enhance sponsor sales, help a company's public image, differentiate a company from its competition, build employee morale and heighten customer loyalty (according to consulting group Alden Keene and Associates).

Oftentimes, however, time and budget constraints become roadblocks. While supporting causes and charities and communities is a great idea on paper, how does a busy restaurant operator even begin to find the time and resources to execute such an effort?

I recently had the opportunity to gain insight from Rich Hope, chief marketing officer for Jersey Mike's, about his company's successful cause-related marketing campaigns. That company is a great source for this topic – its 2012 Month of Giving campaign raised nearly $858,000 for 74 different charities nationwide. This year, the brand is aiming to top that.

Hope was kind enough to share some tips for operators wanting to develop some type of charitable program. They include:

  • The first step is creating a culture of giving. This may sound easy, but getting buy-in from top management all the way through rank and file employees is a process that takes commitment and time. Keeping people committed to the cause and passionate about the process requires patience, persistence and a well-defined plan.
  • Now, how do you select the charity that you wish to partner with? This seemingly simple step can be the most crucial task when it comes to the overall success of the program. You'll need to consider your culture, history, brand personality and other factors to arrive at a suitable charity partner. An important point to consider is exactly what the charity will bring to the table to help your cause – which generally is increasing awareness and creating positive feelings about your brand.
  • Sometimes, if your objective is simply brand awareness, choosing a high profile, national charity may be the best way go. But don't expect large charities to be much help when it comes to grassroots initiatives or enlisting volunteer help. With large national charities, the brand association is usually what you are looking for. Local charities, on the other hand, may not provide the benefits of a powerful brand, but can help bolster your image with a more viral, word-of-mouth approach.
  • Then, all working together, you want to create a groundswell of support and action so that customers are engaged in your fundraising efforts and excited about helping a great cause.
  • Communication is extremely important to ensure everyone across the system is aware and engaged. For example, we hold conference calls, send regular updates via email and more. Our local markets do a great job building excitement at the local level. One of the ways we foster this sense of purpose at the store level is through a program we call Mike's Marketers. It assigns a part-time employee solely to the store's local marketing efforts. In addition to grassroots marketing efforts, the Mike's Marketer is responsible for engaging team members, coordinating events and rallying the crew to champion the cause. If you are going to be really successful with cause marketing, you'll need to identify cheerleaders among your ranks to keep crews motivated and morale high.

Hope adds that these motivational efforts boost employee morale, especially among Millennial-aged employees. When an employee buys into a company's higher purpose, he said, job performance, energy levels and customer satisfaction all increase.

"These connections have undoubtedly helped Jersey Mike's build a bond within our local communities, winning a passionate following," Hope said, adding one final piece of advice: "The important thing to remember is that each effort must be authentic and reflect your brand."

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Latest posts by Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
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