THIS STUDY IS GUIDED BY PREVIOUS WORK THAT IDENTIFIED PATTERS IN NGO-CORPORATE PARTNER SELECTION AND A CENTRALITY OF CERTAIN SOCIAL ISSUES. AS SUCH, IT INVESTIGATES HOW THE NUMBER OF NGO-CORPORATE ALLIANCES COMMUNICATED TO STAKEHOLDERS INFLUENCES THEIR PERECPTIONS OF VALUE AND CHARACTER OF THE ALLIANCE. TO ACCOMPLISH THIS GOAL, WE EVALUATE HOW MILLENNIALS, THE LARGEST DEMOGRAPHIC GROUP IN THE US, PERCEIVE THE ALLIANCE PARNTERSHIPS OF SUSAN G. KOMEN FOR THE CURE, THE LARGEST SINGLE ISSUE HEALTH NGO IN THE US.
THIS STUDY IS GROUNDED IN THE SYMBIOTIC SUSTAINABILTY MODEL. The SSM was created to offer a communication based theory to explain NGO-corporate alliances. The SSM is a macro-level model that suggests NGO corporate alliances are constituted and made meaningful through communication. It offers six propositions concerning the role of communication, motivation for alliance formation, choice of alliance partner, number of alliance partners, and the potential risks and rewards of such alliances. Our paper today focuses on propositions one and four.
This study represents the first qualitative research that tests any SSM proposition. Previous tests of the SSM have been at the macro-level using large data sets to establish alliance partnership patterns across industries. That research provided the foundation for the current study. This study contributes to our understanding of alliance partnerships by giving examining the perceptions of stakeholders which has not been done to date.
A bit of background might be useful to understand the phenomena under investigation. FOUNDED IN 1980 ON A PROMISE AND $200, SUSAN G KOMEN FOR THE CURE IS NOW A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR WORLDWIDE NGO WITH BRAND EQUITY ON PAR WITH ITS CORPORATE SPONSORS. SGK HAS A TRADEMARKED PINK RIBBON MAKING IT DISTINCT FROM OTHER NGOS IN ITS SOCIAL ISSUE INDUSTRY. IT IS ABLE TO PROVIDE INDUSTRY EXCLUSIVITY TO THOSE CORPORATE PARTNERS WHO PLEDGE A MILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY. IN TOTAL IT HAS 250 CORPORATE SPONSORS AND HAS PLEDGED TO RAISE AN ADDITONAL 1 BILLION DOLLARS BY 2017 TO FIND A CURE. ITS ALLIANCES ARE COMMUNICATED PRIMARILY THROUGH AGGRESSIVE AND AT TIMES UNRELENTING CO-BRANDING THAT IS NORMATIVE WITHIN THE SOCIAL ISSUE INDUSTRY OF BREAST CANCER AWARENESS.
We asked 2 questions in this study. To answer the research questions posed we conducted five focus groups with a total of 34 participants using a semi-structured approach. Each focus group lasted approximately one hour during which participants discussed their perceptions of the co-branded partnerships communicated by SGK.
In response to the first research question posed, we found three themes. Participants were conflicted between the importance of raising money to fight breast cancer and their negative feelings about the high number and opportunistic type of partnerships communicated. THE QUOTES ABOVE WERE TYPICAL OF THE TENSION PARTICIPANTS EXPERIENCED IN WANTING TO HELP THE CAUSE BUT FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THE COMMODIFICATION OF THE ISSUE. They believed that AS THE NUMBER OF PARTNERS INCREASED THERE WAS A negative effect on people’s willingness to continue to support the fight, continued education efforts, and interest in the social issue generally. BUT, the participants acknowledged the NGO corporate alliances can be very beneficial to the NGO in terms of their ability to reach different groups of stakeholders with education and garner financial support that might otherwise be impossible to gain.
Participants discussed how the more partners an NGO communicates as having the less likely they were to think the NGO needed their personal financial support. In a social issue industry dominated by a single symbol (the pink ribbon) its proliferation made it very difficult for participants to differentiate among the issue industries NGOs. Participants stated they felt NGOs would benefit from a few strong partnerships where the corporations shared the NGOs vision of the social issue and was committed to helping the NGO achieve its goals.
Our analysis identified two themes to research question 2. Our findings indicate that Millennials preferred alliance that provided clear and complete information about the financial donation. Alliances were considered more legitimate when it was evident to the stakeholder how the cause was benefitting from the alliance and the product co-branding.
Participants expressed frustration when they could not identify any other commitment the corporation was making to the social issue beyond a financial contribution; or no commitment of any kind was communicated beyond a pink ribbon. In addition, participants wanted there to be a congruency between the NGO and the corporate partner in terms of product. The reputation of the partner was an important determinate in the value and character the participants assigned to the alliance. The perceived quality of the corporations products was an important indicator of the worth of the partner.Further, the participants felt the responsibility for the congruency rested with the NGO and that the NGO needed to hold firm to its mission regardless of the financial arrangement and be willing to disassociate with corporations if need be.
Our study makes three contributions. To begin, Our study provides support for proposition 4 of the SSM. Specifically, participants in this study expressed that too many partners is undesirable and results in diminished support for the social issue. This finding is particularly concerning due to the longeveity of social issues and the fleeting nature of corporate sponsorships. The findings indicate a threshold may exist for the optimal number of alliance partners communicated to stakeholders. Research that identifies the number of communicated partners within and across economic and social issue industries is needed to identify thresholds. Second, SGK’s centrality within its social issue has resulted in an inability to differentiate between it and other NGOs. This finding was surprising and may be particular to issues that share a symbol such as the pink ribbon. Finally, the NGO seems to inherit the majority of the risks when determining which and how many corporations to partner with. In contrast to the research on green washing where the criticism is aimed at the corporation, the pink fatigue expressed by participants in this study resulted in a negative association with the NGO for allowing corporations to exploit its cause. Along these lines, participants were more critical of the NGO, than the corporation, when it associated with too many or undesirable partners. While this finding makes sense in light of previous research that shows corporations are less trustworthy than NGOs on nearly every metric, it brings to the fore the challenges facing NGOs when they select an alliance partner.
Session 8, O'Connor
A consumption conundrum: Millennials perceptions of pink ribbons AMY O’CONNOR and ALICIA E. PHILLIPS NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY USA CSR in COMMUNICATION CONFERENCE AMSTERDAM, 2011
Symbiotic Sustainability Model (Shumate & O’Connor,2010, Journal of Communication) • A macro-level explanation of NGO-corporate alliances. • NGO-corporate alliances as being constituted and made meaningful through communication• Through communication certain alliance partnerships are given primacy
Propositions 1 & 4Proposition 1: The existence, character, and valuation of NGO-corporate alliances iscommunicatively co-constructed by alliance partners and stakeholdersProposition 4: As the number of cross-sector alliance partners increases, thecommunication of such alliances results in a diminishing return from stakeholders; conversely the communication of a limitednumber of alliances increases perceptions of value.
Research QuestionsRQ1: How do Millennials perceive the number of alliance partners communicated by SGK? RQ2: How do Millennials assign meaning to theexistence, character, and valuation of the alliance partnerships communicated by SGK?
FINDINGS: Number of partners 1. Pink fatigue conundrum “That’s the problem with marketing social causes like commodities; we start treatingthem like products instead of people’s lives” (Lily) and “I like seeing the pink ribbon productsbecause I think it does help…but I don’t agree how SGK has cornered the breast cancer market” (Elizabeth)
Number of Partners 2. Success and domination “SGK is turning into the Wal-mart of nonprofits. They’re everywhere” (Dexter) 3. A few, good partners“Having hundreds of partners means you canreach more people..but they may not be of the same quality” (Fred)
FINDINGS:Alliance character & value1. A desire for clear and complete financial disclosure “If I can’t find how much money is being donated I feel like they (the corporation) is trying to hide something” (William)
2. Commitment & Congruency“ I had a problem with Kentucky fried chicken partnering with SGK. Like when is it okay to undermine cardiovascular health in order to promote breast cancer awareness?”
Summary1. AS THE NUMBER OF ALLIANCE PARNTERS COMMUNICATED INCREASES PERCEPTIONS OF ALLIANCE VALUE AND CHARACTER DECLINES2. SGK’S PLACE OF CENTRALITY WITHIN ITS SOCIAL ISSUE INDUSTRY HAS RESULTED IN CONFUSION OVER ITS EFFORTS 3. THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE VALUE AND CHARACTER OF THE ALLIANCE RESTS WITH THE NGO