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  • Writer's pictureLiz Hayes

Leveraging the power of cause marketing to build connections, revenue and community

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Cause marketing is an effective way to build genuine connections with audiences and advertisers because it aligns brand values with the social causes that are important to any community. Recently, at LMAFest, several professionals in the cause marketing space gathered to discuss why corporate social responsibility and creating meaningful advertising campaigns is so beneficial for all involved.

“If you have the passion for something, it shines through, and that is the cause you should champion,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of NY Amsterdam News.

Tatum, in addition to Natalie Yancy, chief sales officer at Medium Giant, Liz Hayes, director of strategy of the Branded Content Project, and Julia Campbell, chief transformation officer at Local Media Association, who moderated the event, sat on a panel to discuss what makes a successful cause marketing campaign. Robin Gruen, vice president of brand & content marketing at Lee Enterprises' Brand Avenue Studios, was unable to attend but sent great examples that were shared with attendees (more below).

According to Cone Communications, 91% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports social or environmental issues. DoSomething Strategic reports that 71% of Generation Z consumers say their impression of a brand is positively impacted by its association with a social cause.

Evidently, what a brand stands for matters to consumers, and local media organizations are in the perfect position to get that message out, while helping to support a worthy cause and create a new stream of revenue.

"When done well, there can be very strong benefits to adding a cause marketing program to a news organization's portfolio," said Yancy.

Yancy brings clients to FWD>DFW, an online forum that connects companies, causes and the community to issues that impact economic advancement of North Texas. The organization is powered by the Dallas Morning News. Yancy says they started this effort by securing founding sponsors that believed in the concept and then found worthwhile nonprofit endeavors that could use extra support via volunteers and donations.

In your market, look for companies that are celebrating grand openings, anniversaries or milestones; have driving donors or year-end giving; are selling season tickets to arts and cultural events; and are doing great things in the community.

She points to the following industries for worthy causes and potential partnerships:

  • Colleges

  • Auto Dealerships

  • Hospitals

  • Museums

  • Performing Arts

  • Nonprofits and Food Banks

  • Sports Teams

  • Banks and Financial Institutions

  • Local Events

If these industries exist in your market (they do!), you are in a position to tell their stories in a cause marketing campaign. FWD>DFW uses this concept to build incredible impact via mastheads, native articles, brand display ads, high-impact units, special sections, paid social & email, and Facebook Lives. You can see some of their incredible work here. FWD>DFW uses the platform VOMO, a volunteer management software platform, to coordinate projects.

NY Amsterdam News is one of the most influential Black-owned newspapers in the country, established more than a century ago. Editor-in-Chief Elinor Tatum says to look for brands that have a strong cause or community effort, a team dedicated to fulfilling their mission, and the drive and resources to make it happen.

NY Amsterdam News has had success with several such collaborations, including Word in Black, a digital partnership of the nation's leading Black news publishers; The Exchange, a business & financial news partnership with diverse publishers and Deloitte; and The Caregivers, a collaboration between the news organizations and AARP, to name a few.

Recently, AMNews has taken on gun violence in Black and brown communities with its series, Beyond the Barrel of the Gun, calling the issue a public health crisis. It's also created Black to Nature, which encourages the Black community to embrace healthy outdoor activities. Both are great examples of marketing and championing a worthwhile cause.

Robin Gruen always sings the praises of purpose-driven marketing and the publisher advantages.

"As a publisher, you're uniquely situated in understanding audience, which is key for any client and advertiser who is potentially interested in making a difference in a socially responsible way. And why is that? It's because they're looking to connect with that audience in the same way," she said.

When meeting with a client, Gruen always begins by emphasizing her publication's expertise in this area. As a publisher you're deeply rooted in your community and understand your power to influence and create a positive change.

Gruen sent along several examples of cause marketing, including an animated video about substance abuse in teenagers. The client, a health organization, wanted a direct hit to substance abuse without using real people. The animation was a perfect solution for the client, getting their message across in an engaging way.

In another great example, Brand Ave Studios (Lee Enterprises' brand agency) took a simpler approach to shine a light on the very complex issue of human trafficking. In this video, the Montana Department of Justice wanted to show the people impacted daily by this crime in a very effective public service announcement campaign. This is an example of cause marketing that could be done in any market.

Jumping into corporate social responsibility may also give you access to additional sources of revenue. Many brands have special budgets for causes they care about, no matter the market size. Ask advertisers what causes or community endeavors they support and who makes decisions on cause marketing budgets. This can lead to a great strategic partnership between brand, nonprofit and publisher.


The Meta Branded Content Project is designed through a strategic partnership between the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium, and the Meta Journalism Project to help facilitate additional growth, engagement, and revenue success for more publishers of all shapes and sizes.

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