How to Bring CSR and Social Media Together for Good

an interview with
Elisabeth Charles Chief Marketing Officer, Petco

I had the pleasure of meeting Elisabeth Charles at The CMO Club Summit in LA this October.  As CMO of Petco she has orchestrated a number of innovative marketing programs to actively engage pet owners.  Learning that Elisabeth was on the board of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative, I thought she would be a great person to discuss how companies can do well be doing good and extended these activities through social media.  Turns out, this time, I was barking up the right tree.

DN: Do you think being recognized as a good corporate citizen is increasingly important to a brand like yours? Why?
Good corporate citizenship is very important to Petco – it’s built into the fabric of our entire business. Everything we do is guided by our vision for Healthier Pets.  Happier People.  Better World.

We established our non-profit organization, the Petco Foundation, in 1999 and have since raised more than $80 million in support of some 7,500 local animal welfare partners across the country. Each year, we also help save the lives of more than 250,000 animals through adoption events in our stores.  Through the Petco Foundation, we also support spay and neuter efforts, animal-assisted therapy programs and humane education. Working hand-in-hand with the Foundation, our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores serve as the first and largest national pet food bank in the country. Designated collection bins located in each of our stores allow customers to donate pet food that directly benefits pet parents in need in their local community.

As a company, we’re also increasingly adopting more sustainable business practices. We strongly believe that if it’s good for the planet, it’s good for pets and people, too.  Earlier this year, Petco became one of the only non-grocery store retailers to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Energy Star Leader for reducing our energy consumption by more than 10 percent across our entire business. Additionally, our Planet Petco line of products offers pet parents the ability to choose high-quality, more sustainable products that utilize recycled and reclaimed materials and renewable resources. These are just a few examples of what we do as a company today. It’s an ongoing process and we’re always striving to do more in this important area of corporate social responsibility.

DN: Is there a fine line between “doing good” as a company and talking about it so much that is seems insincere?
You absolutely have to be sincere and authentic in what you are doing and saying, and you must also be fully committed, rather than doing something only half way. A company’s goodwill efforts should be far more than just a marketing campaign. For Petco, all of our “do-gooding” is centered around what we believe is the right thing to do. The programs we create and support reflect our company’s values and the passion our associates have for people and pets.

DN: Is there a particular Petco goodwill/charitable program that you are particularly proud of?
There are many charitable programs that we get involved in, so it is hard to name just one.  A newer program that really took off this year was our National Pet Food Bank program and our National Pet Food Drive. Just in the program’s second year, this year’s drive ran for two weeks (late October-mid November) in all of our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores. During the national drive, we encourage customers to pick up an extra bag or can of pet food during their shopping trip, or bring unopened food from home, and donate it via the collection bins in our stores. Also for the second year, Hill’s Science Diet supported our efforts by matching 100,000 pounds of donated food during the drive. In just two weeks, we collected nearly 350,000 pounds of pet food – a more than 60 percent increase over last year – to help financially strapped pet parents feed their pets during the holiday season. The Petco Foundation Pet Food Bank is a year-round program, but it’s very exciting to see how generous our customers are during the national drive leading into the holiday season.

DN: I noticed you personally are working with an organization called HABRI.  Can you talk what and why you are doing this?
Petco is excited and proud to be a founding sponsor of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. Other founding sponsors are the American Pet Products Association and Pfizer Animal Health.  We got involved because we passionately believe that pets enrich our lives and we want to help generate formal, widespread scientific recognition of the positive role pets play in our lives.  HABRI’s mission is to support research, education and other charitable activities that validate the positive impact the human-animal bond can have on the integrated health of families and communities, by consolidating, organizing and sharing existing scientific research into the human-animal bond in partnership with Purdue University.

DN: Goodwill activities seem to translate well into social media.  Have you found this to be case and/or how do you see good will programs evolving next year?
Absolutely.  We actively use social media (especially Facebook) to engage our fan base, which is now nearing 600,000 likes, to support our charitable causes.  In general, we find that goodwill posts and campaigns featuring authentic stories perform very well in social media.  Positive campaigns with an altruistic call to action perform remarkably better (up to 100 percent more feedback) in user interaction on social properties than promotional campaigns or transactional posts. Human interest stories and, of course, anything to do with pets, are the second most shared and clicked upon posts/tweets/videos.

In October, we hosted our first ever National Adoption Reunion Weekend. Fans online were asked to submit stories about how their adopted pets had changed their lives and were given the opportunity to raise funds for the Petco Foundation through Foursquare check-ins. The social portion of the campaign performed very well, driving the most organic Twitter growth and retweets for a campaign we  have seen to date, the most views on a non-commercial video on YouTube, more than 57,000 photos uploaded on Flickr and more than 3,000 likes across three blog posts. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the results.

DN: I’m a big fan of Pedigree’s “dogs rule” campaign and their pet adoption program.  Have you partnered on “good will” programs with any of the brands that you carry and if so, what are the advantages of this approach?
Every month, we host a National Adoption Weekend when adoption events are held in all of our stores across the country. Each monthly weekend event is sponsored by one of our vendor partners.  We’ve also joined forces with several of our vendor partners for in-store fundraisers to support mutual charitable interests, including Blue Buffalo for Pet Cancer Awareness and Natural Balance for National Guide Dog Month.   I think programs like this are a huge win-win when we are able to work together to help improve the lives of pets and pet parents, and when we all know the funds raised are going to important work that we mutually care about.

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