How to Find the Corporate Partnership That Works Best With Your Brand

Social, political, environmental and economic stances come into play

Corporate partnerships now go further than a company's track record with clients. Getty Images
Headshot of Betsy Henning

Sponsorships, discounts and donations. What has historically been a safe ground to build goodwill for your brand has suddenly turned into a reputational minefield. The social, political, environmental and economic events of the last year have shattered the rules of the game for how brands connect with the world around them.

Gone are the days when you could get away with choosing an affiliate partner to extend your reach based simply on the millions of customers they connect you to. You can no longer select a nonprofit beneficiary based only on their solid track record. While choices like those may have been sound business decisions in the past, the criteria have changed.

To make the most of this shift, leaders must look at all external relationships through the increasingly powerful lens of corporate responsibility, which holds that a “responsible” company will see itself as part of the larger ecosystem in which it operates. It embraces the concerns of stakeholders including employees, investors, customers and even the extended reaches of supply chain, communities and the environment. And it acts on those concerns.

At its core, corporate responsibility is about being better today than you were yesterday.

At its core, corporate responsibility is about being better today than you were yesterday. Not to be perfect, but to commit to a journey of continual improvement at being a citizen of the world, not just a profiteer from it.

What’s a brand to do?

Count on your values to stand out

Get clear and real about your unique values. Dig deeper than “honesty, integrity and teamwork.” Find the authentic truth about who you are, then focus on it when seeking meaningful partnerships. You may still attract some negative attention, but you’ll face any storm with more tools in your communications tool chest that will help you remain upright.

Be true to your core

Ask almost any brand strategist, and they’ll tell you the least-accepted advice they give is that brands focus tightly and fiercely on a target customer. The alternative—being all things to all people—really means being nothing to anyone.

This is especially true today and is sure to be even more so in the future as word-of-mouth drives reputation more than anything you can influence directly. By affiliating with organizations your customers also support, you will build increased affinity and loyalty among your stakeholders, who will then be more likely to promote, share, like, tweet and talk about you.

Solve problems that will help your business

When you get involved with organizations whose services create improved chances for your success, it’s harder for someone to find fault with your decision. Think about educating a new generation of skilled workers, creating a more livable community for your employees, investing in trials of next-gen energy solutions, etc. Who is doing work that can contribute to your success? Those are the organizations for you to consider.

Do your due diligence

Having alignment with a partner or organization may not be enough to withstand the scrutiny that our increasingly transparent society provides. Check out their corporate responsibility to make sure you know what you’re getting into.

With this list in one hand and your list of affiliates and sponsorships in the other, look for alignment. Where it doesn’t exist, find a better partner and take a giant step forward in your journey as a responsible corporate citizen.

Betsy Henning is the CEO and founder of AHA.