No matter whether we are sponsoring an event or initiative or working with the sponsors of our events or initiatives, we want things to go well. Really well. Yet some things are out of our control. . . or are they?
The other day a group of protestors led a demonstration against PNC Bank, the presenting sponsor of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society's Philadelphia International Flower Show, which runs through this weekend. Besides the event being an exceptional one, The Flower Show is one of the best examples of event sponsorship in Philadelphia. Check it out if you're in town.
PNC Bank has been a sponsor for many years and, from what I can see, enjoys the brand equity they've invested in this long partnership. You can see a few photos of their participation in my post from 2010.
Having a protest break out at its slice of an event has got to be a corporation's worst fear, and on the event side, I can tell you, it's also nausea-triggering. But, lucky for we Americans that we have the right to free speech and assembly.
It's difficult to understand what's what about the issues the protestors, the Earth Quaker Action Team, have with PNC and what PNC's position is. EQAT's goal was to raise awareness for and have PNC claim responsibility for their investment in mountaintop removal (MTR) practices for coal mining, which you can read more about and see images of at their site.
According to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a PNC representative declined comment. I found nothing about the protest at PNC's web site, nor anything about its MTR practices, except a very brief comment in their corporate social responsibility report (see the bottom of page 4). A wider search online pulled up an Associated Press story from November 2010 in which PNC said they would stop financing mountaintop removal projects. AP was unable to determine whether PNC "was moving to dissolve its current investments in mountaintop removal companies or applying the policy only to future projects." A PNC spokesperson at the time declined further comment.
So here's the thing. I am looking for a statement, for information, and cannot find anything that balances out the picture. What are consumers supposed to think and wonder, especially in our sound bite culture?
Corporations benefit enormously from aligning their branding, CSR, community relations, and other initiatives with organizations and events that will enhance it, and that affiliation provides tremendous credibility. However that credibility is gone in an instant when cognitive dissonance occurs.
Our shifting values as a culture coupled with technology's openness require – impose – transparency and integrity on our business practices. I don't know what the truth is in this PNC Bank story, but I do know they invest a lot in education and the arts and do a lot of good in Philadelphia and beyond. I also know that if businesses want to be trusted they must act in trustworthy manners. Similarly, sponsorship seekers must use integrity about the businesses with which they align.
In Pennsylvania natural gas drilling in Marcellus Shale areas is the new gold rush. Energy and gas companies are eager to earn the good graces of legislators, community leaders, and residents, and Pennsylvania is eager to have these companies. Gov. Corbett announced Tuesday that he was slicing and dicing the budget, but not taxing natural gas extraction, even though he says he wants Pennsylvania to be "more like Texas." Actually this is exactly the opposite of what Texas did. Congress there set aside land in West Texas where they eventually found oil that endowed the state university system as well as elementary and secondary public schools.
Natural gas drilling companies may seem likely prospects for sponsorship. "The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Industries" ran a full-page ad in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer touting jobs. But meanwhile, environmentalists and legislators continue to debate the environmental impact to both the air and water of fracking, the technique used for extracting natural gas. A big gap exists between the two sides.
So, corporations, as you develop guidelines and policies to support your strategies and business operations, they must be aligned with the values you pledge are at the heart of your practices. Sponsorship seekers, you, too, must use discretion about the businesses you select as partners. When situations – or protests – crop up, as they sometimes do, your responses can more easily and truthfully be delivered.