Let's Talk About Bell Let's Talk
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Lets Talk About Bell Lets Talk
Table of Contents
3Functional Framework: Cause Marketing
5Theoretical Framework: Foucault
8Results and Findings
AbstractThis research paper examines the Bell Lets Talk campaign through an in-depth exploration of public relations strategies. It analyzes through a functional and critical perspective how Bell is constructing its profile of corporate social responsibility, namely by the strategic implementation of a cause marketing campaign seemingly aiming to raise social awareness, and enhance the understanding of mental illness and its impact on Canadians.
Findings are drawn from Bells application of PR in reference to the four pillars of the campaign: anti-stigma, enhanced care and access, new research and workplace leadership. Furthermore, our focus of the inquiry is split into theoretical analysis by drawing upon Foucaults conceptions of power knowledge and discourse; our functional analysis is done through the lens of the Bell Lets Talk campaign as cause marketing, addressing the influence of cause marketing on the cause, on the brand, and overall, whether Bell Lets Talk was a successful cause marketing campaign. These two critical and functional analyses have allowed us to understand to what extent the PR practices of the campaign are aligned with said framework, and ideally, helped inform our understandings of the role and practices of public relations in our society.Background/RationaleBell, as a Canadian leading telecommunications enterprise, has been engaging itself in the overall improvement of the societys well-being through enabling economic growth, connecting social communities and safeguarding the environment (Bell Canada Corporate Responsibility Report [BCCRR], 2012). Arguably its most visible investment in this societal well-being is the annual Bell Lets Talk campaign. The Bell Lets Talk campaign is an unprecedented multi-year charitable program dedicated to the promotion and support of mental health initiatives across Canada. The largest-ever corporate commitment in Canada supports a wide range of programs to enhance awareness, understanding and treatment of mental illness, as well as research and access to care across the country ([BCCRR], 2012). In 2010, Bell announced that it would be contributing $50 million over five years to mental health related initiatives through Bell Lets Talk (Bell Canada, 2013c). The Bell Mental Health initiative supports an extensive range of programs in Canada, including academic research on mental health in the workplace, community access and care, and anti-stigma in the discourse surrounding mental health, as it is often perceived as an invisible but pervasive health issue with profound lasting consequences ([BCCRR], 2012; Bell Canada, 2013d). This campaign is a perfect example of corporate public relations practice, as it exemplifies Bells attempt at promoting themselves while competing amongst a complex corporate and political culture for our attention, interest, and actions towards a matter of public interest which is in this case, represented by public awareness of mental health. It is fair to say that we live in a promotional age, and that it is crucial for us to understand the relations of power within said promotional culture to understand the impact the actors within it have on the public with regards to matters of public interest. Through the in-depth exploration of the PR strategies executed as part of the Bell Lets Talk campaign, our interest lies in a critical analysis of how BCE is constructing its profile of corporate social responsibility through the strategic implementation of a cause marketing campaign seemingly aiming to raise the social awareness and enhance the understanding of mental illness and its impact on Canadian life.
The scope of the Bell Lets Talk campaign is massive, in part due to Bells powerful standing within the Canadian telecommunications landscape. As such, the reach of the campaign annually brings discourse surrounding mental health to the forefront of public interest discussion. Although the Canadian public has acknowledged its philanthropic contribution to the Canadian society in a seemingly positive way, the practice of the campaign itself is still, in essence, out of an apparent commercial motivation. From a critical communications perspective, this begs the question of whether or not corporate philanthropic practice surrounding a social phenomenon in general, benefits any political, social, and/or cultural interests in our society? Based on this general interest in the purview of the campaign, our rationale for this research project will be to focus on uncovering the corporate reasoning behind Bells apparent philanthropic practice through a strategic analysis of the Bell Lets Talk campaign. We will question whether or not the campaign (as a means) actually structured or influenced our societal knowledge and perceptions on issues surrounding mental health, as well as on the Bell corporation itself, and if so, to what end.
Our focus of the inquiry will be split into theoretical analysis by drawing upon Foucaults conceptions of power knowledge and discourse, and our functional analysis will be done through the lens of the Bell Lets Talk campaign as cause marketing. These two critical and functional analyses will allow us to understand to what extent the PR practices of the campaign are aligned with said framework, and ideally, will help inform our understandings of the role and practices of public relations in our society. The questions that will guide us in our research follow the trend of understanding the balance between corporate philanthropic activity and bottom line corporate interests, and so we will first ask what the interests of Bell were in deploying this campaign: how much was truly corporate philanthropic activity and how much was commercial promotion/ reputation management of the Bell corporate brand? Furthermore, how did the Bell Lets Talk campaign structure itself to influence our societal knowledge, and which societal knowledge (aka surrounding issues of mental health or BCE itself)? Our guiding research question is an integration of all of the above: Did the Bell Lets Talk campaign leverage cause marketing specific public relations practices by stimulating discourse surrounding mental health, an issue of public interest, for the primary purpose of improving its brand and ultimately, satisfying its private corporate interests? We expect to prove this hypothesis to be correct, as well as discover that whether or not it was intended, the PR practice of cause marketing in the Bell Lets Talk campaign had a positive impact on the discourse surrounding mental health.
Functional Framework: Cause MarketingIn an era of consumerism that covets corporate social responsibility, the practice of associating a corporate brand with a cause has become increasingly prevalent. As a subcategory of corporate social responsibility, cause marketing (CM) can be defined as the process of formulating and implementing marketing activities that are characterized by an offer from the firm to contribute a specified amount to a designated cause when customers engage in revenue-providing exchanges that satisfy organizational and individual objectives (Varadarajan and Menon, 1988 p. 60). This section will analyze cause marketing as a PR tool through three separate lenses: the influence of CM on the cause, the influence of CM on the corporate brand, and more generically, what makes a successful CM campaign.
Cause Marketing and Value for the Cause
When conceptualizing a CM relationship, there are two ways in which we can analyze how it was valuable to the cause: increased fundraising and support, and increased ability to change individual behaviors and perceptions in a manner consistent with the goals of the cause (Gourville and Rangan, 2004). Successful CM campaigns provide tremendous amounts of visibility, credibility, and awareness to a cause, and by default, often create more support for the specific cause as well. Likewise, a successful CM campaign will also change consumer behaviors or perceptions surrounding the cause or the issue. However, it is important to always consider that this cause promotion is being done via an already existing for-profit brand: as such, we must ask ourselves how successful CM campaigns are for the cause in relation to the potential opportunities for successful brand promotion.Cause Marketing and Brand Perception
It has been historically accepted that providing evidence of good corporate citizenship can help establish trust and confidence in a brand (Anand, 2002). The strategic operationalization of cause marketing seeks to form more concrete bonds with consumers (both current and potential), with employees and investors, and with the general public by differentiating a specific brand from the rest, seeking ultimately to culminate in its long-term market positioning (Davidson, 1997; Gourville and Rangan, 2004). Critics of modern capitalism would argue that corporations would not engage in CM if it did not provide some sort of benefit to the brand or give them some sort of competitive advantage in the market. The underlying question then, is does cause marketing increase positive brand perception? A study done by Lafferty and Goldsmith (2005) found that cause-brand alliances improve overall appraisal of a brand, and that this confirms the validity of using this strategic marketing tool [cause marketing] to enhance brand image (p. 428). Similarly, Myers and Kwon (2012) applied McCrackens meaning transfer as a theoretical framework in attempting to explain the influence of cause marketing on post-brand attitudes, applying the presuppo