Over the past decade, competition among financial service providers has steadily intensified. Heightened performance pressures have given rise to unprecedented mega-mergers and acquisitions – Bank of America/FleetBoston and JP Morgan Chase/Bank One. The ongoing industry consolidation and geographic expansion of goliath banking powers have forced many smaller entities, including PNC, to seek more innovative ways to differentiate their brand versus the industry titans with larger marketing budgets. To distinguish itself from the competition, PNC set out to create a signature cause program that harnessed its brand heritage as a long-standing leader in the communities it serves.
In 2003, PNC Chairman and CEO Jim Rohr and Chief Marketing Officer Vance LaVelle engaged Cone to help differentiate the PNC brand from its growing competition. The creation of a signature cause program provided a strategic focus for the company’s philanthropy, putting the entire power of PNC behind one cause to reinvigorate and differentiate the PNC brand as more contemporary, dynamic and passionately committed to the communities in which they do business.
To develop a signature program, Cone guided PNC through its proprietary Cause Maximization® process to analyze the PNC brand and identify an issue that fit its unique attributes. This process included 45 interviews with senior PNC executives; an intensive audit of PNC’s assets and current market position; a review of target audiences; an analysis of PNC’s philanthropy; a deep review of PNC’s competition; and a series of interviews with the nation’s leading child development experts. This preliminary research illustrated that there was a clear synergy between PNC and children’s causes – a cause arena already dominated by PNC’s competition.
To find an “ownable” niche within the spectrum of children’s causes, Cone conducted an opportunities analysis and identified a relatively untapped position within the education domain – school readiness. Cone found irrefutable evidence in the academic and educational fields that children with quality preschool experiences do better in school and in life. By age five, children have developed 60 percent of their ability to learn and chances for long-term success have already been determined. Economic studies indicate that there is a $7 return on every $1 invested in preschool education. The economic benefits of quality preschool were well aligned with PNC – an economic leader identified with wise investments.
PNC Grow Up Great, a comprehensive, ten-year, $100 million investment in school readiness. This signature cause program embodies the company’s central values (customer focused, teamwork, respect, diversity, quality of life) and desired brand identity (passionate, local, relevant, innovative, insightful) while targeting four priority audiences: customers/prospects, specifically women and the Hispanic community; employees; communities/key influentials; and shareholders. PNC Grow Up Great is an investment in the future, in the economic vibrancy of the communities throughout the company’s six-state footprint.
Cone’s objectives include: enhance and differentiate the PNC brand, making it more inclusive of diverse audiences, achieve a positive and measurable impact on PNC’s business, brand preference/appeal, deepen relationships between PNC and its customers, communities, shareholders and employees, serve as a positive catalyst for change within the school readiness arena and extend PNC’s value and impact in its communities via corporate and nonprofit partnerships.
Cone’s strategic approach included: build on PNC’s strong history of philanthropic giving and provide necessary focus to cause efforts, leverage employees’ passionate interest in children’s causes; motivate them to support PNC Grow Up Great, engage highly credible and content-rich nonprofit partners, provide school readiness resources for employees (as ambassadors/caregivers), customers/prospects and community leaders and implement aggressive marketing and communications strategies to enhance awareness of the cause and program.
At the core of PNC Grow Up Great are its 24,000 employees, executive leadership team and unprecedented partnerships. Internally, the program is executed by a team consisting of executives from key departments within the PNC including community development, work/life diversity, marketing and media relations. For credibility and visibility, the program is supported by an Advisory Council of 12 of the nation’s leading childcare experts in addition to nationally respected education leaders: Sesame Workshop, Head Start, PBS Kids and Family Communications Inc. (creators of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood).
In each of four focus areas, PNC identified significant opportunities to create success for the program. It set a 10-year goal of one million volunteer hours; implemented unprecedented easy-to-use technology systems to meet the challenges of a rigorous clearance process (background checks, fingerprinting, TB testing) and track employee participation throughout six states; and established a 40-hour paid time off policy encouraging employees to volunteer on company time, in conjunction with Head Start, developed a rigorous application RFP/granting process to create Head Start centers of excellence.
The team selected 11 outstanding Head Start centers to support their pioneering work to enhance school readiness for more than 4,000 children enrolled in their programs. It installed extensive reporting processes to monitor progress and share results throughout the entire Head Start system and developed new Foundation giving guidelines with an increasing focus on supporting school readiness, developed an advocacy position statement to inform all outreach efforts.
The PR team secured high-level, targeted speaking engagements and board placements to establish critical relationships with leading child advocacy organizations and potential corporate cause allies, including the Trust for Early Education, Pew Charitable Trusts and Center for Economic Development. It created regional business publication inserts establishing PNC’s leadership in the school readiness arena and encouraging issue-based dialogue within the business community and launched regional print and broadcast issue-based consumer public service campaign.
In one year, PNC Grow Up Great has gained recognition as the nation’s most comprehensive school readiness initiative and a level of results far beyond the true age of the program. It has captured the attention of the nation’s leading preschool educators, child development experts, policymakers and economists.
In 2004, PNC Grow Up Great achieved the following results: implemented an aggressive internal communications campaign that energized and engaged employees and inspired more than 15 percent of employees to register to volunteer and contribute 10,000 volunteer hours (as of December); launched an innovative intranet site that received 100,000 employee visits and inspired similar results through the program’s expansion into Massachusetts to PFPC, a PNC subsidiary, generated media coverage and community goodwill in six states via PNC’s awarding of more than $400,000 in grants to 11 Head Start centers impacting 4,000 children; migrated $500,000 in local market PNC philanthropic budgets to support school readiness, heightened program visibility as a result of national speaking engagements, including the Corporate Voices for Working Families annual meeting and five board placements for senior management with leading child advocacy groups.
In addition, the campaign established relationships with the Committee for Economic Development and Pew Charitable Trusts and launched the first-ever summit of the nation’s top economists to explore school readiness issues/solutions, garnered 564 million media impressions through a comprehensive marketing communications campaign including public awareness advertising, children’s programming and event sponsorships, media relations, collateral materials and a dedicated Web site.
The PR team distributed more than 100,000 Happy, Healthy, Ready for School kits in PNC communities and presented them to the Secretaries of Education in New Jersey and Delaware and welcomed more than 15 media partners within PNC’s footprint, allowing for the school readiness issue to be communicated to the public in a variety of formats and received awards from the Families and Work Institute; United Way; Delaware Governor’s Office; Greater Pittsburgh League of Women Voters; and International Film and Video Festival – recognizing PNC’s groundbreaking commitment to school readiness.