Dancing with the devil?


Purposeful cooperation

Pipelines_under_constructionThere are a few untouchable sponsorship categories. By law, tobacco for instance. If youth may be involved, alcohol brands have made the ethical choice to remain offstage.

So what about Big Oil? Though the industry is in a bit of a funk right now and is pulling back on sponsorship spending, I’ve been struck by the number of times properties have cancelled or turned down sponsorship from oil and pipeline companies on ethical grounds.

Sometimes, the result can be puzzling. Pipeline company Enbridge was not renewed as Title Sponsor of the Ride to Conquer Cancer in BC in 2013. It was subsequently replaced by a new Presenting Sponsor, Silver Wheaton, a company deeply integrated into the mining industry.

And that brings me to Pollution Probe, arguably the granddaddy of what’s known as Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations, or ENGOs. At its annual gala, Pollution Probe welcomes the support of what its colleagues might describe as a rogue’s gallery of partners: Shell, Devon Energy, Suncor, Aecon, Cenovus Energy, Encana, Imperial Oil, Lafarge, TransCanada. It uses its gala as a recruiting platform for potential partners. And with that support, Pollution Probe has been an engine of transformative change across the country. That’s what it does – mobilizing the public behind serious issues of policy, advocating for rational action on important environmental matters based on sound science. Its unrivalled credibility as an advocate has only grown. When Pollution Probe talks, important decision-makers listen. It delivers results.

When I first became involved editorially with sponsorship about 15 years ago, one of my first meetings was with Nina Wright, who was still helming the agency she founded, Arts & Communications. I remember asking her, if sport is such a sponsorship powerhouse, why invest in arts at all? It was perhaps a dumb question, but part of my job was to ask the dumb questions.

“People are not just one thing,” I remember her answering. She was passionate about visual arts and fly fishing, among many other things, she explained. A hockey fan might also be passionate about ballet.

Well, the same goes for brands, and that’s why I think it’s important that we hear from Bob Oliver, Pollution Probe CEO. This morning he confirmed that he will present at Sponsorship Toronto 2015. You’ll hear about an organization that has built an unblemished reputation as an advocate for change while maintaining a strategy that willingly acknowledges the good that its partners do, no matter who they might be.

A pipeline company is not just a pipeline company. There are lessons in there for all of us.

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