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How Hard Rock Café established itself as a philanthropic ambassador

How Hard Rock Café established itself as a philanthropic ambassador

Almost a third (31 per cent) of people polled by customer insight specialist G2 Data Dynamics admitted they would axe regular direct debit donations to charities if forced to reduce their monthly expenditure.

We sat down with Hard Rock Café’s senior director of brand philanthropy Annie Balliro to find out why it is so important for big brands and corporations to have corporate social responsibility programmes in place and donate to legitimate charitable causes.

First and foremost, social responsibility must be done to further a cause, not to promote a brand, it’s about doing something good.

Balliro explains, “It is extremely critical that the philosophy of philanthropy and business is adopted throughout those businesses that wish to succeed globally. The businesses that are working, despite the downturn and other trends, are those that really can engage in their communities.

At Hard Rock we talk about ‘all is one’ and our community is the globe and as a global brand that’s our social responsibility.”

Balliro says the restaurant chain has adopted the strapline, ‘Doing well by doing good’ to represent its philanthropic strategy.

Many big brands and corporate companies back charities as part of their marketing landscape. However, if a brand is shouting about all its charitable work, it becomes hard to see how genuine the scheme is in terms of charity and become more about a marketing tactic. 

For Hard Rock Café, corporate social responsibility isn’t a primary marketing strategy – it’s an extra piece of the puzzle in the global business that helps strengthen the company’s brand.

Every Hard Rock Café has what it calls a ‘local ambassadors’ programme, where employees – from waiting staff to marketing managers – choose their own outreach initiatives for their local community.

This not only benefits the community but also encourages teamwork and encourages people to get involved with charities where ever they can. Through these programme, employees find that charity doesn’t have to be hard work – it can be rewarding and actually be fun and you can see the difference you’re making, says Balliro.

Most consumers may not be aware of Hard Rock Café’s philanthropic roots. Since it was established in 1971, Hard Rock has been committed to a wide variety of philanthropic causes and activities around the world.

A wide range of philanthropic partners have benefited from Hard Rock donations - in the form of dollars, food and beverage, merchandise and volunteer work including Amnesty International, Children’s Miracle Network, Habitat for Humanity and Global Angels.

Figures from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), show that the proportion of the UK population that gave to charity has dropped to 54 per cent since 2005 to £9.5 billion, down 3 per cent year-on-year due to consumer tightening their belts in the midst of a recession.

Balliro said, “People these days have gone from having hundreds of dollars of disposable income to buy material items and go out. Now people are making very social conscious decisions about how they spend their money. They want to know exactly what they are buying into and are looking for an organic grassroots philanthropic concept.”

Essentially, not every customer that dines at one the many hundreds of Hard Rock Café’s around the world knows that by eating at the restaurant they are giving money to charity.

But should consumers associate a charity with the brand that is supporting it or should they find a charity on their own terms?

Balliro says that often consumers don’t mind a little encouragement, “The core of every person is good, and we are trying to make it easy for everyone to channel that good by making them aware of a wide range of charitable that we support and we encourage people to join us to be apart of that.

“Our model is to partner with a wide range of organisations rather than just one charity because it means we can reach more people in a variety of ways. We use opportunity and responsibility to connect people and help raise awareness of very specific causes and truly our opportunity is to shine the light on the experts and engage our fans to not just donate one off but to become a relevant supported of the organisation for years to come.”

What makes the Hard Rock Café’s philanthropic strategy unique is the way it uses celebrity endorsers. Celebrities such as Joss Stone and Natasha Bedingfield don’t get paid to front the restaurant chain’s charity campaigns - they instead align themselves with a particular charity and make donations.

Last October, Joss Stone raised awareness for the anti-hunger charity WHY by donating a specially recorded song that features on an exclusive CD sold in Hard Rock Café restaurants with proceeds going to the charity. Yoko Ono, who donated John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine”, also supported the campaign.

“Our goal by using celebrities is to connect with people and raise awareness. Celebrates shine the light on the causes and engage more fans to donate and become continued supporters,” explains Balliro.

However, using a celebrity to front a campaign, especially a charity campaign, can come with criticisms as some may argue, its just extra publicity for the star.

But Balliro says it’s extremely important to have committed, passionate representatives, “The artists that we work with to support these charities are very much in through partnership with the organisation that is being supported – and they always believe in it.

“There’s a huge distinction between an opportunistic media splash and what we actually do. We will never take out a two-page ad or do a TV campaign, the best way we support of philanthropic strategy is to shine a light on the charities we support through PR.”

Balliro concluded, “Hard Rock Café has become a place for artists to come and support organisations and charities they are passionate about.” 


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