Fifteen years ago, I was invited to Avon's headquarters in New York City to meet with senior executives and their CEO, Jim Preston, to discuss the emerging strategy of linking a company with a cause.
I will never forget that day. In a very large boardroom, with Avon's mission in large brass letters on the wall, we discussed the company's desire to deepen its relationship with its consultants -- 500,000 in the US with almost a million more globally -- in an emotional and powerful way. Jim talked about a new strategy he had heard about, cause marketing. 'Lets explore this,' he said.
From that meeting was born Avon's global citizenship platform - The Avon Worldwide Fund for Women's Health , and in the United States, the Avon Breast Cancer Awareness Crusade .
Both grew from the company's deep and authentic commitment to women -- to give them flexible jobs, training and personal development. They wanted to do more.
Working in partnership with their wonderful team, led by Joanne Mazurki, we first explored which cause might fit like a glove -- what was relevant and needed attention. Next, we worked to find an area where they could credibly add value and make a social impact, while also deepening loyalty with their associates and consumers.
In 1993, breast cancer wasn't really talked about. And as we explored more, African, Hispanic and older women were very marginalized regarding breast cancer knowledge, action and treatment.
Avon, once they selected the US focus, moved ahead only as Avon could. They created a robust program, partnering with medical experts, institutions, the CDC, local NGO's, created cuturally-relevant materials, sponsored two TV specials and armed their associates with information to spread.
From the very beginning, Avon knew this was about being responsible to their stakeholders, and that it was not a marketing gimmic or a short-term commitment.
The Crusade grew and grew. Avon added new elements, concerts, their 3 Day Walks, product tie-ins, new partners and raised more and more funds, so that grants could be made to programs to reach their target groups, and over time, adding grants to researchers.
One time, they dropped Awareness from the Crusades title, as they wanted to go beyond just knowing -- to action -- women embracing early detection and researchers looking for cures. The Crusade is now in 50 countries around the world, raising more than $545 million. I once judged a Russian social responsibility awards competition. Avon's program there was so culturally relevant, as women were in the early stages of learning about the disease. Again, Avon did the 'right' thing, led with the cause, partnered carefully and set goals to reach for social impact. And yes, they did win!
As Avon knows, with success comes true responsibility, so they have once again innovated with their new initiative, Army of Women .
Together with renowned physician Dr. Susan Love, they have launced this stunning new direction, to attract more than one million women to make themselves available for basic research. Within a few weeks, more than 200,000 have signed up to help.
The idea was thought up by Dr. Susan Love. It seems that basic research doesn't have access to healthy women. Dr. Love approached Avon and together they invented a system to build a database of women -- indeed an army -- who can help with research to find cures.
Below are the goals from The Army of Women's website www.armyofwomen.org
'Our revolutionary initiative has two key goals:
- To recruit one million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to partner with breast cancer researchers and directly participate in the research that will eradicate breast cancer once and for all.
- To challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women.
Join us in this movement that will take us beyond a cure by creating new opportunities to study what causes breast cancer—and how to prevent it.'
In a recent Fortune Magazine interview, Jim Stengel, P&G's Global Marketing Officer, said, 'People really do care what's behind the brand, what's behind the business. They care about the values of a brand and the values of a company. We can never forget that.'
For decades, Avon has been true to its mission - to be the company that best understands and serves the needs of women, worldwide -- and has demonstrated its values in action year in and year out, in the US and abroad,
Thank you Avon for your authentic commitment and for staying on the course.