Brand/Cause Partnerships: GMC & Invisible People (Part I)

So what is the value to a brand that supports a cause and what value does a cause find in such a partnership?



In We First I champion brand and cause partnerships because they provide benefits to both parties. So what is the value to a brand that supports a cause and what value does a cause find in such a partnership?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Connie Burke, of General Motors North Central Region Communications, about their partnership with Mark Horvarth who founded the Invisible People movement that is raising awareness and funds for the homeless in the U.S. In Part 1, we hear from Connie about the value of the partnership to the GMC brand and why the gave him a Terrain vehicle to help support his work. Here’s what she kindly shared.

SM: In choosing to work with Mark and Invisible People, did GMC see some parallel between his work and what the brand is doing?

Connie: I’ve been following Mark ever since I met him a year ago at SXSW, and he was the ultimate road warrior, basically working out of his vehicle because he’s always on the road, not just going to speaking engagements and important conferences, but he is also swinging through various cities to visit homeless shelters.When he’s invited to places like SXSW, he attends, but instead of going to the dinners and the parties, he’s the guy out there going to bring a pizza to someone sleeping under a bridge.That really impressed me.Here’s a guy saving the world one person at a time. He’s just a guy out there every single day, slugging it out.Even when he gets discouraged, overwhelmed or emotional, he’s still out there.I can’t think of a better walking example of a perfect fit in terms of the brand’s spirit of determination and perseverance. That’s Mark. Even though I work at a company that mass-produces vehicles, we sell them one at a time.


SM: What would you say the value to the brand is?

Connie:That’s a very interesting question because we were all wondering how this fits.Some might sit back and say, how does the GMC brand fit with homeless people? Homeless people aren’t buying vehicles.But that’s not what it’s about.The particular vehicle he received, the Terrain, is very fuel efficient, functional, and is a cross-over, meaning it has SUV functionality. All we wanted to do was provide him with the proper tool to help him do the important work he’s doing.So not only did we give him a fuel-efficient ride, we equipped it with wi-fi so it can literally be his mobile office.Part of what Mark does is travel the country and teaches homeless people to use social media tools.He can do that right out of his vehicle now, and that helps people better their situation because it’s hard to get a job when you don’t have an address, but you’d have a shot at it if you have as much as an email address and a way to contact prospective employers.

SM:Do you find that such efforts resonate with GMC employees?

Connie:Absolutely.This is something that was featured on our main internal news page.I’ve heard from so many of our fellow employees that it is something they feel proud of being a part of. It’s one of those things that makes you feel very proud to work for a company or brand that would do this.You don’t make profit or money by giving things away, but sometimes you see an area where you can do a lot of good and make a huge difference and you know the momentum will keep going.

SM:Do you believe that enhancement to a brand’s reputation, to the way the employees feel about working there, affects the way consumers feel about the brand?


Connie:Definitely.Not only does it make GMC a company of choice to work for, but I think a lot of consumers out there, whether they’re green minded or socially conscious, they like to feel good they’re buying products especially when it’s a big ticket item.

SM:Do you see this as a growing trend where, as a function of social media and the rise of a social business marketplace, that brands are more willing to engage with communities and do activities that are meaningful to their customers?

Connie: I absolutely do.The more we have examples like this that we can point to the easier it will be to get more people on board, especially decision makers.

SM:So if you had any advice for a company or brand that has its own core values and is considering doing socially responsible initiatives or outreach, what would it be?

Connie:It’s the right thing to do from many angles.These are the kinds of things that have a ripple effect for years to come with people.


You can follow Mark’s great work and the 2011 International Roadtrip here and follow him on twitter @invisiblepeople and @hardlynormal.

Reprinted from

Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.

About the author

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, the leading social branding firm that provides consulting and training to help companies use social media to build their brand reputation, profits and social impact. Simon is a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, the Transformational Leadership Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London