Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series highlighting cause marketing campaigns from around the world called ‘Global Voices’ and brought to you by Your Public Interest Registry. We hope our team of international contributors will shed insights into cause marketing in their home country and inspire you to expand your own purpose-driven horizons.
Social business ideas in Brazil don’t stop growing and you can always come across something unusual or surprising. In the following initiative, what surprised us was not only the idea itself, but also the impressive audience that it reached in just six years of existence.
As in the U.S., Brazil’s publishing business is in constant crisis, chasing audiences and advertisers amidst closing newsrooms. Magazine Sorria (Smile) is bucking this trend with its social purpose publication that reports on regular people and has risen to the ranks of the five most sold magazines in Brazil.
Produced by Editora MOL, the magazine is sold exclusively at Droga Raia drugstores, one of the largest pharmacy chains in Brazil (currently with over 450 stores). On average, 220,000 magazines are printed bimonthly, with 95% of these sold. Profits from sales are donated to two institutions: GRAAC – Grupo de Apoio ao Adolescente e à Criança com Câncer (Support Group for Children and Adolescents with Cancer) and the Ayrton Senna Institute.
Magazine Sorria began in 2007 as a partnership between business administrator and journalist Rodrigo Pipponzi, the Droga Raia drugstore chain and the NGO GRAAC. Rodrigo worked in the communications industry doing commercial projects with Droga Raia, but was also familiar with the NGO’s work; eventually a convergence of ideas resulted in the creation of the magazine. In theory, the idea was fairly simple: through sponsors, it would cover production costs and sell the magazine at a reasonable price, thereby ensuring that 100% of proceeds would be donated to the Institution. Droga Raia, in turn, would offer shelf space at tills and their employees would promote the purchase of the magazine. The content would be light, general interest, and without mention of famous persons (who are usually the sales focus in most magazines). It was a gamble, since the magazine would compete with affordable entertainment magazines; a major factor that had to be considered.
The first magazine was launched in 2008, with 120,000 copies priced at R$2.50 (approximately U$1.10). Sales and acceptance among customers in stores have grown every quarter since.
Of course, the challenges also increased with increased success. Although the magazine maintained a promising model for generating income for the beneficiary institution, Rodrigo and his publishing team had an uphill job to renew sponsors. “That sales model left us very vulnerable, leaving the project at risk. Therefore, in 2012 we decided to increase the sale price of the magazine, so that a percentage would cover production costs and the balance would be donated,” said Rodrigo. This, however, did not lower sales nor the amount eventually donated. Even with this new strategy, the magazine now has three sponsors that understand the importance of linking their brands to a socially relevant project.
Another challenging event during these six years was the acquisition by Droga Raia of another pharmacy chain, which led to increased demand not only for printed magazines, but also for training new employees absorbed in the merger. Eventually, the network would increase to 450 stores from the original 180 Droga Raia stores. A total of 9,000 employees would now have to be mobilized and integrated into this “network of good” so that the magazine could reach the consumer by means of their enthusiasm.
Another challenge, this one very motivating, was the addition in 2011 of the Ayrton Senna Institute (which works with Education) as another social organization that now benefits from the magazine. The decision was an initiative of Droga Raia, so that education, in addition to health, could be added as a second main cause supported by the company. “Contrary to what might be expected, the donations to the first beneficiary institution were not reduced, which was very good,” says Rodrigo.
In six years, Sorria Magazine raised R$ 13,147,581.13 (almost USD$6 million), which was entirely donated to both institutions. It is estimated that every minute the equivalent of USD$5.04 (R$ 227) is donated from the sale of the magazine. This total, which is constantly audited, can be considered a success since the current publishing market does not favor print editions. For this reason, the publisher also facilitates online purchases and plans sales through subscription.
What are the main aspects that make this such a successful partnership between publisher, cooperating company, sponsors and consumers?
1) The magazine is treated as a social business with well-formulated strategies, making a profit for the product to ensure business sustainability.
2) According to Rodrigo, everything should work like a machine in which all gears work precisely: the publisher must work with quality information and ensure production and delivery to shops; the business partner and co-director must provide the exhibition space for the product, payment systems, and facilitate the mobilization of its employees; and the consumer invests their purchase dollars in causes with meaning and relevance to society.
3) The quality of the product displayed is high. A survey by the publisher in 2011 indicated that the public currently does not buy the magazine only for the causes they support, but because of the affordable price and quality of the content.
These reflections are important to define that a business can generate profit, have quality content and promote social and environmental causes, as well as raise awareness and mobilize thousands of people. In addition to Sorria, the publisher MOL has evaluated other ways to continue on this course. According to Rodrigo, MOL plans to expand its social portfolio since Sorria and other magazines and books have shown that more people support these endeavors. We also believe that this is possible!