Paul Pellizzari from Hard Rock International shares how they planned and launched a giving campaign with the Mercury Phoenix Trust

Hard Rock has been around for almost 50 years. And, according to VP of Global Social Responsibility Paul Pellizzari, since the beginning, they've lived by four mottos that instill and inspire their brand values: Love All — Serve All, Take Time To Be Kind, Save The Planet, and All Is One.

Now that they're in 74 countries, including 186 Hard Rock Cafes, 241 Rock Shops®, 29 hotels, and 12 casinos, Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies. Paul said they carry out initiatives that express those values across the company and engage the audiences they care about. Meaningful philanthropic partnerships and social responsibility programs are executed based on the different mottos.

This month, to celebrate their “All Is One” motto, Hard Rock launched a seven-month partnership with The Mercury Phoenix Trust.

What we do must be relevant, because your social purpose efforts don’t mean anything if your customers don’t feel it and get excited by it. Paul Pellizzari

“All Is One” helps to advance diversity and inclusion issues and celebrate LGBTQ+ communities. Hard Rock decided that a partnership with The Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT), founded by members of Queen in 1992 in memory of Freddie Mercury, was a perfect fit.

Though they've had a long-standing relationship with the foundation, Paul said this initiative (which runs from June to December 2019) represents a renewed commitment that will grow a consistent global charity partnership by promoting high-impact work for those living with HIV and AIDS.

“A commitment of this scale unites many people across Hard Rock, including those working in merchandise, philanthropy, and corporate marketing. Together, we deepen and broaden our mottos' power,” said Paul.

Over the seven-month partnership, Hard Rock's merchandise team leads the creation, promotion, and distribution of a special Freddie Mercury line with a portion of the proceeds going to MPT.

“Hard Rock is famous for our merchandise. We sell millions of pieces around the world every year,” said Paul. “So we want to use this reach to celebrate Freddie Mercury and his legacy.”

For this initiative, the merchandising team expanded their standard Pride line (which typically included a t-shirt and a pin) to a seven-item “capsule” collection that includes a t-shirt, crop top, tank top, trucker hat, pin, and tote bag — all co-branded with MPT.

These special lines help Hard Rock increase reach and engagement with their customer base.

The right timing can go a long way towards the success of a philanthropic initiative like this. “Paul
“Our customers love the motto-driven campaigns, and these products tend to go quickly,” he said. “Plus, it's a great way for the Mercury Phoenix Trust to spread their message and brand and engage with fans.”

Paul said the merchandise will be available through their e-commerce and in-store channels across key retail markets. The Hard Rock team hopes this seven-month campaign will raise $1 million, $100K of which would go directly to MPT.

Even though they just launched the line in June, Paul said planning for the partnership began last fall.

“We always look months in advance for initiatives like this,” he said. “In this case, we nailed down the approach for this initiative in the fall of 2018.”

A calendar for the motto marketing efforts is set during business planning for their annual cycle. “The planning process is long-term and detailed,” said Paul. “And it's an effort across teams and with our different global locations as well.”

Internally at Hard Rock, Paul said the leadership of the merchandise team is critical.

“They own everything with merch and they collaborate with key areas, including corporate marketing,” he said. “They figure out the design, the price point, and when the timing in the calendar makes sense.”

They also had to work with the Mercury Phoenix Trust to negotiate brand guidelines and representation.

“We're very strict about our brand guidelines,” said Paul. “And when you're working with a group like the Mercury Phoenix Trust, Queen and Freddie Mercury's legacy, they also have high standards and are pretty exacting in how they want their images represented.”

Paul said typically these types initiatives involve a lot of back and forth on logo placements, tags, and how social media and other marketing promotions will be done as part of the planning phase. During that time, they also worked to negotiate what the percentage of the contribution would be and settled on 10-percent from all merchandise sales.

Determining when to launch the initiative is critical.

When you’re building a campaign or initiative of this prominence you want that global reach, but you succeed when people on the ground embrace it and make it live. “Paul
“While we're planning we also have to consider how we're aligning with other events or work that will promote the cause,” he said.

In this case, external opportunities help, including Adam Lambert's tour with Queen this summer, Bohemian Rhapsody's box office and Oscar success — and Pride Month.

“All these factors align and help,” he said. “The right timing can go a long way towards the success of a philanthropic initiative like this.”

For their global locations, initiatives of this scale require extensive coordination with their different merchandise stores and channels.

“When we launch a motto initiative, we get all of the branded product and marketing materials in our Rock Shops, which are the merchandise stores located in our cafes, hotels, and casinos,” said Paul.

The merchandise will be prominently featured in priority rock shop stores and staff will promote them. And then, as they have major corporate and local Pride events they are planning to promote the partnership in their different communities.

As an activation during the initiative, they will also run their “Freddie for a week” campaign, which will see fans and advocates around the world dress like Freddie Mercury on and around the date of his birthday, September 5.

Staff will also participate in this campaign to bolster customer engagement. “They'll wear a mustache and strike poses while wearing the merch,” said Paul. “It's great for social media and team building. It helps people embrace the cause, and engages customers as they come in.”

Moving forward with philanthropic initiatives, Hard Rock is working to sustain and build momentum and greater brand value across all of its businesses.

“In this case, merchandise drives the initiative,” he said. “The Rock Shops in our different locations get involved to feature and promote the partnership in stores.” The company is also focused on a more comprehensive brand approach that extends across global locations.

Long term, Paul also wants to be able to speak more to the impact of their partners' work.

“I want us to tell a more detailed story on what the Mercury Phoenix Trust is achieving,” he said. “It's not just the number of shirts we sold, the amount of money we gave them, or the number of likes we had on social media. It's also around how they've progressed over the past few decades to support people living with HIV and AIDS. We want to explore which specific metrics can help us talk about those achievements.”

Throughout the process of planning and launching this initiative, Paul emphasized the importance of fundamentals.

“You have to be on-brand, and your partners have to be on-brand,” he said. “And that starts with knowing who you are. In our case, we have these well-established mottos that are part of our culture and have been part of who we are for a long time. A well-established identify does important work for us. For any company that may just be starting out with these kinds of programs, you have to know what you stand for and what you want to talk about. Find partners who meet your criteria and have brand power that matches what you have.”

Paul also said that executing flagship global initiatives is a priority.

“We're a global brand that is delivered and experienced locally,” he said. “When you're building a campaign or initiative of this prominence you want that global reach, but you succeed when people on the ground embrace it and make it live.”

Paul said they're able to be particularly effective on that front because their culture is also supported by an internal tagline that serves as a call-to-action for all employees: “Create authentic experiences that rock.”

“We hire people who will have fun putting on a Freddie Mercury mustache and flashing air band moves while wearing a Mercury Phoenix Trust branded t-shirt,” he said. “What we do must be relevant because your social purpose efforts don't mean anything if your customers don't feel it and get excited by it.”

Paul Pellizzari from Hard Rock International has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow him on LinkedIn.