Children's Hospital in Hot Water Over Corporate Sponsorships
March 12, 2008
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What's in a name? If you're a Columbus, Ohio-area children's hospital, plenty of donations.
The Nationwide Children's Hospital, so called in recognition of the insurance company's $50 million donation, is drawing fire from advocacy groups for its embrace of corporate sponsors. The facility is preparing to break ground on the Abercrombie & Fitch Emergency Department and Trauma Center. Another retailer, Limited Too, will be recognized for its $5 million donation with the Limited Too & Justice Main Lobby.
But it is the affiliation with Abercrombie, known for its not-exactly-child-friendly advertising, that is drawing the most criticism. Abercrombie donated $10 million to the hospital in 2006 for the construction of the center.
Not kidding around
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sounded alarms this week with a widely distributed press release detailing its position, as well as a letter sent to hospital officials. The group also began a letter-writing campaign today in opposition of the use of the retailer's name.
The advocacy group earlier created a public-relations nightmare for McDonald's over its sponsorship of student report cards. The fast-food chain discontinued that program in January.
Susan Linn, the group's director and a psychologist at Judge Baker Children's Center, said the group took action after it was contacted by a concerned hospital employee. "[Our] stance is that selling naming rights is a terribly troubling trend," said Ms. Linn. "It gives corporations a veneer of respectability that, in fact, they may not deserve, and this is a good example of that."
Incensed by A&F
"Abercrombie & Fitch is really among the worst of corporate predators," she continued. "A company with such cynical disregard for children's well-being shouldn't be able to claim the mantle of healing. ... And, personally, I find it very concerning that they named their hospital after an insurance company."
Jon Fitzgerald, president of the Nationwide Children's Hospital Foundation, explained that the hospital is not selling naming rights but recognizing donors for "transformational" gifts. "It's a very common practice that when an institution is fortunate enough to receive a significant gift, or any gift for that matter, it requires some sort of recognition," he said. "If you took a look across universities and other hospitals you would see many retailers involved in naming opportunities at those institutions."
Mr. Fitzgerald also said the hospital, not the corporations, made the decision to rename or name certain areas in their honor. He noted that because design plans for the new building have not been finalized, he could not comment on how the Abercrombie & Fitch name would be used.
In response to the letter, Mr. Fitzgerald expressed concern. "Clearly we're open to talking to anyone who has issue with the directions we take to support our mission," he said. "And clearly we'll take into account what their concerns are. But this is a 2-year-old decision."
Tom Lennox, a spokesman for Abercrombie & Fitch who has also served on the hospital foundation's board of trustees since 2005, said, "We are proud of our long-standing relationship with the hospital and pleased to help secure its bright future." He declined to comment further.