Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

This Family-Owned Company is Striving to Be a Hallmark of Transparency

Privately-owned companies considering a leap into transparency may want to take a cue from Kansas City-based Hallmark.
By Leon Kaye

When we talk about responsible, sustainable or transparent companies (or all of the above), most of the focus is on publicly traded companies. Our annual list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens, for example, only includes publicly owned corporations, as quite simply, the data needed to evaluate them is readily available. These companies have little choice to share their financials and material risks, due largely to U.S. securities laws on this side of the pond. While privately owned corporations don’t have that legal requirement to share financial and non-financial information at the same level of disclosure, in this day and age, it certainly behooves them to do so for many reasons. To that end, such companies may want to take a look at the actions Kansas City-based Hallmark has been taking.

The company, known of course for its greeting cards and eponymous channel on cable television, has launched a robust corporate citizenship program in recent years.

One’s gut reaction to Hallmark and its corporate citizenship program could be: We’re talking about greeting cards and Christmas ornaments here. What kind of impact could it possibly have? Well, all those retail stores, paper and materials needed for those Crayola crayons and colored pencils, which together comprise a $4 billion company, do have an impact. Energy and power are consumed; factory workers are subjected to risks on the shop floor; and today’s fickle workforce needs that healthy dose of inspiration once in a while.

Hence, we now know more about what goes on Hallmark behind the scenes. At the same time, the company’s approach toward corporate sustainability is driven by the goodwill it has long had towards the Kansas City community.

“Like many companies, we’ve seen the need by our customers and consumers to have greater insight into what causes and initiatives we support outside of a product line,” said Andy DiOrio, the company’s public relations and social media director. “What difference are we making in our communities? How are we caring for the workers that make our product both domestically and abroad? How are we being mindful of any waste, water or other materials as part of the sourcing or end-user impact?”

The bottom line for Hallmark is that these are all questions from the company’s stakeholders that have taken on a sharper focus in recent years, and according to DiOrio, the company is determined to join them in ensuring it can create and maintain a sustainable impact across its operations and supply chain.

Part of maintaining that impact is ensuring its employees are engaged and suppliers. Just take a look at its core business: Greeting cards. Composing a greeting card is like composing a Piet Mondrian painting – just try it, and see how the results pan out. There's no crowdsourcing this creative material - Hallmark hires employees to do that.

“At its core, Hallmark is a creative company with one of the world’s largest creative workforces, topping more than 1,000 professionals across the globe,” noted DiOrio. “Creativity is at the core of what we do, and the lifeblood of our company. Not only is this reflected in the products or entertainment we produce, but it can also translate into creative ways we create solutions on better ways to manufacture these products, source the materials and contribute toward important causes in our communities.”

That deep reverence for creative work guides Hallmark’s community engagement programs. Various initiatives include giving employees within the company’s “creative community” (including those who write and design products) five paid days a year to take a break from their daily roles and explore projects that can help keep those passions ignited. Last year, the company decided to expand this program so local community organizations could benefit from such volunteerism. In addition, Hallmark has supported a community theater program in downtown Kansas City for 40 years; across the U.S., its Crayola division runs a grant program that offers schools support to bolster art education curricula.

These programs didn’t occur in a vacuum – much of this community-focused work dates back to the company’s earliest days over a century ago. The Hall family, which still owns the company, has been mindful of the role it can play in the Kansas City region, and nowadays, its overseas suppliers.

Hallmark’s owners have long had an affinity for its home base of Kansas City. During the winter of 1915, the young company came off a successful Christmas season and was planning for the upcoming Valentine’s Day rush, only to lose its entire inventory in a disastrous early morning fire. The community rallied around the young company; supporters included a piano company owner who offered some of its unused office space free of charge.

It today’s political and social climate where you’ve got to be on one side or the other, Hallmark benefits from the fact that it has a product portfolio that can bring people together – no one (level-headed) ever got livid from getting a 64-pack of crayons as a gift or a card in the mail.

Nevertheless, you count on the fact Hallmark will keep the lines of communications open when it comes to it challenges. The company is currently formulating its goals for 2030, while the moment of truth for its 2020 objectives is coming along fairly quickly.

“Hallmark has and continues to play a unique role, especially in todays’ society. We are a company about caring and fostering emotional connections between you and the ones you love,” DiOrio explained. “During a time where it feels very divisive and you must be on one side of an issue or the complete opposite, Hallmark and its business are about bringing people together, celebrating our commonalities, and fostering a sense of togetherness; something needed perhaps now more than ever.”

A reminder: Hallmark is one of several legacy companies onstage during the Forum. We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending this two-day event. Please register by visiting the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Hallmark

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye