Making a Difference Through Purpose

In October, hundreds of corporate executives gathered in Chicago for PRWeek’s PRDecoded conference to hear stories of how leaders in different industries leveraged their corporate strength and influence to make a difference in the world.  For some attendees, it was the first step toward incorporating social responsibility into their company culture.  Thinking about doing this?

Some Do’s

Recognize that the needs of all stakeholders and not just shareholders must be served.  A recent Harvard Business Review study reported that “Purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees, more loyal customers and are better at innovation and transformational change.” 

Mariano Lozano, Danone’s North American CEO of the world’s largest B corp, spoke about the company’s new governance construction.  It now instructs their companies to report not only economic returns, but also social ones.  “The responsibility of the company cannot end at the factory wall,” he remarked. 

Others spoke about ascertaining a company’s dreams and goals with resolve and bravery.  They pointed out winners of PRWeek’s First Purpose Awards.  One was My Special AFLAC Duck, a social robot created for children with cancer.  The duck was but one part of the campaign.  The other significant part was AFLAC’s partnership and outreach to hospitals.

The two other winners were Levi Strauss & Company and Gillette.  In addition to giving $1 million to nonprofits working to curb gun violence, Levis Strauss also supported town hall meetings about gun violence in cities that had been recently affected by such incidents.  

Instead of spending its advertising budget extolling the advantages of its razors and shave cream, Gillette used its “We Believe” campaign to depict men as role models by not condoning bullying, while showing how to treat everyone respectfully.

Speakers also reminded the audience that “purpose is a journey.”  Several detailed how hard but satisfying the work was. 

Some Don’ts 

Purpose washing, a strategy aimed at being in the news and inciting positive but short-lived publicity, should be avoided and replaced with actions and programs that have a more lasting impact.  Similarly, promotional stunts to gain positive public attention should cease.Even when a company is doing great work in the community, it must resist boasting about it.  Let others extol the virtues of the organization. 

Things to Ponder 

Boston University, in concert with PRWeek, recently collaborated on a bellwether survey that was touched upon at the conference.  Donald Wright, PR Chair in Boston University’s College of Communications, unveiled one revealing conclusion.  Purpose, he said, will fuel a company’s PR strategy considerably more than the marketing strategy. 

A concern he expressed is that leadership in companies pursuing a pathway of purpose may well understand where they’re headed but the rest of the workforce may not be aware of this.  This clearly means that companies making a commitment to head in a particular social direction communicate clearly and openly about its plans and reasons, not just to its workforce, but to every one of its audiences.

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