I was recently reading a book, written by Richard Branson, wherein he said: “Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore this great next frontier where the boundaries between work and purpose are merging into one, where doing good, really is good for business.”
What a great way to sum up how brands with purpose can go beyond the interest of their companies to serve their communities, and inspire not just customers but also employees. Especially today, when the world seems to be facing an avalanche of challenges – be it climate change, pandemic, political strife, or the economic slump.
Consumers, now more than ever, are gravitating towards brands that create a connection by showing that they care, and are willing to act, for issues that affect their target audience. Brands are aware of this and look towards us, their public relations (PR) advisors, to help make and amplify that connection. And it is part of our professional ethics to ensure that our clients take the right approach to achieve this.
Pitfalls of Purpose
Even though brands, across industries, are taking up social-good marketing, there are instances of purpose washing.
Eager to gain eyeballs and profit, brands are choosing causes that they think will strike a chord, without investing any time or thought into how to align their actions with their words. As a result, they are being called out by consumers for merely paying lip service, leading to major reputation crisis.
Purpose Begins at Home
As experts, we must advise our clients to take an ethical approach by first internalising purpose.
I recently came upon a story that beautifully summed this up. President John F. Kennedy was once visiting National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and apparently asked a janitor there what his role was at the agency. “Well, Mr. President,” came the reply, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
That is how brand purpose truly works – when every single person in an organisation believes in and is driven by it, when the brand’s purpose is in the DNA of the company.
Make it Last
Once the significance of internalising purpose is established, we need to help clients with communicating their message to their consumers in an authentic and transparent manner.
To begin with, help them identify a cause that aligns with their brand ethos.
A decade ago, consumers would believe whatever a brand said if it was said with confidence and aplomb. But today, where information access is at our fingertips, consumers will look for evidence. Does your purpose align with your past record, your current actions and your future plans or are you just cashing in on the flavour of the moment? It’s not difficult to find out. Hence, we must advise and guide our clients on choosing sustainable causes and being accountable once they have made a commitment if they want to retain consumer goodwill.
The Power of Integrity
The PR profession comes with great powers of influence and with this influence comes a great responsibility to our clients, the public and society. Hence, it is crucial that ethics is a cornerstone of all our work. In fact, as a pledge of trust and transparency towards the public, In 2017, the Internal Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) strengthened the public’s trust in the industry by creating 10 easy-to-follow ethical principles that constituted the Helsinki Declaration. This is aimed at inspiring PR professionals to hold themselves to the highest standards of professional integrity. We owe this to ourselves and to our clients.
For, as author Douglas Adams said, “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity”.