Purpose and impact are more than just words
I’ve been working in the purpose space for almost ten years now. And what I know is that purpose and impact are more than just words.
When I founded Underground Communications almost nine years ago, it was with the express purpose of creating a community around a brand by connecting an organisation, it’s purpose and values to all stakeholders. And to share the stories of impact that innovative companies were driving.
To say it’s been a long journey is an understatement.
When I first started out, companies simply did not understand the concept of purpose at all. A glazed expression was commonplace.
No matter your industry, it’s always a good idea to keep looking to the future and building in change and improvement, and the purpose space was one area I could see was ultimately in danger of becoming a trend rather than the driver of change that it’s meant to be.
Especially in the creative industry that by its very nature grabs at every trend possible to drive sales, clicks, views, engagement and any other data-driven measure of success you can think of.
And, although I predicted this, I wasn’t prepared for my reaction to seeing traditionally sell-stuff-at-all-costs agencies jump on the purpose wagon and new agencies springing up now that their founders have made a tidy sum and think it might be time to “do some good” in the world.
And my reaction was to have an absolute rant.
Luckily, I’ve re-listened to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong audio book in the last couple of weeks and I could see that this was a potential face down in the arena moment, as she calls it.
Which meant that I had to examine what has me so riled up about it.
After all, one of the core values of the B Corp movement, and something I have believed strongly since the beginning, is companies that are driving significant change through innovative stakeholder-led business practices should be held up as the examples to strive for.
In fact, it has been at the core of my job for the last nine years to share these stories so that other companies sit up, take notice and make the changes themselves.
So, what’s the problem?
Feeling small in the wake of large agencies realising that purpose and sustainability are the key drivers for consumers, according to all the latest polls and surveys, who can use their substantial networks to start cornering the ‘purpose’ market, making it harder for smaller teams to cut through in an area that they have toiled in long before it became trendy?
Or the potential for the more diverse founders in the impact space being overtaken by new agencies created by those who have the greatest social capital and the ability leverage networks built up over years of being the right colour, the right gender, and from the right educational institutions?
Both of these definitely factor in this face down moment. But after rumbling with the story, I discovered that my real concern is based in the deeply held belief that change doesn’t come from running a fancy, clever campaign.
The kind that grabs attention for a news cycle, generates a bunch of media clippings and good stats, then gets trotted out to demonstrate an agency’s “good” credentials.
I will qualify this. I’m aware of cause marketing campaigns created purely for the purpose of selling product where the company has been swept up by the impact they’ve had and kept the campaign going for the cause. To date though, this has been the exception rather than the rule.
Simply identifying that CSR is the latest economic engine, and the space that you need to be in right now, is just business as usual dressed up in a sustainably sourced tuxedo. And it utterly misses the point that the “good” needs to drive some kind of systemic change and impact.
But that’s not the end of the Rising Strong story.
I had to ask myself, are these people and agencies doing the best they can? I honestly don’t have the answer to that, but since they’re a product of the industry there is a good chance that they are.
In the book, Brené includes one of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes (there are many):
‘Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better’
In my opinion, the creative industry must start taking some accountability for responsible business.
We get to see the inner workings of companies and can see when there is a disconnect between words and actions.
Instead of being the creators of the ‘right’ words, it’s time for us to be the drivers of different actions.
Now you know better.