How major brands use social purpose to build character

Corporate social purpose was a hot topic of discussion at the Page annual meeting in Washington, DC.

I just returned from the Page annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Each time I attend, I leave energized and inspired by the meaningful discussions designed to advance the thinking about the role corporate communications has in large companies with an important stake in our global society.

Corporate social purpose was a hot topic of discussion. It requires the integration of an organization’s mission, business strategy, and reputation, and communications plays an important role by breaking down silos in a company and aligning internal and external messages.

One great example is Lixil, a Japan manufacturer of toilets, among other products. Lixil is deeply involved in sanitation efforts in Kenya where children under the age of five are at risk of death because they lack clean water. The problem even affects education; girls often drop out of school after puberty because of the lack of toilet facilities.

The company’s social purpose is focused on sanitation and access to clean water, and it has worked to install public toilets in Kenya. The work builds the overall company’s reputation, is tied to its business strategy, and helps communities that need it most.

Another example is Anheuser-Busch InBev. The company’s chief executive spoke to the Page audience about a challenge it faced in South Africa where the male consumption of beer was strongly linked to an increase in the abuse of women.

The company took a bold step by relabeling beer cans in that market with a strong message to men. The #NoExcuse label was placed on cans and in social media to build awareness about abuse prevention. In addition, they created community, education, and awareness programs to drive behavioral change. The powerful campaign unveiled the faces and voices of several women who were harmed, making it highly impactful.

For a nonprofit, I believe social purpose is strongly tied to the organization’s mission. In the case of my organization, the Cleveland Clinic, medical education, research, and clinical excellence need to be the focus of our efforts.

With a new CEO at the helm, we are working on a strategic plan that will include an important emphasis of our role in the community. Perhaps we should think more broadly, as we grow internationally, about our contribution to all of the communities we serve at home or abroad.

These examples demonstrate a commitment to long-term reputation management and going above and beyond to do the right thing, but while actions can be altruistic and help build or protect a reputation, they should also be strongly related to who or what you are as a company.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. 

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