From the editor-in-chief: The future of business may hinge on one word - purpose

Incredibly, from the many conversations about the topic I've had recently with businesspeople, journalists and comms professionals (and yes, I probably am guilty of living within a metropolitan media bubble), there is a growing sense of fatigue with corporate purpose.

Indeed, one of the recently announced themes for Cannes Lions 2020 is a look at the 'post-purpose' world; suggesting a growing consensus that 'purpose' has been yet another marketing buzzword that is becoming devalued from lack of definition or overuse – like 'CSR', 'digital' or 'content'.

The comms behind corporate purpose: art or science in the age of 'radical transparency'?

Instead, I believe we are right at the beginning of the conversation about purpose. And that it could be the most fundamental discussions about business and brands of my lifetime.

Unlike the other buzzwords, purpose (by definition) goes to the heart of why most of us do what we do for a living. It is an existential examination of capitalism in the 21st century.

The reason we've become obsessed with purpose of late is because we've lost faith in our politicians – not only to govern effectively, but to lead; to make the world a better place. While many of us worry deeply about the destruction of the planet and what seems a less tolerant, more angry, more unfair society, what do our political leaders do? They play power games, obfuscate and obsess over Brexit.

This has created an opportunity for businesses and brands to step up and explain how they can improve the world. Encouragingly, in this end-of-year instalment of PRWeek there are countless examples of how the private sector has looked hard at itself and tried, authentically, to make a difference.

This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for business to think hard about its real purpose. Of course businesses exist to make a profit (I'm not naïve), but long-term, purpose and profits may actually be congruent. In fact, I'd argue that without a purpose – a raison d'être – these businesses could ultimately cease to exist.

'Consumers are looking at us and our partners, suppliers and employees' - P&G's purpose challenge

No, I don't believe we are yet in a 'post-purpose' world. That said, there may be a limited time frame for all this. 

Because if businesses don't fully embrace purpose, or if they run inauthentic or inconsistent campaigns on various causes – if they are tempted to 'woke-wash' like once they 'green-washed' – then consumers will lose faith in brands, in business, as sadly they have lost faith in politicians. So the message to business re: purpose is, for all our sakes, don’t f*** it up.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, UK & EMEA

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