A pause for reflection on purpose

At a time when society is being challenged to the extreme on so many fronts, it has never been more important for businesses and brands to step up and provide the purposeful leadership for which so many people are crying out.

Tom's of Maine stuck to its core purpose as it evolved from "disruptor" to "disrupted" (Pic: Getty Images.)

On 9/11, especially, it seems right to pause to reflect on our purpose: as a nation, society and individuals – and as businesspeople, communicators and journalists.

It is the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, that killed almost 3,000 people.

This year is especially poignant given the harrowing events of 2020.

We are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed 192,000 people, nearly 24,000 of them in New York City.

The West Coast is gripped by almost 100 out-of-control wildfires that have displaced thousands of people and have led to extraordinary images this week from San Francisco and other cities.

And there are continuing protests about racial injustice, the latest at the opening game of the NFL season last night.

Everyone is reflecting on life, mortality and mission. And everyone is looking for some leadership to help us through these dark times.

Now, as never before, it is incumbent on business, brands and corporations to step in and fill that leadership void.

That does not just mean appointing a diversity, equity and inclusion officer or making a donation to a nonprofit, though those can certainly be tactics as part of a wider exposition of an enterprise’s social mission.

It means acting from a purposeful base that is woven into the fabric of the organization and naturally reflected in everything it does.

In terms of diversity, Lenovo's Torod Neptune sent out a powerful call to action to his fellow PR professionals this week saying the industry has to do much better on diversity. And Dr. Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, confesses to being amazed that the white population of the U.S. is only just waking up to the realities of racial injustice Black Americans have experienced for generations.

It terms of the importance of agility in creating a genuinely purposeful culture at your organization, the latest PRWeek/Boston University Communications Bellwether Survey is essential reading.

Next week, we will publish a profile of Ben & Jerry’s self-styled “grand poobah of PR,” Sean Greenwood, in which he explains how a brand operates as an “aspiring activist organization” amid the inevitable attendant accusations of hypocrisy and virtue signaling. It’s a fascinating read and well worth checking out.

We’ll also be publishing an in-depth analysis of the trends and good and bad practice represented in the submissions to the inaugural PRWeek Purpose Awards, which will provide excellent guidance for anyone looking to navigate the choppy waters of engaging in social stances as a brand or business.

These best practices will be further represented at the 2020 PRWeek Purpose Awards, which will be bestowed on the middle day of our PR Decoded: Time for Action virtual conference on October 13-15.

Speakers worth checking out include Frank Cooper, global CMO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. Cooper’s CEO, Larry Fink, set the purpose agenda for many other leaders when he stated in his 2019 annual letter that businesses have a responsibility to the communities they serve, not just to their bottom line, since "profits and purpose are inextricably linked."

BlackRock no longer invests in enterprises that it doesn’t consider purposeful, and Cooper will talk to how that mission informs the financial giant’s communications and marketing.

Also appearing will be Tom’s of Maine’s GM for North America, Esi Seng. Seng will speak to the challenges of staying purposeful but also relevant for decade after decade, when challenger brands enter the natural personal care marketplace and “disrupt the disruptor.”

As previously stated, purpose has moved beyond simply CSR or charity and we will hear from Darren Walker and Michele Moore at the Ford Foundation to discover the true nature of modern philanthropy and how it has evolved to proactively bring about systemic change. The duo will challenge brands to take meaningful action beyond one-off donations and explain communications’ role in achieving these aims.

These are just three highlights from an exceptional menu of keynote presentations, fireside chats and stimulating panel discussions that will cover every aspect of purpose and its role in resetting the social balance of our future.

It won’t be in person this year, unfortunately, but I look forward to seeing you there virtually from October 13-15 for three days of reflection, learning and inspiration that has never been more important than at this point in time.

Businesses and brands have the leadership mandate to bring about real change and they can do this through smart communication and authentic activations – but only if they deploy their tools and resources effectively.

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