When PR professionals want their brands to focus on purpose, C-suite executives prioritizing companies’ bottom lines can be the biggest hurdle.
But focusing on purpose is key to long-term success in any industry, said BlackRock global CMO Frank Cooper III at PRDecoded in a session entitled In Good Times and Bad: Purpose as Corporate Compass. And the world’s largest asset manager is putting this principle into action by only investing in firms that follow this mission.
“[BlackRock CEO] Larry Fink wrote in his 2018 letter to CEOs that purpose is central to the way we think about the long-term viability of companies,” Cooper said. “People expect more from corporations than maximizing profits for shareholders.”
When a brand gets stuck, they should follow those who are enthusiastic about change and stay true to the brand's core values. Cooper cites companies such as Nike and Airbnb as examples.
“When Nike backed Colin Kaepernick and later the Black Lives Matter movement, cynical people said it was a calculated move, but the people I spoke to at Nike said they thought about what principles they wanted to stand by,” he said.
Airbnb had a difficult decision to make when the pandemic hit, and people canceled their vacations. CEO Brian Chesky gave back millions and created a fund with $250 million to aid hosts hurt by cancellations.
Cooper explained: “[Chesky] told me, 'At that moment, I decided not to make a business decision, but a principle decision. What are my core values, and how can I make the right decision and then be fiscally responsible about it?' Actions are greater than words.”
Brands and organizations need to be embraced by the community that supports them and seen as contributing to the public good. Companies without a dedication to purpose increase risks to their assets.
“The social license to operate for many companies is threatened because the community sees the harm a brand or company does outweighs the good it generates,” said Cooper.
But many CEOs view a dedication to purpose as an added stress to the burdens of running a successful company.
“There will always be people who don't want to change or think being neutral is the safest approach,” Cooper said, adding this ideology becomes hard to overcome when an organization is divided on an issue.