“We live in the era of the conscious consumer,” says Marco Scognamilio, global CEO of RAPP, the advertising agency based in New York City. “No longer content to separate their politics from their wallets, buyers want to know that the brands they’re supporting also stand for something.”
Freelance consultants and business leaders for the past decade or so have been encouraged by our customers and communities to disclose our organizations’ guiding principles and adherence to best practices and demonstrate our philanthropic priorities. By the early 2000s, the term corporate social responsibility came to encompass not only standard business ethics, but also actions that promote some form of social good, as interpreted by the organization leaders. It’s now common for businesses, in particular national and global enterprises, to take a public stand on social justice issues such as environmentalism and sustainability, public health promotion, civil rights and individual liberties.
Organizations large and small that operate in certain industries, most notably entertainment and fashion, are now well aware that publicly supporting individual liberties (that in some demographic segments are promoted as civil rights) is a must-do. Activists are ready to quickly call out all who do not fall in line.
So it may be useful to evaluate how your organization can demonstrate some measure of your personal values as a way to show current and prospective customers that your purpose is not solely to make a profit, or even to do work at which you excel and enjoy, but also show your concern for the well-being of fellow citizens, wildlife, or the environment.
Kara Alaimo, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY points out, “There’s huge demand right now for professionals who can teach businesses how to navigate these new consumer expectations and how corporations can take stances on political issues and practice good corporate social responsibility.”
Hildy Kuryk, founder of Artemis Strategies, a New York City consulting firm that creates marketing messages for socially aware customers, so that consumer-facing companies can deepen their civic engagement and communicate their value story more persuasively, cautions, “What’s astonishing is that we’re consistently seeing major brands that can’t seem to apply basic principles to how to make decisions when they’re taking stances on political issues.”
I concur that wise organization leaders are advised to be circumspect when evaluating which social or political causes to publicly support. Ms. Kuryk goes on to say, “In an unpredictable political landscape, brands need to be acutely aware and cautious (about) whom they align with.” No kidding.
But I trust her instincts. If your company can afford the Artemis Strategies consulting fee, I recommend that you call her and commence the building of your organization’s social responsibility based marketing campaign strategy and messages. Those who are not so flush are invited to spend another 5 minutes reading this post, at no charge, and make note of my respectfully offered observations and suggestions.
Declaring the values that guide your business practices will humanize you, differentiate you from competitors and make you less likely to be perceived as a commodity. It’s smart marketing and effective branding. So choose the causes that you’ll publicly associate with your organization very carefully and avoid the possible disapproval of current and prospective customers. Keep what might be considered controversial in your private life.
Widely approved causes include libraries, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, working against hunger or homelessness, remedial education and raising money for research used to discover therapies that would eradicate or more effectively treat serious diseases. I’m a board member at my local branch library and serve on the committee that selects local authors for our guest author series. Previously, I’ve conducted “Dress for Success” and networking workshops for low-income women who were in a 20 week job training program and for several years I was a board member at an organization that transfers donated original art to sparsely funded social service agencies.
Find a cause that resonates with you and your leadership team and decide what your organization’s budget will allow you to donate. Alternatively, it’s sometimes also possible to provide volunteer labor, where your employees spend a day assisting a not-for-profit agency to deliver certain services.
Publicize your organization’s involvement in social and philanthropic causes on your website, on social media, in the local business press and in your bio. BTW, philanthropy can bring networking opportunities and it’s possible that you might meet your next client through volunteering. You could do well by doing good.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Mohandas K. Gandhi (the Mahatma), leader of the campaign for independence in India, meets with Jawaharlal Nehru (l), who would become the first Prime Minister of India after independence from Great Britain, at the All-India Conference in Bombay (Mumbai), July 6, 1946. © Associated Press