RT: How does Purpose stand out in comparison to corporate responsibility?
KS: So often, CSR or ERG can be seen as box-ticking exercises or bolt-ons without true alignment to a business strategy or a brand’s values. Purpose, on the other hand, is a higher goal – one that must go beyond short-term self-interest and provide the why. Why does an organisation exist? Why does it do what it does? And how can that organisation conduct successful business while making a positive impact on society?
Purpose affects every aspect of business, impacting an organisation’s communication strategy, how it conducts its core business, and how it engages and retains employees. Because it provides direction and informs your strategy, it must be rooted in truth and authenticity. If the way you work as a leader, and the way you work as a brand, doesn’t consistently align with your purpose, you’re doing something wrong. So, should CSR efforts need to align with purpose? Yes, but purpose should be the north star.
RT: You said – “Communicating authentically, doing so in the best way your brand knows how and showing you care are first steps in the right direction”. What steps should start-ups take to do that?
KS: All organisations – regardless of size or length of time they’ve been in business – should use authentic, human communications to engage their stakeholders, from employees to customers. All can follow three basic steps:
- Be purposeful. Use your company’s unique purpose to lead your communications and inform your business decisions. Recent research shows that 70% of professionals believe that purpose can drive customer loyalty, so let it benefit every aspect of your business, from strategy to reputation.
- Be prepared to act. There’s little point in having plans and strategies in place if you’re not committed to following through for the benefit of your clients, customers and employees.
- Be human to the core. Treat your employees and your customers like human beings, act with empathy and build deeper connections by showing up in local communities and in the world.
RT: You have traditionally been in marketing and advertising. How did you find the transition to PR?
KS: Advertising and digital marketing is becoming an increasingly transactional relationship, and more project-based, rather than the relationship of long-term engagement which comes with integrated communications. I’ve enjoyed my return to PR because it brings the ability to make an impact that lasts, partnering with C-Suite executives to build relevant, impactful, long-lasting brand stories across the full media ecosystem with a good level of strategic consistency. As public relations and communications leaders, we are viewed as trusted advisors, impacting a broad range of stakeholders, with the opportunity to drive real world benefit, moving people to positive action in the world. What more could I ask for?
RT: What are the big challenges facing the Public Relations business today?
KS: Around the world, brand communicators have needed to demonstrate a new level of agility to navigate both this global pandemic, from real-time business continuity planning through to executive, employee and customer communications. After the shock of the initial months of the outbreak though, we’re seeing businesses re-evaluate their approaches to everything, including their brands, events, product launches, social media, marketing, customer relationship marketing, and so much more. Across the entire marketing spectrum brands are doubling-down on their investments and innovations into smarter digital approaches, technology and data-led solutions.
Another issue that has been brewing for a while now, is the attention economy, with so many brands and businesses fighting to catch the eyes and ears of potential customers. That’s why forward-thinking PR and communications leaders are looking to lean further into integrated communications approaches. Comms strategies can no longer be based around executing one or two tactics really well; we now need to take a wholly integrated approach to reaching customers, with messaging that meets them where they are, demonstrates humanity and respect and aligns to the issues about which they are most passionate. We do that best by leveraging data and analytics to inform insights-driven approaches to ensure that these successes are both replicable and constantly evolving.
RT: What should the communication professional look forward to in 2021?
KS: The world and our community have changed immeasurably in 2020, and we can’t expect a return to the communications environment that existed before the current pandemic and 2020’s social movements. We should all get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while longer. But with these changes will carry us into the next normal, and they bring with them opportunities for improvement. Chief among these is the opportunity for brands to lead with their purpose and influence positive societal change.
Our Brands in Motion research shows us that 74% of consumers expect brands to take a stand on important issues such as climate change, social justice and inequalities. As purpose continues to make inroads into corporate culture and business strategies, I’m optimistic that we can look forward to the tide turning to more brands meeting consumer expectations with bold purposeful action which has a positive impact on society, solving the problems which affect all of us. We PR and communications leaders have the opportunity to not just be at the forefront of that change, but to be its drivers.
Kass Sells is the Global Chief Operating Officer & President, International at WE Communications. He is a Keynote Speaker at SPECTRA.
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