“Greed is good,” announced Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, and there hasn’t been a lot of evidence since the 80s of any significant change. Want ethics? Go see a social worker. Want morality? Sunday mornings in your local church. Businesses, companies, brands just want to make money, and marketers are doing business like anyone else.
I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t. But there must be some way that businesses can do well … by doing good.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines corporate social responsibility as “the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable development, working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life.”
Doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all, now, does it? But how do you actually make it work? How can marketers do well … by doing good?
The truth is that cause marketing matters to consumers today more than ever and as time goes by it will grow in importance. Corporate social responsibility is a broad label with multiple meanings, but ignore it at your peril: it’s shown itself to not be a marketing flash in the pan. At its best, cause marketing can have a significant and positive impact on both the present and the future. The challenge is to make your socially responsible efforts a winning proposition for everyone involved.
But it’s not just about creating a winning proposition. The reality is that doing good with one’s life’s work feels good.
At the end of the day all this selling, this marketing, this fulfilling of needs can be most unfulfilling if there isn’t some kind of alignment with a higher cause, a higher mission, to balance out what at best is survival and at worst is greed.
Does your company support charities of any kind? That’s often the first and easiest place to start. It’s external to the way that the company is run and does not require tremendous corporate-culture change.
Businesses that succeed — and those that will succeed in the future — are businesses that are socially responsible. People are finally becoming tired of companies that exist only to turn a profit for their shareholders. They’re becoming tired of companies ruining the environment; they’re becoming sick of companies that sell products and services with no real redeeming value.
Businesses that really want to connect and resonate with their audiences strive to become more than just a company that makes money. They are involved in local events and charities, perhaps have several specific causes to which they are dedicated and with which they will be identified.
Here’s a quick example from my own geographical area; I live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Here, a theatre company teams up with some local oil companies every year to offer a holiday show it calls “Yule for Fuel.” The proceeds from the show (which runs for three weekends) go into a fund for helping people who cannot afford to heat their homes/apartments to get through the winter.
The company promotes this show in every venue possible: on local radio shows, in local publications, on its Facebook and Twitter pages, through its website, through its many loyal evangelists, in drama publications and websites, and so on. Past and present recipients of the fund are among the best evangelists as well.
What has happened is that the theater’s reputation around the show has resulted in a number of actors whose fame exceeds the usual local fare volunteering to take part in the event; theater subscriptions for the full season increased; and the theater received offers of funding from sources it would never have considered applying to.
Doing good can help a company do well.
Businesses — and this applies perhaps most importantly of all to marketers — are starting to be active in the community and focusing on giving back. They’re becoming caring, green, sustainable, and rewarding. These companies support local initiatives and events designed to make the world a better place.
And the beauty of this, as I suggested earlier, is that sustainability and giving back are what people want companies to do: it’s not rocket science that savvy marketers will catch on and do what their customers and clients want. Alignment with a higher cause or mission is essential now, and I can only see it becoming even more important in the coming years.
Step One: How does a marketing company start doing good?
So how does a company, a marketing company with no previous experience in “doing good,” bring social impact into its repertoire? How do you move across the spectrum from Gordon Gekko to Mother Teresa?
Let’s be clear: I am not suggesting that every marketing company become a nonprofit. In fact, many would say that the for-profit model is the most successful at encouraging individual potential and unlocking great ideas that can potentially impact many people. It’s less the model of the marketing company that makes the difference — because at the end of the day the model is only a framework, after all — but what the people involved make of it. And while it’s true that if you are going to be a social entrepreneur of any kind, you will be the one to define what your company is and what you hope that it will achieve, it’s also true that having the whole company on board will eventually be essential for success.
Look at your current company employees. Have you hired people who believe some social impact is expected of them? Do any of them take time off for fundraisers? Perhaps a small way to start is to offer everyone one paid day per year to participate in a charity of their choice.
And the for-profit model has a lot going for it. Because a for-profit company must be self-sustaining, one can argue that there will be some balance in the decisions taken by its owner, board, and shareholders. The “shareholders” part is tricky only if the company is evolving from one that didn’t place the greater good as one of its founding principles into one that wishes to balance profitability with social involvement.
Achieving that balance is critical if any marketing company — be it for-profit, hybrid, or nonprofit — wishes to move forward and produce successful outcomes to both criteria: doing well, and doing good.
So what is it precisely we’re looking at? While some marketers merely choose a charity to support based on personal attachment (as we saw in my first example, the marketing company pledging to an individual employee’s fundraising efforts), others try to align themselves with organizations whose goals and mission statements are in synch with the marketing company’s work or philosophy.
But social responsibility, like most qualities, begins at home. Before deciding what “outside” involvement to commit to, marketing companies first need to make changes from within, to the very fabric of their mission statement, their core beliefs, and the way they transact business.
Does your company have a mission statement? This may be a good time to review it, or to create a new one. Mission statements are not written in stone; revisit yours once a year to make sure that it continues to define accurately what your company is all about.
Mission statements say a great deal about a company. Let’s compare the mission statements of the two computer megaliths, Apple and Microsoft:
· Apple: Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.
· Microsoft: Microsoft’s mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.
Now, I’ve been a Mac girl all my working life, but the contrast between these two statements is impossible to ignore. As someone interested in products that change the world, I might be drawn more to Microsoft, based solely on the two companies’ mission statements.
On the other hand, is Microsoft’s mission statement a really helpful one? Apple’s statement is much stronger: it’s clear, and it’s specific. Microsoft’s mission statement, while inspiring, doesn’t really say what role the company plans to play in this world-changing scenario.
If you’re going to create a mission statement for your company, bear in mind the best mission statements are specific (as opposed to generic), brief (as opposed to what committees generally come up with!) and clear. If you read your company’s mission statement and you’re still not sure what the company stands for, it’s time to go back to the drawing-board.
When creating or updating a mission statement, marketing companies need to show concern for both their own people and their environment. And while the shift in thinking must be driven by management, it will only work if it permeates the whole of the company, if everyone is engaged and on board. This may mean initially losing some employees; in the long run, however, it will also mean attracting new employees who are aligned with the company’s mission and position. The values need to be embraced and communicated by everyone in the company for it to work.
And eventually the need to be socially responsible will move from the inside out, to the company’s suppliers … and to its clients.
Ah, there’s the rub. No marketer wants to say goodbye to a lucrative ongoing contract — even if in the light of its shiny new mission statement it would be the correct thing to do.
It’s hard, there’s no way around that. In the introduction I talked about places where I’d rather spend my money than in channeling a percentage of my profits to the organizations I’ve chosen to support. The fiscal bottom line is negatively affected. Some years ago I also made the decision that while I’m certified to bid on government contracts, I couldn’t in good conscience bid on any that came out of the Department of Defense. I watched several potentially lucrative opportunities go right by me.
Again, the fiscal bottom line is negatively affected.
Your mileage may vary in terms of businesses or organizations you don’t feel great about working with; but inevitably there will be some. And the decision to not do business with them may not even get you brownie points with other potential clients, both because we don’t go about trumpeting about our lost opportunities, and also because other clients may not agree with your ethical concerns, may not see the point or even frankly disagree with your stand.
So none of this is easy, and none of this is obvious. It’s an issue with which you’ll struggle as you work toward defining who you are.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. For marketers who want to make a difference, there exists what we might express as a triple bottom line:
· Social impact (people)
· Environment (planet)
So those companies — and any shareholders/stakeholders involved with the companies — need to define success differently. It may mean scaling back the ROI from eight percent to five percent, for example, in order to attain positive social returns.
No shareholder is going to make that decision. Not ever. No matter whether the marketing company is private or public, the shift in thinking, in looking at the company’s impact in terms other than financial ones, must be driven by management, embraced by the company as a whole, expressed in a mission statement, and constantly be revisited.
Step Two: Why do it?
Gordon Gekko and his ilk may actually be heading out the door anyway as we speak. Younger people finding their places in the business world are requiring more of the companies they found and work for.
Do you know how everyone in your company feels about social impact, sustainability, and the environment? Before going any further, why not put together a survey and find out? Not only will you have a sense of whether the company as a while is going to be supportive, you also will probably reap some excellent suggestions for social-impact initiatives that your marketing company as a whole can consider.
As Simon Mainwaring has so perfectly encapsulated the situation (don’t you love great marketing writing?), companies in the 21st century need to make the shift from me to we, and from just growing to growing up.
Why? Because, in case you haven’t been paying attention, capitalism by itself isn’t working out so very well.
“The whole corporate social responsibility ideal,” says Whole Food’s John Mackey, “is trying to graft something onto the old profit maximization model. What we need is a transformation (in) the way we think about business, what it’s based on. People want businesses to do good in the world. It’s that simple. We need a deeper fundamental reform in the essence of business.”
Capitalism clearly needs to evolve. The banking crisis (with its outsized bonuses, rate fixing, and money laundering), increasing inequality, degradation of the environment, the loss of the middle class, all point to a floundering system.
“The capitalist system is under siege,” write Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in the Harvard Business Review. “In recent years business increasingly has been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental, and economic problems. Companies are widely perceived to be prospering at the expense of the broader community. Even worse, the more business has begun to embrace corporate responsibility, the more it has been blamed for society’s failures. The legitimacy of business has fallen to levels not seen in recent history. This diminished trust in business leads political leaders to set policies that undermine competitiveness and sap economic growth. Business is caught in a vicious circle.”
For the system to work, companies need to become better citizens. They need to become socially and environmentally responsible. They need to accept some of the blame for the collapse of a system built on greed and do something, now, to turn the system around.
And there’s no sense in waiting for the government to “do something” about it. Just as morality cannot be legislated, no law can force you to become a better corporate citizen.
Change doesn’t happen just because it “should.” No matter how many times my mother told me I should eat the lima beans, I was never going to want them, to like them. Change will happen when enough companies decide who they want to be.
“The solution,” write Porter and Kramer, “lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the center. We believe it can give rise to the next major transformation of business thinking.”
On an individual level, we sometimes approach morality in the most practical of terms: how well do you sleep at night? Does your conscience bother you enough to keep you awake? How can you change your life so you can sleep with a clear conscience?
What is so very different on a corporate level? Do you feel good about your company’s outlook, its purpose, its bottom line?
Wouldn’t you sleep better if you could say yours is a company that cares?
Many companies that have made this transition find unanticipated benefits: better employee recruitment and retention, better sales, and solid leadership development.
And let’s not forget: we’re marketers. Pre-Internet, marketers used to be in charge of how the consumer perceived the brand or company. The marketer provided the consumer with that information via billboards and commercials, advertisements and direct-mail marketing.
And then along came the Internet and, some years later, social media sites, and there was an accompanying power shift from the marketer to the consumer. Suddenly brands found their names mentioned in all sorts of places and contexts over which they had no control. Customers started reporting bad experiences with the brand; consumers began to give each other — in tremendous numbers and via multiple touchpoints — information about the brand or product without any input from the marketer.
The genie’s out of the bottle, and I’m here to tell you it’s not going back in. Company secrets aren’t secret anymore; and a company’s commitment — or lack thereof — to doing good in the world is one of the factors prospects and customers will take into account when deciding whether or not to engage with the brand.
So even if you only become socially and environmentally engaged for the sake of a positive review in the social media world, isn’t it worth doing? If it would bring in a lot more customers, wouldn’t you do it?
I don’t see anything wrong with doing good for less-than-altruistic reasons, because I have absolute faith in the reality that doing good feels good, too. And you just might surprise yourself once you try it.
Sponsorships are a small way to dip your corporate toes into the “do-good” pool. Find some cause in your community (or your marketing niche) and become a sponsor, then talk on your website, your blog, your newsletter, about why you’re committed to that cause. Do some interviews about it in local and online media … and reap the positive benefits from the public perception of your actions.
If nothing else, it’s really good PR.
And there’s plenty of support for any good deeds you want to do. “More than one billion people worldwide struggle to survive on less than one dollar per day,” says Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and president and co-founder of Millennium Promise, a nonprofit combating extreme poverty in Africa. “The survey is indicative of a growing global awareness. While 87 percent of workers believe it’s important for companies to give back to their local communities, the vast majority also believe it is important to extend that sense of caring and generosity to the global community and help to better the lives of men, women and children around the world.”
In the final analysis, the answer to why do it is simple: because it’s the right thing to do. Leaving a sustainable planet and a more egalitarian world to your children will beat a trust fund legacy, any day.
Step Three: Establishing a code of ethics
There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that one of the American professional anthropology associations was asked, on the eve of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whether the United States should target Japan or Germany with this fearful new weapon. In other words, the anthropologists were asked to decide which country would suffer the most — where the bomb would have the bigger impact. They chose Japan, and the first thing that happened after the end of World War II was the forging of a new code of ethics precluding giving professional advice that would lead to so much death and destruction.
Whether or not this actually took place, the story points to a clear need: the need to define who one is in relation to the world, and the boundaries one will not cross. It works for anthropological associations, and it works for marketing companies too.
Before you can do good, you need to make sure that, in essence, you are good.
Marketers, like all businesses, must be responsible for their actions, and this requirement has led to the establishment by many of a code of ethics.
Does your company have a code of ethics? Perhaps this is a good time to think about establishing one if you don’t, and to revisit the one you have if you do.
Yahoo! has a particularly complete code of ethics expressing how the company expects business to be transacted and how employees are expected to behave. Among the issues covered are business relationships, offering gifts to clients/receiving gifts from clients, business communication issues, conflicts of interest … all the points one might expect in a legal document.
But Yahoo! goes beyond business requirements to address protecting the environment, political activities and contributions, representations regarding Yahoo!’s business, products, services, and competitors, human rights, and child protection. While some of these community concerns are legal safeguards for the company, others are clearly an attempt to do good, written right into the fabric of what the company believes and expects its employees to respect.
What is in your company’s code of ethics? Is it just a collection of legal safeguards, or does it address any responsibilities you have to your employees, your community, your environment, your world?
The American Marketing Association, too, has a statement of ethics spelling out norms, ethical values, and — interestingly — implementation. The ethical values held by the AMA include honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency, and citizenship. “As marketers, we recognize that we not only serve our organizations but also act as stewards of society in creating, facilitating and executing the transactions that are part of the greater economy. In this role, marketers are expected to embrace the highest professional ethical norms and the ethical values implied by our responsibility toward multiple stakeholders (e.g., customers, employees, investors, peers, channel members, regulators and the host community).”
There’s power in making a statement of ethics. Saying something, writing it down, putting it in print — all that means standing behind it. It’s why couples speak their vows on their wedding day: announcing something publicly is part of calling it into being.
Step Four: Defining yourself
How you define yourself isn’t limited to your legal status. It’s also about how you present your company to your employees, your clients, and the world. If you asked someone who’s done business with you to define your company, what would they say?
Why not try it? Choose a couple of clients, or perhaps a client and a service provider/supplier, and ask what their experience of your company has been. Are they aware of your mission statement? Do they know that you’re committed to the triple bottom line? If they don’t, why don’t they? Your company may be the only example of corporate stewardship and social commitment your clients and suppliers ever see. What will they learn — or not learn — from you?
How you define yourself is intrinsic to discovering how much good you can do in the world. If you don’t have a definition of why your company exists and what its plan is for the triple bottom line, then it’s hard to see how any initiatives can be successful; sustainability isn’t just a word that describes a way of using resources, it also describes how plans can be realized, set into motion, and continue to work over time.
The good news is that there’s more and more support for companies to do the right thing. A reasonably new law created the “flexible purpose company” (FlexC), which allows a firm to adopt a specific social or environmental goal, rather than the broader obligations of a B Corp.
Another option in the United States — perhaps less attractive to those looking for the triple bottom line, but an option nevertheless — is the low-profit limited-liability (LC3) company, which can raise money for socially beneficial purposes while making little or no profit.
Let’s look for a moment at B Corps. The concept (and certification) came out of a 2011 California law designed to give businesses greater freedom to pursue strategies they believe benefit society as a whole, rather than having to concentrate on maximizing profits for the next financial quarter.
Certified B Corporations are companies that, essentially, live by the triple bottom line; they base business decisions around social and environmental factors. To formalize this commitment, they undergo a third-party audit of their operations to ensure that they meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards, meet higher legal accountability standards, and consider community stakeholders.
Want to learn more about how your marketing company can become a B-corp? Take this free and confidential assessment to “measure what matters” and ascertain your company’s impact.
B-corps aren’t the only entities being created as more and more companies decide to stand behind their commitment to the triple bottom line. While there is more movement on the issue in California, there’s enough of a groundswell of support to believe that other states will be enacting similar legislation in the near future.
In certain states, your company can also consider becoming a Benefit Corporation or a Benefit LLC. These two models are related to B-corps and represent a new legal classification of private companies that allows sustainability to be written directly into the corporate charter. This gives the company the right to state that higher standards of corporate purpose (as opposed to just acting in the best interests of shareholders) will be pursued and to indicate in its charter that all stakeholders — including the greater good of people and environment — will be considered when making decisions.
So far, 31 states have passed laws allowing businesses to operate as B-corps, required to pursue a material positive impact on society and the environment as assessed against a third-party standard. Why not take a moment and add your signature to the petition for more B-corps legislation?
Step Five: Choosing your niche: profit for purpose
Part of becoming socially responsible and doing well by doing good is defining your particular company’s strategy. So many obstacles stand in the way of calling this new marketing initiative into being: lack of clarity around your social or environmental strategy and misalignment between your social/environmental strategy and your company’s overall corporate strategy are problems that must be faced in order to put in place a strategy that can actually be sustained — and maintained.
But it can be done.
Take P-CED — People-Centered Economic Development — as an example. P-CED is a profit-for-purpose company. Profits aren’t shielded from normal taxation and whatever is left over is invested in the social purpose or purposes of the company’s choosing. The design is very straightforward: do business as usual, and invest profits for social benefit.
That’s one model. The really terrific thing about starting to take notice of the triple bottom line, however, is that you’ll find there are dozens of models out there. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel unless you think you can make a better one, one more suited to your company and your purposes. Otherwise, just do an online search and you’ll be able to cull the wisdom of thousands who have been thinking about how to create a sustainable world, how to eradicate poverty, how to do well by doing good, for a whole lot of years.
Choosing your niche can be as simple as looking around your own community, seeing a need, and figuring out a way to fill that need that aligns with your company’s corporate mission.
Think about what your company does, what it was founded to do. Revisit your company description, the elevator pitch you make to describe what you do. What triple-bottom-line niches fit with that elevator pitch? Do you want to focus on becoming more environmentally responsible, or does it make sense to address the needs of people in your community? What will work best for you is what is best aligned with your company’s ethos.
The niche you choose doesn’t have to be written in stone. As your company evolves, its purpose and needs may evolve as well. Often a new employee will bring a fresh vision and new opportunities with him or her, and being open to change will help your commitment to the triple bottom line be refreshed as well.
Step Six: Getting the word out
I almost didn’t include this section. We’re all marketers, after all: it’s what we do best, getting the word out. Except for the old adage that it’s the shoemaker’s children who go barefoot: that’s alive and well in the business world, too. We may be aces at dreaming up a marketing campaign for a client, but not quite as good at tooting our own horns.
And PR isn’t just important for people — potential clients, even — to recognize that you’re doing something good; it’s important, too, in contributing to the groundswell of change that is redefining the business culture worldwide.
Here’s the reality we’re looking at: the profit motive is sometimes at odds with the broader interests of society at large.
As marketers, we are major contributors to thought leadership in our various verticals. Why not do the same thing for this paradigm shift? No one can articulate it better than we can. No one can express better than we can, through the multiple channels available to us, the urgent need for change, for corporate citizenship, for stepping up to the challenge of implementing the triple bottom line.
Why not start sharing your process with others in the marketing vertical? Blog about why and how you’re shifting your corporate emphasis. Write articles for marketing publications. Give a talk at a conference. You’ll be doing your own company some good by keeping it in the limelight and at the forefront of a movement that is only going to grow; and you just might help hasten that growth!
Be clear it’s not always going to be an easy sell. At a Clinton Global Initiative conference a few years ago, Jochen Zeitz, chairman of Puma, said that “sustainability doesn’t come for free. We can’t walk around saying sustainability will always be good for business. It can be good for the bottom line, but it happens in the long term. We have to think long term and balance the short-term pressures that we are under.”
As we’ve seen, however, it’s really the only way for capitalism to survive: by allowing for other priorities to exist side by side with the need for profit. The triple bottom line isn’t eliminating profit — it’s saying that profit is not the only goal.
I’ll bet that’s something you can sell, isn’t it?
Corporate social responsibility and a commitment to the triple bottom line isn’t going to solve the world’s problems. It’s probably not going to make you rich, either. But somewhere in between Shangri-la and the corporate yacht is something that is attainable: making a good living while running a marketing firm that is not harming the environment — perhaps even helping it — and is being a voice for the voiceless of the world.
Not such a bad thing to have people say about you.
There are good solid practical reasons to embrace the triple bottom line. An effort to work toward sustainability can cut costs, as greener is almost always more efficient. Innovation follows when you want to find a new way to do things. Better employees are attracted and retained, and the same goes for clients and customers. Brand differentiation takes a gigantic step forward.
The world is moving at the speed of thought. It’s not going to slow down for you to take any longer to make the right decision.
Go ahead. Do well by doing good. Dare to do it. Your triple bottom line will thank you.