For years, purpose and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have largely been viewed by boards and C-suite executives as nice-to-have but non-essential elements of business. Window dressing. Maybe a social-good effort would get attention after a business crisis or a national disaster. Perhaps a consumer activist shared an impactful viral video they stumbled upon in their social streams. But as soon as the news cycle moved on, it was back to reviewing quarterly earnings.
Those days are over. A loud, new voice has entered the conversation and it’s one that can’t be ignored as it bellows from the mouth of Larry Fink, head of Wall Street giant BlackRock.
In a recent letter to CEO’s of publicly traded companies, the BlackRock CEO demanded that businesses publicly commit to a social purpose and adopt a shareholder-driven approach to management, strategy, and governance as an essential element to long-term viability.
As a board member the publicly traded company Summer Infant, the owner of a small business, a career marketing professional, a citizen, millennial, and father of three, I couldn’t agree more. Never have all the hats I wear been so aligned and so incentivized toward the same thing. And the opportunities presented by purpose have never been so big.
But change is never easy.
Some will capitalize on the opportunity to put purpose at the center of their businesses, probably the same companies that succeeded at putting digital at the center of their operations. Some will struggle with this disruption, much like businesses struggled with digital disruption.
But, the challenge brings opportunities for marketers willing to assert themselves in C-suites and boardrooms. The convergence of demand from consumers and shareholders for a purpose-driven approach to business and brand value brings a moment for marketing experts to step up and be the expert visionaries able to help businesses capitalize on the movement. The opportunity around purpose is now as big and powerful as being the digital guru was 10 years ago.
Madison Avenue, this is the moment to use our collective might to help our clients achieve Fink’s mandate. We are the experts who bill ourselves as the consumer whisperers. We insist we understand their voice. It’s time to use it. We have the expertise to serve as the active, engaged agents needed to guide companies down the path of shared value. We have the responsibility to make sure leaders are mindful, responsible stewards of their brand’s power to influence the world and its citizens.
It’s on us to drive profit through purpose.
It’s not enough to talk the talk to our clients. We must lead by example and become a purpose-driven industry. We need to invest in training, diversity, and human development. Employees are not short-term, disposable assets. We need to treat talent like the humans they are, not like interchangeable parts. That’s not how you treat stakeholders.
We also must treat our audience well. Enough brand campaigns that fuel the forces of anxiety and compulsive consumption. Stop objectifying women in ads. Stop working for brands whose existence does more harm than good.
We have been complicit in helping brands cause many societal problems, and we can’t be any longer. It’s time we remind our C-suite clients that fiduciary responsibility equals social responsibility.
Profound, worthwhile change is never easy and it’s not a straight line.
Just like integrating digital into the center of your operations took investment of time, talent, and capital, purpose will be the same. But, the payoff will be just as big.
Prepare your stakeholders for the inevitable twists and turns and adjustments that they will have to make. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and that’s ok. It’s a ride worth taking.