Purpose-driven brands value PR, but it requires emotional intelligence and keen cultural sensitivities. Never has this been more true than in today’s divided political climate. Before we get into purpose-driven PR, let’s establish what a purpose-driven brand is.
A purpose-driven brand is one that has authentically and thoroughly instituted a larger social benefit into their company culture and business model. Purpose-driven brands exemplify values, not just talk about them or use them in advertising. Brands like Toms, Patagonia, and many B-Corps are good examples.
So why is purpose-driven PR important for these brands?
Purpose-Driven Values Require Courage
While consumers are increasingly demanding brands and companies take a stand, it’s not all roses for purpose-driven brands. Successful purpose-driven brands value PR firms for their independent perspectives. Sometimes a purpose-driven brand will need to defend its purpose, or explain why it made a choice inconsistent with its stated purpose. Sometimes a brand should double down on its purpose, and sometimes an exception can and should happen. Sometimes a brand’s legacy reputation needs to catch up with today’s cultural expectations. Having PR executives at the table during these discussions ensures brand reputation and brand value are part of the decision matrix. PR will ensure that the message is clear, and brand consistent with the press and consumers. The more consistent a brand is in its purpose, the more noteworthy it will be when it’s inconsistent. PR will help you navigate those sharky waters. More and more consumers expect candor when brands make mistakes, but this kind of candor is antithetical to many executives, but when PR has a seat at the table from the start, they can avoid many expensive pitfalls.
Speaking of Purpose-Driven Apologies
In PR, we often talk about “getting ahead” of a problem. Purpose-driven brands, for all their glory, are imperfect, so well-considered and authentic owned media and earned media can really make a difference. Purpose-driven brands value PR firms for the ability to get an apology to the right place at the right time. Recently, Patagonia’s CEO wrote that Patagonia is imperfect, even as it remains committed to its sustainability purpose. The piece was incredibly well executed and a brilliant example of leadership, but it was also incredibly well executed. CEOs deserve credit for this kind of leadership, but it’s often PR that puts the resonance into a big, bold, statement like this.
Communications Needs to Reflect Internal Purpose
Purpose-driven brands value PR’s ability to collaborate across departments. No matter the size of your company, if you’re a purpose-driven brand, business decisions and internal communications should consistently reflect this purpose. Sometimes authentic purpose will require training for purchase managers. Sometimes purpose-driven brands need to incorporate legal and compliance into their purpose. And purpose-driven brands consistently incorporate their purpose into internal employee communication too.
Purpose in Partnerships
It isn’t only internal comms that should reflect purpose, but sponsorship and ad buy too. A PR professional knows corporate responsibility isn’t defined by a single cause-marketing sponsorship or corporate donation. Today’s consumers are very aware of greenwashing, a good PR agency will help you find opportunities right for your purpose, and keep you out of the fray of disingenuous choices.
This is also true for earned media. Purpose-driven brands want to be sure that their earned media is consistent and that it occurs in the right media outlets at the right time.
Purpose-driven brands can evolve while remaining consistent, such as the Patagonia example above. As more and more U.S. brands look within at their internal culture, it will surprise many to find there was purpose there all along, all it needs is a dusting off and perhaps some polish.