Why Purpose-Driven Public Relations Have an Edge
It’s easy to see why some companies are skeptical of shifting to a “purpose-driven” business model. Doing so requires companies to take a position on important, potentially controversial issues like environmental protection, workers’ rights, racial and gender discrimination, income inequality, that have social impact.
Is Taking a Stand the New Social Media in Public Relations?
Taking a stand can generate a swift backlash from the community and consumers. For an example, look no further than the reaction from many fans of the National Football League when several players, most notably San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the national anthem as a protest against police violence.
The NFL is one of the few monolithic institutions left in American life, and the response from its fans would seem to discourage other brands from getting involved in political and social issues. Even President Donald Trump got involved by putting pressure on team owners and league officials. And yet, the NFL’s handling of its players’ police violence protests offers an instructive example of why brands should lean into social causes instead of avoiding them.
After all, what was the ultimate outcome for Kaepernick? The NFL caved on player protests and is allowing social justice messages in the end zones this year. Kaepernick partnered with Nike on their “Dream Crazy” ad, which helped spread his message to a much wider audience. Though the ad was criticized in some quarters, most people responded positively to it. Younger audiences, one of Nike’s key demographics, responded especially well.
Making that ad was a risk for Nike, but it’s a risk that clearly paid off. By being aware of social trends — particularly among some of its core customers — and partnering with someone who had legitimate social justice credentials, Nike scored a public relations coup and rode the wave to increased sales.
Jumping into the realm of social activism is new for Nike, but other brands have engaged in social, political, and environmental causes for many years now. The clothing company Patagonia, for instance, supports many social causes, especially groups focused on the protection and preservation of public lands in the United States. They’ve also imposed a “1% for the Planet” tax on themselves, in which they spend 1 percent of their sales (not just their profits) on environmental activism while encouraging other companies to do the same.
Another brand that’s making headway in terms of changing the way business is done is King Arthur Baking Company. Unlike many larger bakeries, King Arthur is a private company that is owned by its employees and is a benefit corporation. This means that having a positive impact on the world is built into the company’s corporate structure. In an article for the New York Times, Ralph Carlton, one of King Arthur’s chief executives, said “Being accountable to our employee-owners means we have to take them into account. We don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake.” The company’s message is clearly resonating with consumers; according to the Times article, King Arthur’s sales tripled this past spring when many people went into quarantine and started baking their own bread and other goods.
Is a Purpose Driven Public Relations Strategy for Everyone?
These examples and additional research illustrate the gains to be had for brands that embrace social causes. For instance, the research firm Accenture found in 2018 that 63 percent of consumers prefer to support brands that share their values and beliefs. In that same study, Accenture also found that 62 percent of consumers want brands to take a position on social and political causes, and 65 of consumers said their buying decisions are influenced by the values, actions, and words of a company’s leaders.
As we saw with Nike, these trends are even more pronounced among younger audiences and consumers. Other researchers have found that 54 percent of teens age 16-19 boycotted or bought from a brand because of its ethics. Furthermore, 63 percent of teens say they are more likely to buy from brands that back charities or other causes they believe in.
These figures provide more evidence that consumers are eager to buy from brands they perceive as having strong morals and values. However, brand trust is a precious commodity that companies should not take for granted. About 37 percent of teens surveyed in the study mentioned above said they didn’t trust the claims brands make about the causes they support, and 69 percent of teens in the survey said brands overstate how much they support the causes they supposedly champion.
That last point is critical. It’s not enough for companies to say they want to make the world a better place, they have to back it up with their actions and policies. If you tell consumers you’re moving to a purpose-driven business philosophy, you need to give them proof.
Once again, we can look at Nike for an example of this theory in action. Regardless of other criticisms the company has faced in the past, making Kaepernick the centerpiece of a campaign took courage, as he was a pariah in many circles and hadn’t been a star player for several years. But because Kaepernick had sacrificed his career and his reputation for his beliefs, Nike benefitted from his social justice bona rides.
As more consumers push for brands to become more socially and politically engaged, companies that have already adopted a purpose-driven approach or are willing to make a good-faith effort have a tremendous advantage in the marketplace. If you can show consumers that your brand shares their values, they’ll flock to your business.
How to Celebrate a Purpose-Driven Public Relations
Of course, getting your message in front of consumers is easier said than done. You need a public relations firm that understands the challenges purpose-driven brands face and the benefits they can provide consumers. Fortunately, PR for purpose-driven brands is what we do at Avaans Media, and we can help show the world what makes your company special.
It’s important not to be too bold or too generic when it comes to PR for purpose-driven brands. You need to be specific about what you’re doing and how it’s generating the kind of positive change you’re striving for. We’ll create a campaign that’s tailored to your company’s specific strengths and goals, and we’ll show consumers that you’re serious about achieving those goals.
This kind of campaign is something we already have experience doing. One of our biggest successes came from helping a nonprofit create content to help parents who were non-native English speakers improve their children’s early education outcomes. We listened to what they wanted to achieve and created streamlined, easy-to-understand social media content for parents to share with each other and their children. Furthermore, we helped the nonprofit lobby the state legislature to fund early education programs for pre-kindergarten students.
Our campaign was a tremendous success, generating over 401,000 impressions over six months among our target audience, with an engagement rate of over 50 percent. The state legislature also saw the extensive community support for the program and funded more early education programs, providing an even greater benefit to the community.
Our organization has the tools and talent to bring this kind of success to your purpose-driven brand. To learn more, visit our contact page to schedule a call with one of our offices. You can also find us locally in New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Phoenix, Denver, and San Diego.