This is the first article in a series about the 2017 Global PR Summit hosted October 23-25 by The Holmes Report. Click here for the second article about the summit, focusing on Excedrin, and here for a piece about Royal Caribbean. Sally-Ann O’Dowd produces multimedia content and serves as publicist for B2B and B2C brands. Reach her at sally@sallyonmedia.net.

I had the good fortune several years ago to launch and edit the Critical Conversations blog published by Paris-based MSLGROUP, Publicis Groupe’s 22-country communications network. At the height of the financial crisis, as people lost homes and jobs, and bankers walked away unscathed, we heard the voice of consumers around the world: it was time that corporations replace greed with humanity. It was our responsibility at MSLGROUP to bring this issue to the attention of our clients, and coach them on how to develop a “value for all” business approach.

For a two-part blog series in Fall 2010, we reported on the book Supercorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth and Social Good by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ph.D., the Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of business at Harvard Business School and director and chair of the university’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. In addition to summarizing Kanter’s arguments, we posited questions to help our readers evaluate their business models for what we called the Conversation Age powered by social media:

1. An enterprise has to be defined in terms of how it serves society; it must integrate all employees and stakeholders around this purpose.

  • Does your company have a clear “value for all” purpose?
  • Are conversations about this proposition taking place at the highest level of your organization?

2. Innovation is both the way you make money and how you serve society. The more you innovate to solve social problems, the more profitable and sustainable you will be. This is your innovation advantage.

  • Does your company have a clear vision of what the “next needs” might be?
  • What solutions will you create?
  • Are you listening to conversations on social networks to gather ideas for new products and services?

3. The ecosystem around a company is key to its success. This is what Kanter calls the partnership advantage. No company can succeed without being part of a network of other companies and organizations.

  • Does your company know the players in its ecosystem?
  • Do you need to partner more closely with them?
  • What conversations can you have with partners on social networks?

Massive divisions along class, gender, racial and geographic lines have replaced the financial crisis, or partially evolved from it, to become the source of today’s dysfunction. In this complex ecosystem, questions for business remain hard to answer.

Thankfully, PR trade magazine The Holmes Report has stepped in to provide much-needed guidance for brand leaders. Last week’s Global PR Summit, themed #PRovoke17, exceeded expectations in every way with its emphasis on how brands can contribute to social good.

Scott Allison, Brandi Thomas, Michael J. Neuwirth and Logan Durant discuss the “value for all” approach to business

B the Change

One such session was on public benefit corporations, which allow for public benefit to be a charter purpose in addition to the traditional corporate goal of maximizing profit for shareholders. Thirty-three states have passed legislation enabling the formation of such companies, and six are working on it. Maryland, on October 1, 2010, became the first such state to do so.

Scott Allison, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners, monitored the panel featuring executives from three public benefit corporations: Brandi Thomas, senior PR manager, Seventh Generation, which Unilever acquired in October 2016; Michael J. Neuwirth, senior director, external communications, DanoneWave North America, the largest such corporation; and Logan Durant, senior manager, environmental responsibility, Patagonia.  Patagonia and Seventh Generation are also certified B Corps as outlined by the non-profit B Lab, which measures businesses on their ability “to not only generate returns, but also to create value for customers, employees, community, and the environment,” according to B Lab’s website.

These designations “help corporations to define what you stand for as a business, so people know what is built in with sincerity,” said Patagonia’s Durant, whose CEO, Rose Marcario, chairs DanoneWave’s advisory board.

At Seventh Generation, “We want radical transparency,” Thomas said, referring to B Lab’s B Impact Assessment. “We learned we had a gender pay gap and we shared that information internally. We addressed it head on.” On a scale of 1-200, Seventh Generation scored 120.1 in 2016, down five points from its 2014 score, a fact the company published here.

While noting that Seventh Generation wants “green to become mainstream,” Thomas said her company believes in supporting other social causes reflecting corporate values. “We’re about more than laundry detergent; we’re about how we leave the planet,” said Thomas, referring to the company’s support of The Women’s March, which took place in January 2017 around the world. The flagship event in Washington, D.C., was aimed at Donald Trump, whose positions as the Republican candidate were largely seen as anti-women.

“If someone said, ‘Stick to laundry detergent,’ then they don’t need to be on the journey with us,” Thomas said.

 

Sally-Ann O’Dowd is a multimedia media content producer and publicist who recently moved from New York City to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., so she could swim more. She founded Sally On Media to help marketers build their brands through creative storytelling. For more info, visit http://www.sallyonmedia.net or write Sally-Ann at sally@sallyonmedia.net

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