Last week the CIPR National Conference brought together 200 PR and business professionals to explore social purpose and the role of business in creating a better world for society. Among the speakers was Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland.
Iceland is in the spotlight following its ‘banned’ Christmas advert, which highlights the environmental impact of palm oil products. Walker claimed the Greenpeace-created cartoon has been viewed more than 65m times online, making it the most viewed Christmas advert ever.
Keen to outline the responsibility each individual has when it comes to social purpose, Walker said: ‘We’re all focused on Brexit but we’re sleepwalking into an environmental crisis. From deforestation to plastics and palm oil. As businesses invested in those debates, we can find solutions and alternatives that make a difference to our world.’
PR responsibility was advocated by Josh Hardie, deputy director general at CBI, who said: ‘90% of the public want businesses to speak out on social issues that matter to them. That makes it a business imperative.
‘A lack of trust in business often stems from bad communication. Mistrust fills the void when people don’t know what a business does. There’s a huge responsibility for PR pros in today’s world.’
As any business’ primary communicators, PRs must lead from the front when it comes to social purpose and responsibility. They’re also facing an uphill battle – John O’Brien, European managing partner at ONE HUNDRED, explained that corporate social responsibility had become ‘defunct’ as businesses tend to think of it as distinct from their core strategy.
For M&C Saatchi PR’s global CEO Molly Aldridge, this isn’t good enough. She said: ‘Purpose has to be authentically rooted into a brand’s DNA. It can’t be superficial or difficult to understand. It’s then down to businesses to find and engage the right people to deliver on that purpose.’
Having genuine purpose – and one which matters both to your business and your clients – is not something that can be manufactured. While it may not be the role of PR to determine that purpose, it’s certainly their job to advocate its need, engage the right people and communicate the message – embodying the brand’s values and making sure the right story is being told in the right way.
Sarah Hall, president of the CIPR, said: ‘As PR professionals, we have a tremendous opportunity to shape the way our organisations operate in society. This conference showcased the value we can offer in helping businesses find their why and define their how, to deliver long-term benefits for all.’
The CIPR National Conference took place at the British Library on Thursday 29 November.