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Purpose-driven PR?

If you haven’t heard of ‘purpose-driven business’ you must have been snoozing for a good few years and it might be time to wake up and smell the responsibly sourced coffee.

An approach explicitly adopted by a number of large corporates 8-10 years ago - Unilever being the most celebrated - may now be going mainstream, driven in equal parts by business performance and customer demand.

Purpose-driven brands in the Unilever group, including Dove and Ben & Jerry’s, are outperforming others in the multi-national’s stable by 50%.

Campaigns such as #LikeAGirl for P&G/Always - 63.5m YouTube views and counting - cut through and get talked about not just because they bring a tear to the eye, but because they’re doing some good in the world; in this case tackling pervasive, casual sexism head-on.

What does it mean for PR if more and more audiences and consumers are interested in what a brand stands for - and against - rather than just what it does or sells?

It means that we have to get into the heart and soul of our clients’ businesses and help them articulate the ‘why’ of what they do. It means we have the license to develop strategies and campaigns that address the world’s problems and our needs as human beings. It means we have to do good work with integrity and say no to shady briefs that ask us to make silk purses out of sows’ ears.

Purpose can drive innovation in business and boldness in communications. In 2011 outdoor clothing brand Patagonia famously took out a full page ad in the New York Times exhorting readers ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ next to a photograph of one of their garments.

This was not just an adman’s gimmick - the campaign was about educating the public about the huge environmental cost of producing high performance, waterproof clothing and promoting Patagonia’s drive to encourage consumers to fix their clothes rather than bin them to buy something new.

This type of campaign may be too risky for many of our clients, but as PR professionals we have the opportunity and maybe even the duty to push the boundaries.

Last year #LikeAGirl rightly won the Cannes Lions Grand Prix. In the PR category.

And although a PR agency was involved in its execution and roll out, the original idea came from an ad agency.

If that’s not food for thought, you may as well go back to sleep.