There’s a risk as communicators that we only think about purpose in relation to vision or mission statements. In a new article for CommPRO.biz, The Foundation for Leaning into Social Issues, I argue it’s important we also look at it in the broader business context.
The Milton Friedman idea that the sole purpose of a company is to increase profits is not only one dimensional, but among most CEOs, seen as out-of-date. Professor Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer’s broader perspective that the purpose of a corporation is to create shared value is detailed in their seminal 2011 Harvard Business Review paper. This brings communications and profit-oriented visions of purpose together.
This framing provides a way to think about one of the most critical issues of the day – should companies be leaning into social issues or leaning out?
In the new article I note: “A broad view of purpose will lead to companies leaning in, while a narrow view that purpose is simply about profit will lead a company CEO to step back if they start losing money as a consequence of taking positions on social issues.”
Bud Light’s response to its communications challenges underscore that the different visions of purpose are very much in play. It highlights the risk of rupture when a purpose-driven mission collides with business economics.
“When purpose around mission and profit are fully aligned – or put another way, companies fully embrace the vision that creating social value will generate profits over the long term – it’s far more likely a company will push back on critics and stick to its stated mission.”
There are ongoing discussions in boardrooms across America about what they will do if they come under attack in our current culture wars. In the CommPRO article, I detail two potential outcomes. One, the “vanillafication” of marketing and engagement with clients and customers. The other, that with communicators’ help, “there will be a stiffening of spines and recognition that the mission side of purpose is not something to be dumped overboard at the first sign of trouble.”
If the latter is the actual outcome – rather than wishful thinking – and businesses see clients returning after the initial crisis has passed, the big idea of creating social value through purpose will, to a great extent, be validated.
But as I note, this isn’t proving to be the case for Bud Light. “While I’d like to remain hopeful that the wheels have not come off the social purpose train, if as a society, we have gone so far down the rabbit hole that significant numbers of Americans will permanently stop drinking Bud Light, going to Disney, or eating apple pie, based on politics, then all bets are off.”
About the Author: Simon Erskine Locke is CEO of communications agency and professional search and services platform, CommunicationsMatch™. He is a regular contributor to CommPRO.biz and other trade media. He is a former head of Corporate Communications at blue-chip brands, a founder of agencies, a writer and VP of the Foreign Press Association.