Social media has effected how corporations behave. For example, the way it has cajoled (or in some cases coerced) big businesses into acting like nice people instead of faceless, corporate entities. What choice do they have? With everyone and their brother potential whistleblowers it is no longer feasible for corporations to maintain a façade. It’s too easy for the world to see inside. And if the inside of a company does not match its outsides (i.e. marketing image) this creates a level of conflict potentially ruinous to the firm.
Yet, big companies are reluctant to let go of old ideas. It’s not in their conservative natures. Especially when it comes to public relations. Transparency is uncomfortable. Businesses do not want to reveal their proprietary secrets –the Secret Sauce! Nor do they want internal debate and/or dysfunction made public, i.e. a bumbling CEO or battling board of directors.
While publicity and success go hand in hand, exposure makes everyone nervous. The word itself implies vulnerability, like ants under a magnifying glass. But once firms accept the two-way glass much good can come of it. For them and for the communities they reside in. For example, fast food marketers own up to their unhealthy menus and begin providing nutritious alternatives. Whether they want to or not. In reality, these good-for-you items have, in many cases, become highly profitable: a win-win for all parties.
Another example comes from corporate giant, Kraft Foods. Perhaps feeling internal and external pressures, some years ago the company began embracing social causes, in particular those aimed at reducing hunger. Now Kraft spends countless millions of dollars on behalf of Feed The World and other such organizations. McDonald’s wages campaigns against child obesity. As David Jones (Global CEO, Havas) points out in his recent book, “those that do the most good win.”
Indeed, “doing good” is now a corporate mantra. For obvious reasons, marketers are compelled to talk about their good deeds. While it does shroud altruism in a self-serving aura, so what? The deeds are getting done. Heightened social conscience of corporations is a good thing. A great thing! But it might not have occurred –certainly not as quickly- without the relentless “peer pressure” that social media brings to the equation.
Author’s Note: This post was taken from content I’d written earlier.
At the Havas Café, adjacent the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes, World Wide CEO of Havas Worldwide, David Jones and Euro RSCG’s U.K. Chairman, Kate Robertson took the stage to announce the location city for next year’s One Young World summit in Zurich.
For those unawares, One Young World is an initiative started by David, Kate and Euro RSCG to bring together the young people of the world in hopes of creating and securing a better future for it. Last year’s inaugural event in London had over one thousand young delegates from over one hundred countries. In fact, our agency in Chicago sent two. Featured “older” guests included Bob Geldoff, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.
One Young World is a terrific example of a company proactively embracing social responsibility, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is one of the biggest trends in modern business. As David Jones pointed out (paraphrase), “It’s becoming more and more about what company’s are giving back to the world as opposed to taking from it.”
Marketing plays a key part. In fact, many of our clients (and yours too) are now spending time and money working on initiatives that add value to society and then talking about it. Besides being good corporate citizens, this is also a necessary business move. With the advent of social media and Internet connectivity, human beings no longer tolerate companies and brands that are not embracing values of some kind. Furthermore, when companies are seen as doing harm they are hammered for it, and not just by the press but also by everyone with a Facebook and Twitter account. Are you listening, British Petroleum? The message: Do good or else!
It’s easy to be cynical when big business and especially advertising agencies start talking about doing good works. Such entities are not known for altruism but for making money. Needless to say, they’d better walk the talk.
After the Havas Café event I spoke with my colleagues, Bill Mericle (CCO, Palm + Havas) and Blake Ebel (Co-CCO Euro RSCG Chicago) about this slippery slope. Was the spectacle of One Young World created more to look good than to be good?
“What’s wrong with doing both?” was their unanimous reply. They’re right of course. While creating One Young World clearly puts the agency in a broad spot light it is a deserved one. One Young world is an ambitious, complicated and costly affair. Procuring travel documents alone would tax most agencies beyond their patience. We should be proud that our firm is driving such a massive initiative. As Mericle pointed out, at the least, there is potential for “countless connections made on behalf of the greater good.”
The upside is considerably better than that. After all, these are the people who will be leading our world tomorrow. Presumably, after attending the One Young World conference in Zurich they will return to their home countries fired up to do some good. How could they not?