Businesses must build positive community outreach programs

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Given the rise of the Internet, social media and the many social and political tensions around the world, it’s hardly surprising that a new study shows that 64 percent of consumers across the globe will buy, or boycott, a brand based on the stand it takes on a social or political issue.

This is up an amazing 13 percent from 2017.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand survey, conducted by Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm, also shows that more than 53 percent believe corporate brands can do more to solve social problems than the government.

I’m sure these numbers can be sliced and diced a number of ways, but believe they show the beginning of a very real trend. Richard Edelman, Edelman president and CEO, calls it the “birth of Brand Democracy” where “Brands are now being pushed to go beyond their classic business interests to become advocates.”

While I would never advise a company to go full-frontal on controversial issues, the use of public relations tactics can be a low-key, but highly effective way to highlight the values of your company. Rather than showcasing the good that you do in a self-congratulatory advertisements, have a third party — like the media — talk about it instead. Activities from customer focus groups to press releases can yield extremely valuable results. A newspaper or TV story about how principles, and not just profit, guide your business beats tooting your own horn any day.

This applies to large corporations as well as local businesses.

To see what some corporations are doing check out Engage for Good’s home page, where it says, “If you work at the intersection of purpose and profit, you’ve come to the right place.” Its news/media page features dozens of corporate “do good” campaigns, including Microsoft’s partnership with UNICEF to tackle the education needs of children and young people in the midst of conflict and natural disasters, and an innovative Inflight Recycling Program by Delta Airlines which has raised $1 million for Habitat for Humanity by recycling paper, plastic, and aluminum discarded from passengers.

Obviously these programs represent causes anyone can get behind. However, Nike recently started an ad campaign featuring football player Colin Kaepernick who made headlines when, before an NFL game in 2016, he “took a knee” during the national anthem to protest racism, social inequality, and police brutality.

The campaign appears to have helped Nike improve its image after national news outlets like the New York Times reported a hostile and abusive work environment for women. Indeed, last August two women filed a class-action lawsuit against the sports shoe and apparel company claiming pay inequality and gender discrimination.

Many businesses chose less controversial themes to associate themselves with, often connected to issues surrounding their industries. For example, Duke Energy has proposed a new initiative called the “Green Source Advantage program.” If approved by the Public Service Commission of South Carolina, it will offer commercial customers more solar and other renewable energy sources. According to a news release, this is in direct response to the desires of large commercial and industrial customers who need to meet their own environmental and sustainability goals.

The bottom line: More and more consumers want to know that the businesses they patronize are not destroying their environment or supporting unjust causes. Businesses that don’t communicate what they are doing to help build their communities face extinction given the growing likelihood that customers will choose to do business with companies they think do “the most good” or align more closely to their values.

The use of public relations can help companies get the word out that they are doing more than simply sucking resources from their community. A smart way to do this is to hire a competent public relations practitioner who can help companies gain local and regional media coverage and build positive community outreach programs.

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