Public relations rarely save lives. In fact, some PR may have ruined some lives. Real heroics are for cardiologists and first responder, not us.
But PR — when done with purpose and integrity — can have an outsized positive impact. By amplifying a noble cause, or telling important untold stories, public relations professionals can – and I argue should be a force for good.
Agencies, which can choose the clients they represent and what narratives they tell, have an important responsibility. In our role as storytellers and megaphones, agencies can and should prioritize not just profit, but also purpose.
Notice that I’m avoiding using the term “corporate social responsibility,” or “CSR,” here. Yes, it’s what I’m describing: for-profit companies emphasizing social good. But CSR is an overused term and good professionals know to avoid clichés. Do we?
Today, there’s no shortage of brands and PR campaigns built around purpose. Some are organic and admirable: like Patagonia committing 1% of its total sales to environmental groups. Or, like the Virginia-based Leesa Sleep donating one mattress for every ten sold.
There are plenty of PR misfires, too. Ram using a Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon to sell trucks in a Super Bowl ad comes to mind. So does Pepsi, when it aired a commercial starring Kendall Jenner and referencing Black Lives Matter.
How can a PR agency prioritize purpose and principles alongside profit? And do so in a way that’s authentic?
Donate Your TIME not just your money. Donating is simple, but mighty effective. At KWT Global, we offer to donate 10% of a client’s fees to the social cause of their choice. (Since implementing the policy, we’ve donated about $500,000 to more than 100 charities.)
Be selective. Agencies should cultivate a roster of clients that reflect their values. That may mean pursuing brands and organizations you want to help succeed — maybe a cancer research institution, or a specific advocacy group. At KWT Global, we’ve fought hard to bring on clients like the ALS Foundation, IRONMAN Foundation, Sprint 1Million Project and Puppies Behind Bars. “Selective” can also mean saying “no” to new business that doesn’t align with your or your employees’ values. A tobacco company or gun manufacturer may come with a lucrative retainer, but is it worthwhile and meaningful work? Nope, not to me.
Empower your employees. Agencies can empower their employees to do good outside of the office, too. At KTW, staff receives two extra days off each year — we’ve dubbed them “purpose days.” Staff is encouraged to spend that time volunteering for causes meaningful to them. It’s a concept that’s gaining momentum: Millennials and Generation Z see strong company values as a necessity, not a luxury.
As storytellers and news-shapers, PR agencies wield outsized power in today’s divisive world. And with that power should come greater responsibility — to be empathetic, to be civic-minded, and to be forces for good.
To hear more, listen to Aaron Kwittken’s episode on the Agencies of the Future podcast.