The history of purpose: Why it matters to PR

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Yacoff Sarkovas

From philanthropic activities to today’s sustainability agenda, companies worldwide have certainly come a long way. For centuries, a company’s basic social role was understood simply as providing jobs and paying taxes. More generous entrepreneurs added charity work to this mix, and some of them sought to generate greater social impact by utilizing corporate resources. In doing so, they created the foundations of corporate social investment, as companies supplied not just funds, but principles and management tools to increase NGO efficiency.

In order to reconcile financial results with the fight against environmental degradation and social inequity, the concept of the triple bottom line arose. Companies began to be evaluated for their environmental and social performance in addition to their economic performance. Since then, business models are adapting to meet sustainability guidelines and standards, and business commitments consider all stakeholders – not just shareholders.

Another equally important transformation has occurred in recent years. The power and activism of citizens has grown considerably thanks to social, political and technological factors, calling into question the traditional pyramid of influence in which elites – brands, leaders, politicians, etc. – could transmit empty messages to powerless consumers, often sculpting public opinion in the process.

The aforementioned developments affect and alter the process of brand building. A brand cannot just be known – it must be recognized and respected in order to mobilize and strengthen bonds with stakeholders.

Communications in this new world begins with the company’s purpose – its reason for being – and its values. These elements define the gravitational field of a brand, attracting people through identification and keeping them in orbit through reason and emotion. A brand becomes relevant to its stakeholders when it shares aspirations, opinions, styles and causes. The brand is strengthened and minimizes risk when it is genuine, true, fair and proactive. Relevance and transparency, therefore, is what gives substance to communications.

The means by which brands transmit their messages has also expanded. The reign of traditional media is over. Today, every medium can be considered strategic for establishing dialogues: blogs, social media, search engines, the companies’ own channels: All companies are also media companies.

Public relations is the discipline that best responds to all of these changes, because in its nature lies consideration for the views and interests of others. Its historical focus is the conversation and the sharing of value, established in complex and fragmented environments.

Simple brand exposure, paid or unpaid, endorsed by quantitative metrics is no longer enough to ensure a brand’s survival in the new market. Nowadays, brand purpose is as critical to the business as is strategic management of its relationships.

Yacoff Sarkovas is the CEO of Edelman Significa in Brazil.