Perspectives roundtable: Corporate Social Opportunity

Perspectives roundtable: Corporate Social Opportunity

Recent research shows that Government, the media and the business sector are all experiencing an unprecedented breakdown in public trust.

And so the focus of our most recent Perspectives roundtable discussion was an exploration of how some of the world’s best brands are now making a radical move from traditional Corporate Social Responsibility into the arena of Social Purpose – and seeing consumer trust impacting positively on reputation, profile and sales.

The discussion was led by strategic communications consultant Hil Berg, who has worked for many household name brands and is currently supporting Iceland Foods with development of their sustainability plan.

Hil delivered a fascinating presentation which touched on the origins of corporate responsibility from the late 1800's and then explored its development and evolution to its modern-day form, its differing role from philanthropy and its increasing impact on our society.

There was then an open discussion among the 18 attendees with the following key themes emerging through the evening:

  • Despite growing Government and public pressure, it can’t be up to the private sector alone to overcome the ‘wicked’ challenges facing our society. There is a significant opportunity, and increasingly a necessity, for all sectors to work together to share skills, knowledge and resources to deliver rounded, sustainable answers to problems ranging from health and education through to housing and welfare.
  • There is still a level of cynicism towards the motive of brands who have moved into the social purpose space. To overcome this, brands must develop strategies that are truly authentic and back them up from the top to bottom of their organisations. In short, they must live and breathe social purpose or risk being cast as profit-focused opportunists.
  • There is growing recognition and first-hand experience that Millennials and Generation Z consumers are making ever more ethical decisions in how they access information, which products and services they buy, and in particular where they work. This is having profound impacts on how brands are operating, with the role of effective employer brands becoming ever more important.
  • There is significant variation in how corporate social responsibility is defined by different industries and brands, with many still applying a more traditional model of philanthropy or volunteering to ‘paint a local community centre’; although there is clear recognition that a broader, more strategic approach offers huge long-term reputational and financial benefits to brands.

There is little doubt that this is an area that will evolve, develop and change many times in the coming months and years, as businesses seek to find their preferred future and the role that social purpose can play in it. However, it is clear that no modern organisation can stay still and believe they have done enough – evolution is the norm.