FleishmanHillard's Isobel Coney: Why businesses must engage in authentic purpose

Isobel Coney, SVP and partner at FleishmanHillard, discusses the agency's 2019 Authenticity Gap study and what its findings mean for communicators.

If the past few years of Cannes are anything to go by, the marketing pendulum has well and truly shifted to "let’s talk about societal issues / align with a purpose" rather than what an organisation actually does and the value this brings. Cue emotional music, moving images and a business-related stat to prove ROI.

And we all know why. People (let’s not use the reductive word ‘consumers’), by their own admission, use company values and brand perception (e.g. as it relates to societal impact) to differentiate in commoditised markets.

Yet we all resort to one-click convenience despite product and service driven comms, because it delivers – literally. Sometimes you can be unashamedly functional and still be valued.

So, beyond the easy trope of communications driven ‘purpose’ campaigns, what does authenticity really mean and what’s the next stage for marketers tasked with making a difference to short-term sales metrics and long-term brand business health?

Purpose must ring true


Some marcomms pundits are touting ‘activism’ as the new ‘purpose’, in short, don’t just shine a light on an issue, solve it. However, this needs to be approached with caution – ensuring that the cause aligns with the business.

FleishmanHillard’s 2019 Authenticity in Action report showed that three out of four consumers don’t care about a CEO’s personal beliefs, but want CEOs to take a stand on issues that have an impact on the company’s customers (74%), products and services (72%) and employees (71%).

But what as marketers should we be asking ourselves if this is the power we ostensibly wield? How do we use that appropriately – or at all?

Well, obvious as it might seem, the right actions are authentic ones. And authenticity has to start from within. Your biggest detractors, your biggest advocates are employees. And yet, how many brand marketing campaigns have authentic employee engagement as anything more than an afterthought?

Your biggest liabilities and most prized assets nestle in often overlooked corners. Yet how many brand marketing campaigns really question whether the external values are driven throughout the organisation and present this as a hard stop if things don’t ring true?

Talking about ‘products and services’ and ‘societal impact’ as two separate things is a flawed perspective. Being intentional about the way you do business, who is involved in that process and the value that end product or service brings heralds its own success.

Marcomms leads and agencies serve organisations best when they consult a business on how to do business, not just on how to window dress and woke-wash.

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