Finding the Real Bottom Line

Meaningful Work Gives Marketers, Agencies Relevance in Today's World

By Published on .

Nick Bartle
Nick Bartle
It is becoming clich├ęd to say that the companies of tomorrow will do well by doing good.

The recent third annual Edelman Consumer Study's finding that almost 60% of the world's consumers say a company has earned their business because it supports good causes should make us hopeful that this will indeed be the case.

But many companies manage their CSR programs separately from their principle business activities. Keeping these programs strategically, financially and organizationally distinct perpetuates the schism between doing good and doing business.

This same schism can also be found in agencies. Pro bono efforts for worthy causes make us feel great, but do they also reveal a need that we have to feel better about what we do? The work force of the advertising industry is made up largely of socially aware young talents who increasingly demand to be connected to meaningful, socially responsible work. Providing that is rapidly becoming as essential to securing talent as are salaries and benefits.

So to be successful, agencies must start helping all clients find their "noble purposes" -- a meaning for their actions that transcends merely making money.

No matter the profession, when practitioners believe they are doing meaningful work, that leads to motivation -- and motivation leads to productivity. Motivation is an even more precious commodity than talent. To paraphrase former football coach Lou Holtz, ability determines what you can do, motivation determines what you will do. If an agency can find and express a brand's noble purpose, it is adding, in a very direct way, to the bottom line.

We believe that at the heart of the world's finest and most enduring companies is a reason for being that transcends money. But, over time, it can be forgotten with the relentless layering on of structure and process. It doesn't take long.

What is required is some corporate archeology, the peeling back of layers of organizational dogma to reveal that noble purpose. Then it must be given new relevance in today's world.

I'd like to share three examples: a pure nonprofit, a joint venture between a for-profit and a nonprofit and finally a pure for-profit company.

It is easy to find nobility in nonprofits such as Conservation International; keeping it relevant is harder. Last year, research showed that talking about environmental conservation during the recession would be seen to be "out of touch." So we explicitly drew a connection between the economic crisis and the environmental one, comparing the two and reminding people that "nature doesn't do bailouts." We placed these messages in the empty windows of recently closed retail spaces to increase the poignancy of the message.

Goodwill Industries, on the other hand, one of the original recyclers, was not benefiting from increased interest in conservation. Clothes are not plastic bottles in people's minds. Caring, in relation to the clothing Goodwill collects and recycles, means washing at a certain temperature. For young people, the environment is a key issue, and even though rational connections can be made to donating old clothes to Goodwill, youth's emotional connection is with more dynamic environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace.

Bringing Levi Strauss & Co. into their orbit could change all that. Levi's, with its equity and reach, could act as an amplifier for Goodwill, and Goodwill could accelerate Levi's own desire to do good business. In a New York Times interview, Robert Hanson, president of the Americas division at Levi Strauss & Co., said: "Our consumers tend to be very concerned about their futures and expect companies to behave in ways consistent with their values."

We created "A Care Tag for Our Planet," an initiative that aims to put billions of pounds of unwanted clothing to good use instead of into landfills. Beginning this month, Levi's is the first major marketer to include a care tag that encourages people to donate unwanted clothing to Goodwill on its apparel.

Getting people to change their behavior is more important than getting them to change their mind. The real impact of "Care Tag for Our Planet" therefore cannot be measured until that first batch of Levi's are worn out and the owner takes that action. But all the attention associated with a clever idea doesn't hurt.

In 2008, Starbucks Corp. Chairman-CEO Howard Schultz felt the company's values had been "blurred by success." Starbucks had become "big coffee," and the economy was forcing people to cut back on what they now considered a luxury. Coffee was coffee, after all. Right?

So by incentivizing community action, the company is now demonstrating that Starbucks is more than a caffeine-delivery vehicle and that it plays an important role in communities. Over the last year, we created a series of "sparks" -- ideas that ignite community engagement. Giant acts of "we" that prove it's not just what you are buying, but what you are buying into that matters.

Most recently, in support of the Global Fund to help fight AIDS in Africa, we sparked a Global Sing-along that took place simultaneously around the globe. Musicians worldwide performed "All You Need Is Love," and people were able to upload their own versions to the Starbucks Love Project site.

Our first spark encouraged people to vote in the U.S. presidential election. "What happened was incredible," Mr. Schultz said. "Five hundred thousand people viewed this [video] on YouTube. It was tweeted every eight seconds. We gave away over 2 million cups of coffee for free, and we had a very profitable day of business because we drove so much incremental traffic. And we made our people so proud of how we do business and what we stand for."

That last point is most poignant and is the lesson we take away from all this: Doing good is good; but getting people to see the good they do is even better.

Nick Bartle is exec VP-director of behavioral planning for BBDO North America.
Most Popular