Placing purpose before profit


At times of prolonged austerity and political, societal and technological change, relationships between organisations and the public change.

When cash is tight consumers scrutinise where they invest their hard-earned cash more than ever. They seek out brands aligned with their values, that understand what life is like and play their part in easing daily challenges.

There is increased pressure on businesses not just to talk about their values but to visibly and tangibly live them, or risk being called out publicly, with the reputational damage and negative impact to the bottom line that results.

It’s an issue that is quickly rising up the corporate agenda. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, fired a warning shot in January in his organisation’s anniversary CEO letter to business leaders when he called companies to account on their societal impact.

To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also benefit all their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate, he said.

Leave things better than you find them

It is why the title and theme of ‘Accountable Leadership and Social Purpose’ from this year’s CIPR National Conference is so important.

As CIPR President, I’m keen that we as public relations professionals understand how to stand up and be counted as leaders and recognise our wider responsibilities, but even more critically consider how we can influence the organisations we work with to do the same.

The conference will take place on Thursday 29 November 2018 at the British Library in London. It will explore accountable leadership, ethical frameworks and how social purpose can link to organisational objectives for the greater good.

Speakers include Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, which is campaigning for business in Brexit negotiations; Elizabeth Filippouli of the Global Thinkers Forum, which champions strategic philanthropy for global change; and John O’Brien, co-author of The Power of Purpose: Inspire Teams, Engage Customers, Transform Business.

Leading the fight against plastic pollution

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland Foods Group, will be present to talk about why Iceland took the decision to become the first major retailer to commit to eliminating plastic packaging from all own brand products within five years.

Professor Anne Gregory, Chair in Corporation Communication at the University of Huddersfield, is chairing the event.

“No organisation is an island. We live in a complex, interconnected world where what you do and what your values are as an organisation are coming under increasing scrutiny. To maintain public support it’s not good enough to focus just on customers and make a profit, you have to be seen to be a net contributor to society too,” said Anne.

“The role of communicators in this is to help our organisations understand the legitimate expectations of all stakeholders and to help senior managers make informed decisions which demonstrate they have a social as well as a business purpose.”

Tom Levitt wrote The Company Citizen: Good for Business, Planet, Nation and Community and will be another of the contributors on the day. He said: “Companies used to think there was a choice between doing good and making a profit, but there’s plenty of evidence that this is a false dichotomy.

“Indeed, over the longer term it’s now clear that the company that TRIES succeeds - where TRIES means Transparent, Responsible, Inclusive, Ethical and Sustainable.”

As Global Thinkers Forum CEO Elizabeth Filippouli explained: "The world needs a new governance model, which takes universal values as well as ethics seriously into account.

One of the major challenges in multi-stake holder collaboration is lack of trust. To overcome this 'trust crisis' we need to create opportunities for understanding, joined up thinking, collaboration and new partnerships. Our world needs competent society leaders who can create a future of prosperity and development. 

“It is a fascinating time to be discussing and encouraging the idea of finding common ground in people's thinking and bringing them together under a common set of universal values."

For more information or to book tickets, please visit