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24 January 2014

A sense of purpose – at home, at work, with your client?

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Social conscience and a sense of purpose, at home, at work, and with your clients. As Marketing’s Clare Beale put it at the start of the year, ‘consumers want brands to have a purpose – social interest and a sustainable strategy that sits at the heart of their business. It’s increasingly non-negotiable.’ Employees want this too. We’re seeing the beginnings of a change in approach, not least from communications agencies that specialise in social and behavioural change. They are growing and widening the net for good people to work for them. They want people with consumer and corporate communications experience and who now want to work with brands and organisations that have a social conscience. This means far more than giving employees a day off each year to work in the community. It means putting purpose at the very heart of company strategy. If you feel strongly about this this then now is a very good time to grasp the nettle.

Once upon a time social and behavioural change was a core theme of the charity and voluntary sectors. Improving public health, for example. Businesses flirted with it. But two things have changed, according to Peter Gilheany, Director at Forster Communications. First the recession and the scaling back of the public sector have increased pressure on the voluntary sector. Second the loss of trust in corporations leaves them having to re-build consumer confidence with different priorities. And added to this, more and more people are waking up to a desire to – and the benefits of – focusing on how to make a positive difference.

Social and behavioural change is holistic; it tries to make sure you are better as a business at how you do what you do. Ben and Jerry’s is a good example of social conscience in action, Gilheany suggests. When the hippy ice cream brand was acquired by Unilever everyone thought it would be the death knell for the brand’s social conscience. In fact it’s been retained because Unilever knows this is what helps to sell the ice cream. ‘The future is about being human and having an essential truth in your product range,’ he says.

It’s not easy propelling social conscience from the confines of the CSR department to the heart of the company decision making process. But this is what will slowly start to happen. For consultancies like Forster it means an expanding client list as companies become increasingly interested in transparency, trust, and meeting new consumer expectations about how to engage. ‘Increasingly companies realise they can’t operate in an ethical vacuum, and that value doesn’t just mean shareholder value,’ says Gilheany. Some of the most surprising companies are already very active – McDonald’s commitment to using free-range eggs and organic milk, for example, puts it way ahead of its competitors.

Gilheany says we can’t expect overnight change. ‘Things take a long time. But we can see the beginning of change.’ Behavioural change, in fact.  Get in touch if you would like to talk about it.

Posted by Celia Clark