The most outstanding PR campaigns have a positive effect on people, profit and planet. The three Ps are fundamentally and synergistically linked. Profit leads to happy people; happy individuals lead to solidarity regarding our environment, which in turn leads to positive change on our planet.
This, in essence, is the triple bottom line, introduced by John Elkington in his 1997 book, Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. It’s a bottom line that continues to measure profits, while simultaneously tallying both the organisation’s impact on people plus its environmental footprint – with sustainability an important part of the equation. It’s a perspective whose initial micro focus is then rolled out to take in global and planetary consequences and implications.
PR is an industry that is perfectly positioned to positively influence all three Ps. Let’s check the human context. There are many business models and tricks employed that will increase your company’s profit (either by ethical or non-ethical means), but only PR can positively sway people. It’s one thing to put money in the bank, but it’s another to put ideas into people’s heads along with that. Ideas are the most bankable commodity and the most powerful agent for change.
Many projects start out as a simple Corporate Social Investment (CSI) ‘stunt’ or as an accessory to a PR campaign. Yet these types of campaigns intrinsically deal with people and their lives, and, for the most part, consist of projects that improve some aspect of people’s lives. Whether it is provision of medicines, primary healthcare, social or enterprise development, environmental or educational programme sponsorship, it’s excellent PR – but equally good for people, planet and profit.
Take for instance the case of Tata Tea in India. They ran a campaign for a new range of Tea called Jaago Re! (Wake Up), in which they would allow people to voice their community issues (working conditions, transport, corrupt politicians, etc.) when purchasing the tea. The company then used its financial and political backing to support this lobby, resulting not only in positive strides in social upliftment, but also a giant spike in sales.
The same techniques and methods used to leverage an ordinary PR campaign – raising awareness, educating the public and gaining publicity – are used to great effect for these types of projects. The very nature of such a campaign makes it more attractive to the public rather than just another product being sold.
Oil company Saudi Aramco enlisted a female representative to spearhead a new collaboration with an American company that would see them double their production as well as expanding into new territories. This had an unexpected effect as female consumers’ support grew in consequence of them supporting women’s rights in a country infamous for restriction and suppression.
The last decade has seen a giant trend in companies ‘going green’, combatting global warming or environmental ruin. PR as a means of damage control in the face of environmental disasters has been crucial to many companies’ survival, but sometimes even the most sincere soothsaying cannot reverse the damage.
BP’s recent Gulf oil spill springs to mind. If there was one good thing to come from this horrible disaster it is that BP immediately revised its public image and involvement in environmental affairs. Many companies’ sole existence is for the sake of the environment, but logistics require that these companies do make a profit as well and this is where PR bridges the gap.
Another example of practical PR and building greater responsible corporate brand equity, from the target market’s perspective, is Vital Health Foods and their “Going Green” initiative. Plant electricity usage was reduced by an average 12% per month, and 15% during peak demand alone.
Vital saved more than R20 000.00 over an eight-month period, simply by coating the roof of its manufacturing facility with a special paint called Thermoshield and by replacing old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED lights. Not only was this a financial saving for the company, it also unlocked a positive shift in public perception towards the brand. It was also an initiative that proved educational at the same time.
Correcting misconceptions and ironing out facts is an important PR exercise which impacts upon consumer awareness and perceptions. Effective PR aims to arm customers with information to strengthen their purchasing power. Free market choice empowers consumers to make informed decisions which impacts upon brand allegiance.
PR is not always used to influence company profit directly. It can be a cohesive force affecting both people and the planet positively. Vital Health Foods provided consumers with nutritional information about which vitamin supplements to buy, not merely as a proactive business tactic, but to positively enrich the lives of their consumers.
By being socially and environmentally responsible, a company elevates its public image. PR is the face that your company presents to the world. You can choose to present a trusting one or paint a faceless corporate mask. Are you positioning yourself as a friend with whom the customer can relate or are you merely pitching your product to the market? The bottom line is that it’s important to all – people, profit and the planet. Best of all, it’s your choice… and how you go about it can really put you on the map.
Craig Dummett is owner and account director of Dummett & Co.