Life is all about priorities, and the difficult choices we sometimes have to make to focus on what’s important to us.
by Ben Capper
Having any position of influence in an organisation that seeks to improve people’s lives is exactly the same.
And whether you’re a Director of Comms or a Trainee, your work in telling a compelling and convincing story about your priorities, puts you in a position of influence whether you like it or not.
Very often organisations seek to portray their values and priorities in very black and white formats: Annual Reports, Value Statements, Strategic Plans, “Our commitment to our customers” plaques in reception and the like.
But if you work in public service in any way, however creative and convoluted the language it usually comes down to the same thing:
To “do the right thing”.
This is a big theme of my work, the inspiration behind my business and the type of work I take on; and my basic approach to life.
And it’s also a theme that keeps very sharply being brought into focus through events in the worlds of marketing and, yes, politics.
Let’s not do Brexit here, but that is certainly a case in point around people’s priorities and choices, and being honest (or not) about the trade offs involved between them.
The main focus of this post is on safer ground in the more relevant world of marketing and advertising.
The viral sensation that everyone was talking about recently was that Gillette ad.
In spite of it being a bit too long and the direction being a bit cheesy, I think it’s a welcome addition to the debate about toxic masculinity. In my view it’s a good example of a big brand using its dominant market position to positively influence a highly engaged audience that trusts them.
I really enjoy Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week pieces and he also has a take on this one. But I disagree with his view here.
Again, for me it’s about priorities. He says here that:
“There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. “
By “worse”, he means impacting on their market share and profitability by losing the sales of potential buyers; and points to angry YouTube comments for the evidence. Notwithstanding my rule of thumb that states that YouTube comments offer a less-than-reliable window into the soul of the world at large; again this for me is about priorities.
The Gillette ad, for all its hokieness, is an attempt for a brand to stand for something different, more positive, and to use its platform to contribute to a much needed societal conversation. They’ve identified that there is something bigger than their product, and even their market dominance.
Yes, they’ve been clumsy along the way. For example, the paltry $1m donation to charitable causes (from global profits of $6billion) opens up a valid criticism of window dressing. But I don’t think both criticisms hold at the same time. It can’t be both doing too much and not enough simultaneously.
It is about priorities. And in doing the right thing, there are sometimes missteps and things to learn. But for me this is about the start of an important conversation out of the political sphere, and I think Gillette deserve credit for getting involved.
Indeed, they seem to have made a conscious choice to pursue this course of action in spite of the fact they knew full well that it would alienate some existing customers. They’re saying “if you subscribe to a misogynistic view of the world, and persist in unhealthy, disrespectful behaviours; we’re not the brand for you”; and “we’re prepared to take a financial hit to move in this direction”.
Weirdly, that’s actually made me more likely to use Gillette razors (I mean I think I probably do anyway, I just have never thought about it too much before)…
And I think there’s a lesson there for all of us comms people. We talk to our organisations about “priorities” in terms of “what needs doing first” and “where does the budget need to go"; and that’s an important conversation to have.
But we need to start talking to our leaders and organisations about priorities in terms of “what choices do we make?”, “what do we see as being ‘the right thing’?” and, critically “what risks are we prepared to face to do the right thing?”
This is what stands at the heart of our organisational stories, identities and messaging.
It’s saying “we believe in something important, and we don’t let narrow calculation get in the way of that bigger mission”.
That’s easy to say. It’s easy to put on a plaque in reception. It’s easy to put in your Chief Exec’s summary in your next Annual Report; but it’s hard to live up to.
We’re in a political age where decision-making seems to focus on how to survive the next 24 hours, rather than how to make people’s lives better in the long term. And the danger in some organisations is that we get side-tracked into expensive, ultimately pointless vanity projects when there are bigger, more important things that need tackling.
As comms people, we’re in a unique position to see these choices from the perspective of our users, customers, residents etc. We understand the reputational danger of not doing right thing; and the impact that has on the stress-levels of work loads of our colleagues in Media Relations! But more importantly, we understand how important public trust is in what we do, and in communicating with confidence.
Whatever your mission statement says, one of the burdens that we as comms people a forced to bear is being the conscious of our organisations; and demonstrating that we’re living up to our promises to the public.
And whatever language you use, it’s important for us all to remember our priorities, and what really matters to our users.
So, whatever that thing is: do the right thing. It can be hard. But it’s necessary.
Image via The U.S. National Archive