The year is almost over, and there’s one advertising theme that was blatantly persistent in 2018: brands are playing in the cause space more than ever. We’ve seen consumers’ desire to get involved in cultural conversations by supporting brands that back the causes that are important to them.
Of course, this isn’t breaking news.
We’ve all read plenty of articles this year touting significant statistics about consumers valuing a brand’s involvement in causes. Sometimes the outcomes have been positive, and sometimes they have not. Something that is undeniable though is that today’s consumers are listening, and they expect companies to take a stand.
Some things we haven’t quite figured out yet, are where to have these conversations safely and how to demystify corporate social responsibility. What we need is an accessible way to get involved.
As individuals, we must figure out how to effectively contribute to change while maintaining a career, a side hustle, and fitness regime, all while getting (the ever-elusive) sleep.
So, why bring all of this up again when we’ve heard it before? Because if 2018 was the year of raising expectations, then why not make 2019 the year we meet those expectations as an industry?
Damian Bazadona, Founder & President of Situation, said it best at Advertising Week earlier this year while moderating the panel Situation curated, “There is a ton of creative capacity in the advertising and media business…We need big ideas to come to the table to solve huge issues.”
There’s no doubt our industry has the potential to change the world. There are plenty of cases where advertising succeeded in doing just that. But, what about the people behind the scenes? How can we get more companies to rally behind important causes and leverage their creative capacity?
With the many mergers and high-profile exits that also came into play this year, wouldn’t it be nice to focus on positively challenging all this upheaval? It may sound idealistic, but perhaps we can get there.
Let’s start by building community.
According to research by Jessica Pryce-Jones in her book Happiness at Work, the average American spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. Since we all basically live in our offices, these communities can start within the walls of our agencies. Surely, there’s space in those 90,000 hours to do some good.
Uniting communities behind important causes isn’t necessarily achieved by quitting your job or starting a foundation. As Loren Hynes, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said on the same panel, you can start by “doing things in small and thoughtful ways to grow, snowball, and make a difference.”
Before you can form any sort of community, you need to make sure that your intentions are rooted in authenticity. Roberta Caploe, Publisher of Cynopsis, put it this way, “you have to do it because you feel passionate about it, it can’t be done in service of furthering your career.”
With your intentions in mind, next comes recruitment. In the spirit of authenticity, Tommy Wesely, VP of Branded Content at Buzzfeed, explained that “to form an authentic relationship, you need to have varying perspectives, varying voices, diverse voices, that are actually reflective of that group.”
The through-line? Build your community thoughtfully so that it stays a safe, open space without becoming contentious or self-serving. Shared goals also make for better kitchen conversation than, “looks like winter is finally here, huh?”
So, once you’ve found your people, your pain points, and a good happy hour spot (for planning purposes, of course), what’s next?
In this knowledge economy, Hynes suggests you do what you’re good at; volunteer for something in a strategic way because “it’s no longer just about asking your boss for time off work to go work in a soup kitchen or to clean up litter in Central Park.”
An effective way to build community today is by looking at opportunities through a skills-lens. Not only does this “help you advance as an individual” as Mike Kriak, Media Circle Global Lead at ConsenSys and Broadway Producer, put it, but it organically creates a stronger foundation to make an impact.
Lastly, you need leadership’s buy-in. Bazadona, a non-profit founder himself, said, “if all of us are in some way shape or form in the talent business, then it behooves the leadership to engage the conversation.”
Before you approach leadership, it’s crucial to do your research and know the answers to these questions:
- Why are you passionate about this?
- Why should your company take a position?
Sometimes you may be told no, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. You can seek a compromise and take baby steps. Alternatively, you can take your established communities outside of agency walls.
No matter what, a community of passionate people with support behind it sure can create more impact than a tweet. By embracing our creativity and cultivating a community, we’re poised to reach consumers’ expectations, and maybe even exceed them in 2019.
Besides, when has the advertising industry ever not welcomed a challenge?