News and insights (March 2021): Authenticity is key to good communications

By Fenella Cuthbert, Account Director, Corporate Communications

Before the pandemic there was a growing trend for companies to have a purpose beyond profit. In recent months there has been some debate as to whether we will see this trend accelerate or if business will focus on financial survival as we begin to navigate our way back to normality.  

I don’t believe purpose and financial survival are mutually exclusive. In today’s world of mass communication, via smart phones and “always on” news, there is nowhere to hide for businesses that prioritise profits above all else.  

Information spreads expeditiously among the smartphone generation leading to a proliferation of people and business being ‘cancelled’ if they are perceived to be acting unfairly or having a negative impact. In January, droves of WhatsApp users deleted the app in protest to its new data rules, moving to its newer rival Signal. Perhaps more notable was the boycotting of Amazon when claims of tax avoidance came to light.  

Consumers are increasingly conscientious. They care about the businesses they are affiliated with and where they spend their money. Businesses must do more to retain and grow their customer base or they too risk being ‘cancelled’ or simply drowned out by the noise of competitors around them.  

However, a business’ purpose must be authentic. It isn’t just a “nice to have” or a campaign to keep the comms agency busy – purpose should be intrinsic and must be deeply aligned with the wider business narrative, activities and people. A purpose isn’t thought up in a quick board meeting: it is strategic and all-consuming, and it may need a company to completely turn itself upside down, examining every area to ensure that it too serves the wider purpose. Having a purpose is in the heart of the business.  

We hear a lot about ‘building back better and’ many businesses will be reviewing their offerings to better suit the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may be. It is during this time of enforced change and self-evaluation that businesses can shape their vision for the future.  

Communications practitioners are the biggest ally for businesses during this time of immense change. PR is about strategically creating and integrating the business’ narrative, which ultimately serves both the purpose and the bottom line and ensures that every vein of the business connects to that narrative.  

But the purpose must be real. It must resonate with the business, its people, products and services. Insincerity simply doesn’t fly anymore and consumers can spot a fraud from a mile off. I imagine we’ll see some businesses jumping on the bandwagon, poorly attempting to be ‘real’ and purposeful but they will be caught out. Either way, purpose-driven businesses are here to stay, which is, in itself, a profit driver.  

This piece first appeared in Cicero/AMO’s March news and insights update – click here to access our full update.

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Fenella Cuthbert

Account Director