PBS, NPR, Nat Geo, NYT Lead Underperforming Media Industry in Social Responsibility

By Jack Myers TomorrowToday Archives
Cover image for  article: PBS, NPR, Nat Geo, NYT Lead Underperforming Media Industry in Social Responsibility

Among 140+ leading media brands across all media categories, only 19 are graded 6.0 or above on a 10-point scale for how "committed the brand is to contributing to the greater good through its content and/or specific social responsibility efforts."  Recognizing the typical standard of 65 as a passing grade, and that social responsibility/purpose is a path to both financial success and improved talent acquisition and retention, there are three conclusions.

  1. Media as an industry is underperforming in contributing to the greater good.
  2. Media brands have a meaningful opportunity to increase revenues and enhance their value by building a social responsibility platform.
  3. The media community's poor competitive performance in social purpose is a contributing factor to the industry's low scores in diversity talent retention and development.

The study, conducted by MediaVillage, asked 1,200 advertiser and agency executives to rate the 140-plus media brands on five established metrics of brand equity value:

  1. What is the magnitude of difference between this brand and its closest competitors?
  2. In your opinion, how culturally relevant is this brand (in the United States)?
  3. How would you rate the ability of this brand to thrive in the new media world?
  4. In your opinion, how strong is the emotional connection between this brand and its audience?
  5. How committed is this brand to contributing to the greater good through its content and/or specific social responsibility efforts? 

MediaVillage is sharing detailed results on each of the 140+ brands with its subscribing companies and will continue to publish insights from the study on the perceptions of marketer and agency professionals toward media brands' equity value.

NPR aims to promote a well-informed public and a greater appreciation for diverse cultures and ideas.  NPR embraced the purpose-led approach long before it became a business buzzword; in 2013, for example, NPR sought to defy stereotypes among young listeners with its RadioTypes campaign.  Although technically a marketing campaign, this effort provided real value to prospective listeners by connecting them with programming to match their interests -- and to encourage them to take pride in their unique attributes. 

National Geographic's Further campaign captures how the trusted brand desires to maintain its perception of integrity while going beyond to ensure that key voices in the current dialogue on environmentalism and other major global issues are heard.  Recently, National Geographic exemplified its motto with the Planet or Plastic campaign, which emphasizes consumer education, corporate commitment and partnerships with key non-governmental organizations.  The goal?  To inspire both individuals and organizations of all sizes to rethink their relationship with plastic.  This campaign has garnered great praise, but of course it is rooted in the desire for a cleaner world -- not in the desire to sell more subscriptions.  Similarly, it's immediately clear that Amazon primarily seeks to do good with its charitable effort AmazonSmile, which makes it easy for customers to donate to select charities.

PBS, NPR and Nat Geo share non-profit origins, creating a potential halo effect with which corporate brands cannot compete.  Media brands that reframe the context of their audience relationship to reflect contributions to the greater good may find it positively impacts on profitability.

Detailed drill-down into the survey results also uncovers insights that confirm the hypothesis that the media industry underperforms in -- or at least is not being credited for -- delivering purposeful contributions to society.

The Purpose of Being Purpose-Led

A trending topic across a myriad of industries, purpose-driven leadership can transform how companies function and what they accomplish.  This unique approach's effects are seen in employee satisfaction, in customer loyalty and even in profit margins.  Cultivating a purpose-driven approach can prove surprisingly difficult, however, as many brands struggle to define their purpose and integrate it authentically into everyday operations. 

Simon Sinek says it best in one of the most viewed (and most compelling) TED Talks: "To have purpose means the things we do are of real value to others."  Path to Purpose author Bill Damon agrees; he refers to company-based purpose as "a long-term, forward-looking intention to accomplish aims that are both meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self."

Purpose-driven companies typically seek, above all else, to make a positive impact in a specific arena -- but the fruits of their efforts may ultimately extend well beyond their stated goal.  Research, for example, demonstrates that purpose-driven employees are more fulfilled on a day-to-day basis and therefore more likely to stick it out with a given company when the going gets tough.  A notable Deloitte Insights study reveals that mission-driven companies enjoy a 40 percent higher employee retention rate.

Purpose and profit are by no means exclusive.  Some of the world's most successful brands are driven by a clearly defined social or charitable purpose.  Rather than standing in the way of high profit margins, these companies' meaningful missions drive innovation, and with it, customer loyalty.  According to We First founder and bestselling author Simon Mainwaring, 91 percent of consumers would happily switch brands if they discovered that a similarly-priced product of equal quality supported a great cause.

The unique interplay of purpose and profit is best evidenced in the book Firms of Endearment, in which experts tracked the financial performance of several mission-led companies over the course of ten years.  These businesses, on average, enjoyed an annual return on equity of 13.1 percent -- well above the 9 percent return on equity seen in the S&P.  Likewise, Harvard Business School professors John Kotter and James Heskett demonstrated in Corporate Culture and Performance that purpose-driven companies outperformed other organizations by a factor of twelve in terms of stock price.

Developing and Communicating Purpose

A purpose-oriented approach should not be cultivated purely as a marketing initiative, and yet, it is critical that mission-led companies get the word out to employees and consumers.  It all begins with framing purpose as a discovery, rather than an analysis.  Purpose cannot be constructed from thin air; it is discerned through empathy and careful observation.  Authenticity is key, and it can be found in feedback from a variety of employees and consumers.

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