Clearly in Insider Magazine - To B, or not to B? This is the question that should now be on every business leader’s lips

18 November 2021 | 6 min read | News
Clearly Team

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With COP26 focusing the world’s attention on the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, coupled with the growing realisation that to prosper in the post-pandemic economy businesses will need to balance purpose and profit, an important question many organisational leaders will be contemplating right now is: To B, or not to be a Certified B Corporation?

B Corps, as they are more commonly known, are organisations who take the concept of being a ‘responsible business’ to the next level. They operate in a way that considers how their operations impact not just the environment but also their people, supply chains, customers, and local communities. To become a Certified B Corporation is, well, it’s mighty hard.

We know because it has taken us a year to become one ourselves (see news announcement).

On 9th November 2021, 11 months and 11 days after making our initial submission, Clearly became only the seventh PR agency in the UK to achieve B Corps status in our seventh (and most successful) year, and one of just two PR firms in the South West to achieve accreditation.

But does it matter? Will our current and future clients even care? What will this mean in terms of how they perceive Clearly? How, if at all, will this benefit us as a business?

The answer to the latter question is that there is no answer. Some businesses may enter the certification process in the hopes that becoming a B Corp will benefit them financially, but they quickly fall by the wayside. To progress means moving beyond simply making often tentative claims about how their organisations help people and planet, and towards taking tangible, demonstrable action.

As for whether anyone will care about, pay any attention to, or how being a Certified B Corporation will affect people’s perception of us as a business, the answers to each of these questions is simply ‘yes’ – on all counts.

This is because the legacy of the pandemic is that clients and customers across the board are more concerned than ever before about what their product or service provider of choice stands for. It is a key purchasing decision as much as it is a potential deal breaker. Who they choose to do business with is not solely a cost consideration, it is a direct reflection on how they see themselves as a brand and wish to be perceived by their stakeholders.

Acts, not words

In 2020, Clearly PR conducted a survey of over 500 CEOs and Managing Directors to ascertain how the pandemic is likely to shape their communications and PR strategies. We also wanted to understand how business leaders will determine future supplier agreements.

The legacy of the pandemic is that clients and customers across the board are more concerned than ever before about what their product or service provider of choice stands for

Accordingly, three-fifths (61 per cent) stated they would move their business to a product or service provider that has a ‘clear social and environmental purpose’ from one that doesn’t. Moreover, 80 per cent they would enter into a transaction with them even if that purpose-led business was more expensive. Why?

Think of it like this. The number of organisations that have a clearly defined environmental and social governance policy (ESG) in place is, sorry to say, rather low. I have hope that COP26’s legacy will be that more businesses will take steps to reduce their emissions. In the meantime, a gap can be bridged between those who have an ESG policy and those who as yet do not.

Bridging the gap between those that do some and those that do more

Take Clearly’s ESG as a case in point – ‘The Pledge’, as we call it. We know that most businesses are well-intentioned, and that they share our desire to do the best we can for people and the planet. So, by partnering with a business that redistributes a percentage of each invoice (in our case, two per cent) to sustainability and social impact initiatives, clients recognise that they can still contribute and make an important difference.

This does two things. First, it strengthens existing buyer-seller relations and will likely tip the balance in favour of a purpose-led provider during the tendering process, over one that isn’t because of the perceived added value to be gained through the partnership.

And second, it acts as a catalyst for change within organisations – a spark that prompts a rethink of their own sustainability efforts and behaviours to date, and how they can improve on these moving forward. This in turn has the potential to influence change within their own supply chains too; thereby, creating a domino effect.

Yes, we will be promoting our accreditation like crazy over the next few weeks, and we will invariably court criticism from those who see this as nothing more than an exercise in marketing or a vain attempt to gain applause and get people thinking about how ‘good’ we are as a business. That really is not what this is all about at all.

80 per cent of UK business leaders say they would enter into a transaction with an organisation that is purpose-led over one that isn’t even if said business was more expensive

We are good, we employ wonderful and generous people, and we work with some amazing clients. We have also been extremely poor at communicating this (ironic given the nature of business we are in) – call it being humble or unpretentious. Self-adulation really is not our thing.

Rather, we want stakeholders to consider if they really are doing all they can to reduce their impact on the environment and support those in our society who need it most. And if us becoming a Certified B Corporation is the catalyst that enables this to happen and provides that extra bit of credibility to speak on these matters, then so be it.

And that’s what good PR is all about – shaping perceptions, encouraging behavioural changes, and enabling businesses to both influence their audiences and achieve impact at an organisational, environmental, and societal level.

If you need guidance on developing your post-pandemic communications strategy, get in touch.

This article was published by Clearly in the November 2021 issue of South West Business Insider magazine.