How Purpose-Driven Organizations Are Redefining Their Roles in Society

By Dâna Barakat, VP, Marketing & Communications, New York Interconnect (NYI)

“Purpose” might have reached buzzword status in marketing circles over the past couple of years, but that’s only because the trials and tribulations sparked by the pandemic have made it abundantly clear that the role of brands in society today is about much more than simply selling products and services to consumers. It’s about bringing tangible value to the world and improving the lives of the stakeholders that surround an organization—customers, employees and communities alike.

Here at New York Interconnect, we believe deeply in the power of brands to change the world for the better. And a big part of that change starts with becoming purpose-driven.

“Purpose” as a business concept isn’t new. Organizational leaders have historically spent countless hours pondering the “why” behind their companies’ existences and exactly what their relationship is to their customers. Now, these ponderings have taken on a new urgency, particularly as younger generations continue to align their brand loyalty with – and direct their spending toward- organizations that outwardly reflect their own personal values. As BlackRock’s Larry Fink so astutely observed, “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose—in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.”

Becoming purpose-driven means companies need to not only have a clear understanding of what they stand for, but also a willingness to take a stand—whether it’s through powerful campaigns or meaningful initiatives. Ultimately, it’s organizational actions, not just words, that humanize businesses today.

I had the pleasure of discussing the operationalizing of purpose at Advertising Week New York last month during the panel “How Purpose-Driven Organizations are Setting a New Standard.” The panel’s discussion focused on the importance of operating with purpose, as well as strategies organizations can use to integrate purpose into their mission.

So what does it take to operationalize purpose? What do businesses need to consider when it comes to formulating and executing purpose-driven initiatives, and how can they ensure they remain authentic? Here are a few key qualities and approaches shared by the organizations that are successfully doing so:

Holistic: As Angela Kosniewski, Managing Director of 180NY, noted in our discussion, “Purpose has to be holistic. It can’t just be marketing or HR.” Indeed, pPurpose can’t be a flash in the pan, nor can it be siloed within an organization. The purpose of an organization needs to be understood and embraced by company leaders and employees alike. In fact, sometimes the most effective purpose-driven transformations start with employees and move on to inspire leadership to action.

Authentic: Organizations can’t simply embrace a cause because it seems particularly noble or popular in a given moment. As Alexandra Cameron, SVP Unified Partnerships at iHeart Media, noted in our conversation, aA company’s purpose needs to connect back to its business in some way—to its core values and to the audiences it serves. “Is it an initiative or is it actually changing the culture of your organization?” she asks. “What is inherent in your company that connects back to your purpose?”

Symbiotic: Likewise, a company’s purpose needs to be self-sustaining. Purpose shouldn’t be driven by the pursuit of profit. But, if a company is truly aligning its purpose to the needs of its audience and community, then purpose shouldn’t just be a cost center either. Purpose should be indivisibly woven throughout a company’s business and operating model in a way that fuels a healthy bottom line, thereby enabling the organization to pour more into achieving its purpose over time.

I had the pleasure of discussing these key qualities of purpose-driven organizations at Advertising Week New York last month during the panel “How Purpose-Driven Organizations are Setting a New Standard.” The panel’s discussion focused on the importance of operating with purpose, as well as strategies organizations can use to integrate purpose into their mission.

As Karina Dobarro, EVP, Managing Partner, Multicultural & International Business Solutions at Horizon Media, noted on our panel, “The social reckoning of 2020 really brought to the forefront the inequity of our society, but also of our ad industry.” For Karina’s organization, that reckoning and recognition led to real change in the development of Project Embrace, which aims to improve inclusion and diversity in the media-buying process.

These types of programs serve as inspiring testaments to the power of putting purpose at the heart of your organization, and I’m looking forward to seeing our industry move forward into this purpose-driven future together.

I’d like to again thank the business leaders and change-makers who joined me on stage: Angela Kosniewski, Managing Director of 180NY; Karina Dobarro, EVP, Managing Partner, Multicultural & International Business Solutions, Horizon Media; and Alexandra Cameron, SVP Unified Partnerships, iHeart Media. Thanks for an enlightening conversation! If you’d like to view the entire panel session, check it out here.

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