If I was given the opportunity to be at the helm of the media sector for a day, I would aim to change the way the industry considers social responsibility.
We find ourselves faced with a new wave of audience – one that is empowered and liberated to critique; not only the content we produce, but the way in which we produce that content in relation to our values. Media brands can no longer be just a face – we are required to have a strong moral compass and DNA to inspire and capture the imagination and trust of society.
It’s no secret that the media sector aims to drive revenue and maximise profitability, whether it’s through advertising or commercial partnerships. However, if a brand or media outlet should fully commit to a social responsibility strategy, then its wider consideration should be "to achieve the fragile balance between profit, social impact, and a moral obligation… to enhance the lives of our employees and the communities we serve" as Howard Schultz (the executive chairman of Starbucks) told The New York Times.
Great in theory - but what does this actually mean?
The term "social responsibility" usually results in shudders across the floor and angst amongst colleagues (think "organised fun" and under prepared charity events), but I don’t believe it needs to be this way.
My interpretation of social responsibility is creating a culture to inspire people, to understand the ethos of their company and create a culture where they want to give back to their communities, be it broad topics affecting society as a whole or to small local initiatives. No mean feat, I’m sure.
As Wavemaker’s Crissy Sealy discussed in a previous article, it is estimated that 50% of the working population will be made up of millennials globally by 2020. Engaging with them on the issues that really matter is the key to unlocking their potential and creating high performing teams with a social conscience.
It is equally as important to demonstrate a sense of responsibility for employees as it is to audiences. At present, it’s a struggle for companies with disengaged employees; it often results in lower productivity, lower profitability and a lack of loyalty, according to studies by Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization.
Initiatives and coaching around areas like mental wellbeing and understanding the importance of emotional intelligence are amongst those most critical for this coming generation and should not be underestimated or ignored. I believe the same rigour and fervent research should be applied in developing, communicating and executing these initiatives in the workplace, as if responding to a client brief.
Wider socio-economic challenges
Upon winning the hearts and minds of its employees, the role of the media industry is to understand the wider socio-economic challenges facing its audiences. Undoubtedly, leaders and senior management play a large part in shaping and driving the social responsibility strategy on these broader issues and having the right platform to discuss and respond to such changes is paramount.
For example, the imminent restrictions on Chinese recycling imports of cardboard and plastic will inevitably impact many sectors in the UK including media. This poses as the perfect scenario to establish a clear and focused response on how to tackle the problem, reflecting the moral obligations of the company.
The Responsible Media Forum plays host to some 25 leading media companies to identify trends and learn from each other and run collaborative projects on key issues in the fast-paced media sector. Now is the time for companies to really start giving back.
A strong social responsibility strategy would not only result in a highly engaged and inspired workforce, the business impact can build trust and drive revenue. Studies found that up to 87% of people surveyed would buy a product because a company advocated for an issue or cause they cared about. Inversely, more than 66% would refuse to buy the product upon learning that the company supported an issue contrary to their own beliefs.
Examples of this happen frequently in our industry – in December 2017, renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber was accused on a number of occasions of sexual harassment. Upon hearing of these charges, many media heavyweights immediately withdrew all commissions and refused to work with the photographer, despite having a long-term relationship with him previously.
To continue an association would have been socially irresponsible, as undoubtedly our audiences have the power to make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable.
The power of association is huge and our audiences demand transparency from those creating the content they engage with. The Mind Media Awards celebrates socially-aware content with honest, accurate and sensitive portrayals of mental health in media. Having the ability to understand the delicate nature of this demonstrates emotional maturity, and ultimately taps into our increasingly emotionally intelligent audiences.
Underestimating the importance of this is grave, and those who are successful in doing it right are applauded for the result. In my opinion, a greater education and proactivity is needed in handling these issues to help place them at the forefront of relevant, engaging content with a social conscience.
Ultimately, the dynamic world of media has a tall order in remaining firmly in the "socially responsible" camp. We owe it to the future workforce of tomorrow to lay the foundations now in matters close to their heart, to lead bold and courageous initiatives and ultimately to show our audiences the pride and morals we uphold when creating our fantastic content.