I went into the twitter-sphere this week to question the claimed purpose of a very large Telcomms company. Let’s call them Megaphone. It was in response to a nauseating tweet from the head of their ad agency who was telling the world how proud he was of his client’s commitment to purpose. I’m a customer of Megaphone and it seems to me their only purpose is to make as much money as they can with as little regard for customers as possible. I’ve also had dealings with them in the past from the agency side and they were brutes. I suppose leopards can change their spots and maybe they’re trying. I’ve just visited their web site where sure enough you find their purpose front and centre and it reads very well. It talks about connectivity and the social good it can do and I admit, it struck a chord with me. Access to affordable mobile data can level the playing field for the poorest, it can enable people to start and grow their small businesses, it can promote inclusiveness. But do I believe that is the purpose of Megaphone? Do I think the ad agency CEO is really proud of them for this? No, I don’t. I think they’ve jumped on the purpose bandwagon and somebody has told them this is the kind of purpose that will sound great. It could well be someone in the ad agency and they’re licking their lips at the prospect of how much money Megaphone will spend telling people about their higher purpose. The CEO’s tweet was promoting a conference they were hosting about “Purpose” and I guess the CEO thinks the Megaphone case study will be a crowd puller and the ad agency will be seen as thought leaders in the purpose game. Because make no mistake, purpose is hot. It was hot before Covid, it’s even hotter now – hell, even I’ve jumped on the bandwagon (see my article on Neo-naked Economics, I’m all over it).
If I’m wrong then I apologise both to Megaphone (who you can probably figure out) and the CEO of their ad agency (which won’t be much harder). But here’s why I don’t think I am.
Purpose has to be 100% authentic, it really has to be the reason you do everything you do. It has to guide your every decision and action. If it does, you don’t need to tell anyone, it’s obvious. I was talking to the CEO of one of the world’s largest multi-nationals recently, a business with a very good record in sustainability and purpose, and he made the point that you have to be driven by this for years before you earn the right talk about it. I suspect you never brag about it unless of course you are into virtue-signalling.
Let me put it another way. Do you love your partner? Is this because you thought about it and decided you needed to love someone so you gave some further thought as to the kind of person that should be? Having made your choice have you communicated that to anyone? Have you pitched up at a meeting or a party and said to people, “You need to know I love my partner and here’s why”. Have you felt the need to attend a conference on Love to use your love of your partner as a case study? Does your partner believe you love them a) because you tell them and everyone you meet or b) because of the way you consistently treat them even when no-one is looking?
You have a purpose, you don’t get a purpose. And that purpose is the compass by which you navigate, it’s how you run the business, not the punchline in a communication strategy. It’s fine to have a purpose that is primarily about making superior shareholder returns but if it is, there’s no point in pretending otherwise.