Kirsty runs the London-based, multi-award-winning PR agency Milk & Honey PR. She writes about ethical leadership.
I’ve never seen the point of fakes. Why would anyone want to buy a perfume, for example, that promises a luxurious aroma but then fails to deliver? No matter how clever the deception, most counterfeits give themselves away in the end because (appropriately in this case) there’s always something that doesn’t smell right.
There’s one argument that says this shouldn’t matter — a perfume is, after all, a perfume. I disagree: It’s dishonest. Somebody somewhere has hidden the truth.
Fakers aren’t confined to street markets. There are established brands that look like they’re authentic, talk like they’re authentic and even display awards that appear to prove they’re authentic. Delve down into the detail though, and you’ll get a feeling of shoddy substitution: tick-box corporate social responsibility programs, dubious environmental credentials and insincere employee engagement initiatives.
Again, some might argue that this shouldn’t make a difference: If the company supplies you with what you’ve asked for, then all is right with the world. Again, I disagree. Part of what I pay for as a consumer is authenticity — if that’s a scam, then I’ve been conned. Once you realize that it’s a phony, the business relationship is likely to sour faster than a $10 street market “Chanel” perfume.
Trust In Transparency
The difficulty with authenticity, ironically, is that it’s relatively easy to fake. As I’ve said, there are a host of tricks that the unscrupulous will employ to create the illusion. Luckily, due diligence can expose the charlatans.
Trust your instincts. If the story being sold is too rosy, then there’s probably a fair amount of manure at the bottom of it. Slick brochures boasting of a company’s achievements can, sometimes, be the fake label that hides a list of unpleasant ingredients.
The most impressive companies are honest and transparent. They will tell you how they work to make progress. They are proud of their achievements but clear on where they need to do better. They celebrate the successes but own the improvement.
Back in 2018, U.K. supermarket Iceland did this in spades. It adopted a film made by environmental organization Greenpeace as its Christmas TV ad. The ad told a story about the impact of palm oil production. While it was devastatingly effective, it never made it to broadcast due to the U.K.’s prohibition on broadcasting political ads. I’m not getting into the rights or wrongs of the issue here, but the ad showed a remarkable commitment to transparency.
Like many supermarkets, the company’s environmental record wasn’t perfect — and the ad exposed Iceland to criticism as much as anyone else. The company believed in the issue so strongly, however, that it made a very public commitment to remove palm oil from its own label products. Iceland used transparency to make itself become a better citizen. Whatever your opinion on the company’s actions, I think we can agree it was a dramatic departure from the more traditional snowmen, reindeer and Father Christmas advertising paradigm.
Good Business Is Good Business
A less extreme, but still exacting, action is to commit to initiatives such as Investors in People (IIP) and B Corporation. B Corp-certified businesses, for example, “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.” Becoming a B Corp isn’t a ticked box — it’s a lifelong commitment. You earn it during every minute of every day, across every client, project and employee.
Pride in carrying both IIP and B Corps logos is tempered by the understanding that failure to make the grade means that they will be taken away. It’s a responsibility, but one designed to make businesses better — a driver to continually improve and a commitment to total transparency. There is nowhere to hide.
We have just received IIP accreditation and published our first B Corp impact report, based on people, purpose and planet. A business considering the commitment should be under no illusions: This is a lot of work. The important thing to understand, though, is that this work isn’t additional — it’s intrinsic.
The irony is that the time, money and effort some companies put into faking good business practices could probably have delivered the genuine article. Just looking at a commitment to staff well-being, there’s strong evidence to suggest that happy workers are more productive. So why would anyone want to fake initiatives that seek to improve the employee experience? Why go to all that trouble, only to demotivate your human resource and fail to optimize business performance? The simple fact is that good business is good business.
Who’s Fooling Whom?
Staying true to the spirit of transparency, I have a confession to make: These are extremely selfish motivations. I want to sleep at night. I want to look my children (and possibly grandchildren) in the eyes. I want to feel welcome when I walk into the office. I want to make a difference. I want to make money. I want it all — but without transparency, I can’t guarantee any of them.
Transparency, and the mechanisms we use to enshrine it, build better businesses. In demonstrating our faith, we can ensure that our actions have a positive impact on those we work with, the places where we live, the clients we support and the much wider communities we seek to reach. The choice is ours: to create or counterfeit, to inspire or impersonate, to perfume or poison.
I’m not pretending it’s easy — or even straightforward. There are many moving parts in business and sometimes aspects that are beyond our control. We have to accept that there are difficult decisions and judgment calls that might not always be the right ones — but as long as we are content that we have acted with integrity and transparency, we have done the best that we can.
Personally, I believe that those organizations that try to fake it are only really fooling themselves.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
Go to Source
Author: Kirsty Leighton, Forbes Councils Member