The following is a conversation between Carol Cone, Founder and CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: For some 40 years, social impact pioneer Carol Cone, the founder and CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, has helped companies discover their purpose beyond profit. Now, it’s an issue that everyone understands the importance of, and Carol’s expertise and know-how about it are invaluable. And she is here with us now to share some of her insights.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Carol!
Carol: I’m thrilled to be here, Denver. And I know how far back you go, and so when you worked on the Statue of Liberty restoration project, that kind of kicked all of this off. So, it’s an honor to be chatting with you today.
Denver: It’s mutual. I assure you of that because, you know, way back then, the field of social impact barely existed. As a matter of fact, the two of us were probably as lonely as the Maytag repairman, which is a reference I’m sure is going to be lost on many of our younger listeners. But how did you get started in this field, Carol? What got you involved?
Carol: I grew up during the turbulent ’60s, and in the early ’70s, I’m in college. I went to an activist university, Brandeis. We’re taking over buildings. I’m not burning any, but I did walk… march on Washington. And I was also just old enough when President Kennedy was shot, and then I was older when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war was piped into our living rooms every night. And I had a liberal family, so you could not help but have this imprint on you. And I also loved branding, and I’m also a third-generation entrepreneur.
Denver: There you go!
Carol: So when I decided at the age of 30 to start my own firm, and I was up in Boston and I said, “I can do it different and better!” What did I know? But having this entrepreneurial blood, I created, it was Cone Communications at the time, and it was traditional marketing and communications until 1983. Bruce Katz, who was the CEO of this little, tiny company called Rockport, he came to me and said, “I want to build my company in a different way.”
Long story short, the shoes were way ahead of their time. They were walking shoes. They had a Nike inner and a street shoe outer. It took me over a year because nobody liked them. They were way ahead of their time. But I then looked at their functionality — walking. And in my mind, I said, in my gut, “I’m going to connect you to walking for health and fitness, and we will codify this.”
And so, we had a guy walk around the country, and he talked to kids and he said, “Don’t smoke; eat properly, and walk.” We had a doctor who had a physical fitness facility at a university. And we codified it. And Rockport grew from nowhere to about $150 million. Walking became a billion-dollar category at retail. And all of a sudden, I was doing something which was giving meaning to the company and not leading with selling the shoe, but leading with a meaning — walking for health and fitness. And that’s what started it.
Denver: That’s where it started. And then they were sold to Reebok, correct?
Carol: Yes. So, you have good history. They were sold to Reebok. It was my sad day when the CEO of Rockport, there was a big walk in Boston, and he says, “I got to talk to you,” and I went, “Oh my God.” For eight miles, we’re walking and talking and walking and talking. And they were going to go public, and his health was… he was having such anxiety about it. And so, I put my head in neutral and I said, ” I think you need to sell,” and he did, and then Reebok became our next client. And we did Reebok and the Amnesty world tour and the Reebok Human Rights Awards. And then we started seeing consistencies in the way we approached finding the insight to develop the big creative idea and then make it built to last.
Companies, in doing social purpose, to make it lasting, they have to integrate the business needs as well as a societal need, and find something that’s authentic.
Denver: I know one of the favorite campaigns you’ve ever worked on has been Aflac with the Aflac Duck, and that is such a wonderful story. Share it with us.
Carol: Companies, in doing social purpose, to make it lasting, they have to integrate the business needs as well as a societal need, and find something that’s authentic.
And actually, I just want to tell your listeners, I’ve been working for months on an essay about authenticity and purpose, and it’s going to be coming out the end of February.
Carol: Sustainable Brands is going to launch it. And so it’s got 7 to 10 really key points.
So, going back to Aflac, their CMO contacted us and said, “Look. We have this $20 billion asset, the Aflac Duck. Aflac, right? It sounds like a duck, and then we also have our core social impact, which is giving to pediatric cancer.” The company started as a cancer product, and they had donated over $125 million to pediatric cancer, but they’re very humble, and so nobody knew about it. And the CMO said, “Hey. We need to be meaningful to our sales reps, to our employees, to the employees that utilize Aflac insurance and supplemental insurance. Carol, do your magic.”
My superpower is connection-making. So, actually, I was sitting at a lunch with a friend of mine, a guy named Aaron Horowitz. He’s the CEO of Sproutel, and they make social robots for kids with illness. He had made Jerry the Bear for diabetes. And he said, Hey, Carol. What are you up to?” and I went, “Well, we’re just about to start with Aflac.” And then boom! We had Sproutel’s genius, Aflac Duck. Boom! And my idea, in my mind —
Denver: You have a magic moment.
Carol: — create a social robot. And here he is.
Denver: Oh, wow!
Carol: I’m going to wake him up, but he looks like a toy, and he’s not. Let’s see if he’s going to say something. Ducky, come on, say Hi. Anyway, Sproutel took a year interviewing kids and doctors, kids as young as three, “What do you need going through a thousand days of cancer treatments?” Because that was the core insight. Children are alone. They’re sick. They’re fearful. Every routine is upended. The one thing they have they can control is play.
And so, he came up with this duck, and it has three motors, four patents pending, and Aflac’s donating it. They donate it to the hospital because it’s part of a regimen of the child life specialists working with the child going through cancer. And it purrs. It has a heartbeat. It has emotions. You put an emoji here….
Denver: That’s fabulous!
Carol: The child will tap it and it says, “How do you feel?” And the child is very scared. And so, if they feel green, like not… the duck will quack, “quack, quack.” Or if it’s happy and silly, “quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.” So big hit. We launched it at CES, and we entered the Tech for Better World Awards with all sorts of — 250 other competitors. We won.
Denver: I can imagine.
Carol: It got 2 billion impressions in four days, and it was in Time Magazine, one of their best inventions. It won at Cannes, South by Southwest SXSW, but the most important thing, there’s 10,000 already in the arms of kids.
Denver: That’s fantastic.
Carol: So, I’m going to make my plug here now for your listeners, which is: I want to do this for autism. Because children who are in the middle of the spectrum — if they’re way on the end, you can’t reach them — but we believe, working with Sproutel and working with experts, that we could create a social robot truly that could help the children with communications. And when you do something like this, and there’s such an impact, you want to do more.
So, if any of your listeners… we don’t have a commercial connection to autism. It’s more philanthropy. So, if any of your listeners — high-net-worth individuals, family offices — if they are interested in autism, I’m your gal. Connect with me, carolconeonpurpose.com, and let’s talk.
Denver: Wow! That’s one of the most worthwhile pitches I’ve ever had on the show. So let’s see if something comes from that.
Let me talk to you about a company that I really honestly had held in low regard, and my mind has changed about it over the course of the last couple of decades. And that would be Walmart. They were not my favorite company in the 1990s. But what happened that we think… they still have their headaches here or there, but we do think about them differently in terms of their social responsibility.
Carol: Well, you know what? I’m glad you said that because when I was the Cone of Cone — before I sold to Omnicom, and then I went to Edelman, and now, I’m back on my own — we did research every year, and we asked citizens: who comes to mind? And the number one that came to mind, and this is back in the ’90s, late ’90s, was Walmart. And it was because they were doing ads… because companies, you didn’t have the internet, so you had to really put out communication.
So, I called up Walmart cold, and I just told them about this, and they invited me down to Bentonville. So I’ve been down to Bentonville a number of times. We actually did a little work for the Walmart Foundation. But to your point, and here’s the tipping point, which I’m sure your listeners probably don’t know unless they really studied this. After Katrina, there was a picture in the New York Times, and it was all the Walmart trucks end-to-end, end-to-end, end-to-end. Because what are they great at? They’re great at logistics.
Denver: That’s exactly right. Yes.
Carol: They’re like the greatest logistics company. And so, they were ready to go right back into New Orleans, which was just a horrible, horrible… the inequities in society there were horrible. And I actually did a pro bono project called Making Change for Katrina to build Habitat houses, but that’s a story for another day.
So Lee Scott at the time, they have been skewered in the press because the unions were against them, and Walmart didn’t respond. And finally, Lee Scott turned to his team, so the story goes, and said, “I want to be like that when they got the good press every day.” And that was like the tipping point of what they were really going to do. And it’s hard. They’re so big, so if they only changed their policies, it has millions and millions of repercussions. But they’re getting a lot better.
And one of the things they’ve done is they’ve used their scale for good. So one of the things they did probably in the aughts where they were really trying to embed sustainability in their supply chain. And so they came up with a process that if you were going to sell on their shelves, you had to have your own sustainability analysis. And it made… I remember I was at BSR, Business for Social Responsibility Conference… there’s 300 people in the room. Everybody’s like, “How are we going to do this?” et cetera. But, ultimately, they used their scale for good because they shifted how companies looked at their supply chains. And then, ultimately, they offloaded that, I think, to the University of Arkansas where it had its own not-for-profit, but they truly used their scale for good.
Denver: They looked at the entire ecosystem, and they started to trend where other companies began to say “It’s beyond our four walls.” We need to be a force externally as well.
Denver: We associate purpose-driven organizations with consumer-facing organizations. Essentially, you look at all these studies that 82% of consumers would buy a product, but you know what? You’ve done a lot of extensive research on B2Bs, business-to-business companies. Tell us what’s happening over there.
Carol: Really pleased that you asked that question. When I started doing the work in the ’80s, I’d look at… you and me, right? We’d have dinner for four of us, and everybody thought we were crazy.
Eighty-six percent said they have a purpose, a reason for being, what is their why… We asked layers and layers of questions because there was a huge chasm to how they executed. Only 24% really embedded purpose into their culture, their operations, their engagement with society. And so that was the paradox, and that’s a gaping hole.
Denver: Yes. Still do in my case.
Carol: No, not at all. So I’m very into research. I did the first piece of cause research in 1993 with Roper. I modeled it after the Greengage report, which truly was the first extensive piece of research that segmented different types of green-greens and green-browns and green-blues, how people’s attitudes work towards sustainability. And I looked at that and I said, “I want to do that for us and for cause.”
So I did it with Roper. I co-branded and called it the Cone/Roper report. We introduced it in 1993. And I have to give a shout-out to Stuart Elliott who was the advertising columnist at the New York Times. He’s on his own now. We were just emailing each other the other day. I love the man. He was skeptical, but he ran a huge story on it. And that became the benchmark for how companies engage with social issues.
I knew to make this strategic and embrace purpose… at the time it was called cause marketing. We called it cause branding, then CSR, lots of names, but it’s a company’s authentic engagement in society to grow the business and impact the social issue. So I’ve done 30 pieces of research. And so, the last couple of years, I said, “What’s new? Where do we have to educate?” And I looked at the B2B world, and I started seeing that business-to-business is embracing social purpose, but truly, the most important thing is their recruiting and retention, and also then for their partners.
And so, we approached two of my faves: the ANA because they do a lot of things, the Association of National Advertisers; and the Harris Poll. Because I couldn’t afford to do this all on my own. I’m a smaller company. But the three of us came together to do this piece of research. We did it with about over 300 directors of all sorts of different verticals — everything from financial services to healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and such. And we really were shocked by the findings, which is why we call it the “B2B Purpose Paradox,” because we thought 20% have a purpose. No. Eighty-six percent said they have a purpose, a reason for being, what is their why. Wow! That was very, very surprising. Yet, thank God we — because I love research —
Denver: I can tell.
Carol: We asked layers and layers of questions because there was a huge chasm to how they executed. Only 24% really embedded purpose into their culture, their operations, their engagement with society. And so that was the paradox, and that’s a gaping hole. Our consultant work is always with the middle. It’s not with the leaders because the leaders get it, and they get it and they do wonderful work. It’s taking what the leaders have learned and then taking it to the middle, companies that are just realizing they have to do this.
Employees are the engine of any organization.
Denver: It was interesting what you said a moment ago about recruitment and retention because many people think about cause marketing or brand marketing or purpose-driven as a way to curry favor and authenticity and purpose with consumers. But talk about the importance of these initiatives with employees.
Carol: In my authenticity essay coming out later this month, employees are the engine of any organization, especially now. And when we get to a post-pandemic world, we can work almost anywhere, so employees are going to become really even more free agents looking for what a company stands for and its values and action, and I want to be associated with that organization. So I have been preaching employees for over two decades, and I was a voice in the wilderness. I think, finally, you’ve got other organizations recognizing that you want the best employees. You need to find their potential.
Unilever did some amazing work where they, in the beginning — because Unilever is one of my best, my faves, in terms of corporate responsibility. It’s baked into their business. They started with 200 of their leaders really understanding their personal purpose and then tying it to the business. Now, 10 years later, Alan Jope, the new CEO, they are analyzing, as a project of 165,000 employees: What’s their personal purpose and how do they tie it to their work? And when you do that, you unleash amazing potential and energy, and “Oh, that’s not a roadblock. I’m going to get around it,” and empathy and collaboration. And the challenges we have certainly in a post-COVID world… we’re not going back to what we were.
Denver: No. Never.
Carol: And so, it’s a green world, and it’s a world of : We have to solve the inequities in health and economics, and just living, and all sorts of challenges. But they’re exciting challenges.
Denver: For sure. And when you can get those company values linked to those employee values, that kind of alignment really has unlimited potential.
Carol: It does. Very good. And you know what? Unilever, because of really the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, they are the number one most searched company on LinkedIn for CPG in 50 countries. That was one of the measurement goals that proved that they truly were authentically following a purpose and working to develop purposeful brands.
Denver: Talk a little bit about evolving purpose that has happened with some of the companies that you’ve worked with or you have observed during this time of the pandemic and COVID-19, and how some of them have responded.
Carol: The ones that responded, first of all, the purposeful ones understood employees first, and they had to protect their employees. They had to either let them work from home or give them PPE and re-jigger the operation so that they could perform. And there’s some great stories.
P&G, another incredible company now that embraces purpose. Marc Pritchard, who’s their global brand leader, he says that, “Our consumers demand this of us. We sell 5 billion things a day that are P&G, and so we need to be purposeful.” Well, they had so many community relationships with NGOs around the globe. They had over 200, so they immediately could pivot and start taking their factory and their operations to making PPE or face masks or other things like that. So that was one of the things that companies did.
The other thing is that the CEOs realize this is a scary time. So they are much more forceful leaders, and they were utilizing video, and it was either daily or weekly communicating to their employees, “This is where we’re going.”
There’s a great little company that nobody knows about called Lineage Logistics, and they’re about almost $2 billion. They’re a cold storage company. So what does that mean? That means the food that comes out of the field to get to your fork — so it gets some manufacturing, then it goes to the grocery store — they handle in their cold refrigeration storage facilities. One-third of the US food system. Their purpose is basically, if you narrow it down, to feed the world.
And so they did two things. One, their CEO immediately communicated to their employees that “We’re going to get through this,” and “We’re essential workers. We have to keep the food supply moving forward.” The second thing, though, is that they thought really big, and they did something, they practiced something that I labeled “smart generosity.” And what they did is that they said, “Look, what’s the problem? Oh my God, these kids, they’re not going to school. They’re not getting their meals,” et cetera. They created the 100 Million Meal Project and invited their supply chain and their partners and their customers to come into their system to supply these… and that’s a huge number. That’s not 10 million meals; it’s 100 million. So again, practicing smart generosity.
So the companies that were purposeful understood employees first, take your core competencies, create PPE, or provide food or other things, and then over-over-communicate.
Boards are absolutely paying attention because a company that pays attention to its ESG — environmental, societal, and governance — areas is a better-run company. It is better in innovation. It’s better in risk prevention.
Denver: Carol, you’ve mentioned CEOs. I’d be curious — are you seeing any difference with governing boards? Are they stepping up and becoming more active as it relates to purpose?
Carol: Governing boards or government.
Denver: Boards, board of directors
Carol: Oh, boards of directors. Actually, yes. It’s interesting. I can’t name the client, but I have a lovely client. And the CEO realized during the pandemic, they were getting a windfall because of their business, and so they decided to create a fund to help underserved populations. So they created a plan, and the board member said, “But how are we going to really execute it? I want to see more.”
And so I believe that boards… and of course, the work that JUST Capital is doing, and there’s a new metrics coming out of Davos where 61 companies signed on to ESG analysis. There’s a lot of metrics happening. There are too many going, too many diverse directions. And so, but boards are absolutely paying attention because a company that pays attention to its ESG — environmental, societal, and governance — areas is a better-run company. It is better in innovation. It’s better in risk prevention, and such.
Denver: As we do move from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism, I love that phrase you just coined — smart generosity.
Carol: Thank you!
Denver: Give us some of the elements of smart generosity and maybe a couple of the practitioners that you would like to cite.
Carol: I coined it in writing a blog I think for Fast Company while responding to COVID. Smart generosity is looking at your core competencies and then utilizing them to respond to a disaster or a pandemic.
AB InBev — and they did this even before the pandemic; I think they did this with various hurricanes and such — instead of making more beer, they started putting water in their system, and put water in cans to get water to people who didn’t have water. So AB InBev, again, they have an amazing manifesto of… because there are 500 different brands around the globe. There’s only three global brands in AB InBev, and one is Budweiser, and they sell 41 million Buds a day.
So I think smart generosity, I coined for the pandemic, but I would say AB InBev, for example, in terms of again, scale, so what they did is that they had committed to 100% purchased clean energy to make their beer cans, and they put the bug on their cans. They really said, “We’re going to do this,” and that’s a huge amount of manufacturing and energy use. And so, again, is it smart generosity? I think they are utilizing their scale for good, so you might put that under that umbrella.
Denver: You’re also familiar with the other side of the ledger and that is non-profit organizations. And you wrote a book a number of years ago called Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding. So, let’s get into their shoes for a moment. They’re looking at what’s happening with these companies, this increased emphasis and focus on those companies being purpose-driven. What advice would you have for nonprofits to partner with these organizations?
Carol: OK. Well, I wrote the book — and I wrote it with three other authors — because companies needed great not-for-profits for partners, but not-for-profits especially. ..We wrote it in 2008, 2009. It came out in 2010. And it was a Wiley book, and it’s still available.
Denver: I read it.
Carol: Well, thank you. And basically, we felt that to be a great partner, you needed to understand what was demanded of you because not-for-profit leads with their passion and their mission, and a corporation is a lot less so; a little bit more about their purpose now, but in those days it was truly about the bottom line. The most important part of that book is Chapter seven. And Chapter seven is truly making the partnership work because I’ve seen great partnerships, and I’ve seen really bad partnerships. And so I believe the most important thing is sharing this very simple process. It’s called “Your goals, My goals, and Shared goals.”
And basically, it’s going through it before you do any work; before you sign the contract. It’s like: ask the partner, the company, “What are your goals to be in a relationship with me?” And the not-for-profit really has to be candid about What are our goals to be in a relationship with you? And then you find the overlap. And that is where the magic happens. The conflagration happens when you don’t do this; when the corporation has got its goals and its language, and the not-for-profit has its. When you find shared goals, that is the road to success into a great partnership.
Denver: And when you don’t do it, you’re hoping that things will work out. And when you hope that things work out, they never do. I have also found, too, sometimes knowing what your partner is capable of and what they can do is really important. You have to know what their capacity is.
Carol: As well as having a language and a candor where if it’s not working, bring it up early, and try and fix it, and pivot. And what I find, unfortunately, is that not-for-profits, they’re very scared and, again, it’s a different language. And they go, “Oh my God. It’s not working. What are we going to do?” And they kind of get frozen. And I think that it’s the sharing and building the trust.
We have a great story in terms of: we took our process in 2003, and we were chased by the American Heart Association. And it’s a great story. There’s actually a case at the Harvard Business School. The CEO of American Heart at the time was Cass Wheeler, and he had this idea, it was about in 2000, called “the Passion Project.” He recognized there’s this thing about cause marketing and companies embracing causes and not-for-profits, and he realized that the American Heart Association was about men in white coats, and women and heart disease weren’t even talked about. They didn’t do research on women’s hearts. And so, he turned to Kathy and he said, “Kathy, come up with a solution.” So she knows what we’re doing, so she calls me three times. And I go, “No, no, and no.” Politely, of course.
Denver: Of course.
Carol: And then finally, she said, “I’m getting on a plane, I’m coming to Boston, and I’m going to talk to you.” And that was the beginning of an amazing relationship. I’d like to say I was a genius; I wasn’t. There’s a woman named Kristian Darigan at the time — before she got married — Meranda. She’s now back with me again, love her to death. It was her genius that really created “Go Red.” We created Go Red for women, which has saved — God — thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives. Raised over, I think, $800 million at this point. And truly, women and heart disease is a very different disease— the symptoms and things like that. Then we created the Alliance for a Healthier Generation with the Clinton Foundation at the time, and then Power To End Stroke, and then Start! which was for the general market.
So it was wonderful. We codified how you do these. You create your own cause brand for not-for-profit. And then, we went on to do that with others. When I was at Edelman, we redeveloped the Girl Scouts and created an initiative called To Get Her There, which was gender equity by 2025. We did Lung Force for the American Lung Association. And we’re working now– with Carol Cone ON PURPOSE– with a lot of not-for-profits who are just… they understand they need to be sharper brands, greater engagement, thought leadership, and such. So it’s nice to work on both sides of the aisle, so to speak.
Denver: And it’s a great way to understand it, too. You know what I mean? You’re talking about empathy. When you’re only on one side of the aisle, you don’t know where they’re coming from.
And I’ve also seen at least in the last year or so, a little bit of the changing of the power dynamic because as companies need to have good partners, there’s a little bit more equity. It’s not completely there, but it’s a little bit like a foundation and a nonprofit. I think across all these different arenas, we’re seeing a more even playing field. And I think that’s going to be one of the really good things to come out of this
Carol: Collaboration is very powerful. If you start out with Your goals, My goals Shared goals, and these are the capabilities that we have, and we could start smaller and then grow it. Collaboration is the coin of the realm now. Every day, you’re seeing amazing collaborations.
I saw one the other day. I can’t name the group, but it’s about microplastics, which is a huge problem and… in the fashion industry and clothing! … And how they’re going to take microplastics out of that system. It was a group of many, many different organizations coming together. Same thing with the cup issue. We represent a Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks in our history. All those disposable cups and they could not come up with a solution to keep it hot and to make it disposable. And all these companies had to come together to figure out how to really come up with a manufacturing solution.
Denver: That’s where systems change is taking place. You can’t do it one organization at a time.
Well, speaking about collaboration, tell us about the Purpose Collaborative.
Carol: So when I left Edelman — and it was wonderful because I love working with Richard, he’s got an amazing brain — they had 60 offices around the world, and I had a lot of access to talent. When I left and restarted being an entrepreneur again, which I think that is my core, yes.
Denver: You don’t consider yourself a fourth-generation entrepreneur now that you’re back to doing it again. Do you count for two generations?
Carol: I’m whatever. I’m a Gemini. I can do that. So I wanted to have a larger group and a larger base quickly. I didn’t have $2 million, $5 million of investment in me. I had me. So I called a bunch of my friends and I said, “I have this vision, and it’s a flat organization, and we can be bespoke teams for various clients.” And I had 10 that immediately said, “Sign me up.”
I thought that would only be my only business model, but what I realized is I needed to have a consulting firm at the center. So that’s Carol Cone ON PURPOSE. And there’s six of us right now. It’s partners. It’s very flat. Very senior clients. Love it. We have much more demand than we can do the work, so we get to pick and choose great clients.
But we expand or contract with the Purpose Collaborative. And we have now 42 different companies. We just added one that does apps for social good.
Denver: Well, that’s great.
Carol: A friend of mine does, has a roll-up in Latin America, so he has over 400 people in Miami and Mexico and all over Latin America. And we have Canada. We have Europe. We have this Purpose and Sport, Purpose and Fundraising. So tremendous video capabilities for storytelling. So we create great teams.
Denver: Let me close with that. You have watched the evolution of these purpose-driven campaigns, from that first cause marketing campaign to embedding purpose into core operations of a company and so much more. What do you see coming next, Carol, in this field?
Carol: Everybody asks me that, and actually I’m doing a speech for sustainable brands on the evolution of purpose-driven leadership on February 23. The future is looking at social issues as part of : Where is the business competency?
For example, we work with Quest Diagnostics, and they give tests, whether directly or not, to one-third of the population in the US. They have an initiative called Quest for Health Equity, where they’re going to take their testing capability to underserved markets all across the country. And they’re not getting paid to do it, but they recognize that there are huge health inequities. And so, they’re going to take their core competency, and they’re going to partner with the NAACP or Choose Healthy Life or other groups, HBCUs — Historically Black Colleges and Universities — to truly provide testing, but not just testing, health information because there’s a huge gap in terms of underserved, in terms of access to health, and understanding and knowing that if you had tests for diabetes, if you had test for high blood pressure, that you could save lives. So it’s closing the gap.
So is that related to their business? Absolutely. Do they have a foundation to help it get funded? Absolutely. Are they also part of the business funding? Absolutely. So it’s looking at your core competencies and saying, “What can we do in a social issue that makes sense to our business as well as society? And they’re also using collaboration. So they’re not just doing it themselves. They do it with the NAACP because they are a trusted, known entity in the local community.
I saw another great collaboration with Centene. Centene B2B is like the largest managed care insurance company for underserved again, and they’re an over $100 billion dollar firm. They’re going to partner with Samsung to provide telehealth to, again, underserved as well as in rural communities. So in cities and communities. Again, Centene-Samsung? Strange bed? No. Coming together to close the gap in healthcare. I’m just working on healthcare right now. So those are two examples. So that’s one.
I think getting out of being siloed, that purpose came out of like the philanthropy department or the community relations department. It wasn’t involved cross-functionally throughout the company. Now, you’re seeing, and I’ve seen this for 20 years, sometimes the only thing, the only connecting thread in a company was about their engagement with society. Now, when you look at Unilever, and P&G, and IBM, and Microsoft, and others, American Express. American Express created Small Business Saturday. Now they didn’t do it to get more use of the card. They did it because they saw a need and they wanted to create a movement.
And so companies are recognizing either going deep and narrow like telehealth or going into a category such as small business. So it’s fascinating to see. And then the company is integrating across the company. So it’s impacting their innovation, it’s impacting their culture, it’s impacting recruiting. So it’s the integration. It’s collaboration. It’s smart generosity. It’s measuring — you got to measure it, set goals; otherwise, it is not really strategic for the business. And then telling the stories.
Now, this is another big change. You said companies want their goodness to be known, but they can’t do it on their own. They can’t beat their chest. What they need to do, and this is why my essay is about authenticity, is authentically engage in society through partners, likely many NGOs or government groups or such.
For example, PNC Financial Services. We connected them to early childhood in 2003. $ ½ a billion dollars later…
Denver: Incredible story.
Carol: They’re working with Head Start. They’re working with DonorsChoose. They’re working with Sesame to help advance the issue with underserved, that 3- and 4-year-olds need to go to preschool and be prepared for kindergarten. So these companies are just recognizing the integration, that social issues are right in front of them, and that they need to do this because Gen Z and Millennials are demanding where they work or what they buy from or who they advocate for or protest against… they’re looking at alignment of values.
Denver: And as you say about authenticity, storytelling is now becoming “storydoing.” And what I’ve noticed at those tables where the decisions are being made, the purpose person never used to be there. They are now at that table along with the HR person who never was there, but both of them realize how central they are. It’s just amazing to see that evolution.
Carol: Right. We just did an amazing piece of work for, and I can’t say who it was for, but it was about the HR practices to advance high-potential individuals in purpose-driven companies. Fascinating. And we got to interview all my friends and all these purpose-driven companies and to find these common threads…
And I want to go back to storytelling — which I love that you said storydoing because I love that phrase — that when you do it authentically, and then you share a bridge or engagement with your employees, as well as the ecosystem of your either consumers or your not-for-profits. It’s a crescendo of smaller stories that are told that brings you the authenticity that “OK. I get it.” That Dove campaign for real beauty, forever long, it’s a great, great initiative. Or Lifebuoy initiative to use soap for kids to live to 5-years-old.
Or there’s the P&G’s wonderful anti-racism work. They’re short films called “The Talk,” and “The Look,” and “The Choice” that they started doing in 2017 because they understood that moms were absolutely terrified if they let their kids walk down the street in a city after dark. And it’s also P&G, they’re changing their policies about their gender equity, their race equity, who’s shooting their ads, whose viewing their ads. And they also have a massive amount of resources on their website because they understand while you might just see a beautiful film or an ad, that’s the tip of the iceberg, it’s what’s below it. It’s all the depth of the actions that truly make it authentic.
Denver: There is so much going on, and we all have our troubles in society, but there’s so much good stuff happening, too. Tell us about your website and you host a podcast as well. Tell us about that.
Carol: Oh, you’re so sweet! My podcast, they’re great. It’s called Purpose 360. We have a new podcast every other week, and it’s bringing in leaders in corporations, not-for-profits, authors and such, talking about purpose, the challenges to purpose.
We just launched an e-book. So I know that some people don’t have time to listen to a podcast. Our e-book is snackable content. It’s 75 insights from 25 podcasts. So version one, we just launched. We’re doing version two this year.
Our website is carolconeonpurpose.com. Easy to remember. We also have a newsletter every other week. So please, I hope that your listeners… My goal has always been a teacher. And you have, too. We’ve been the evangelists and the pioneers, and really trying to show that this is strategic; this isn’t about just being nice. And the great thing is that why I started my fourth venture– or my fourth iteration to go with this– is because there’s just so much great work to be done.
Denver: Absolutely. Well, thanks, Carol, for being here today. It was an absolute delight to speak with you.
Carol: Oh my God. You were fabulous. I appreciate it.
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