Diversity. Sustainability. Mental Health. Are we confusing authenticity with optics?

Diversity, mental health and sustainability have become buzzwords for businesses over the last few years - eating up more marketing budget than ever before. 

While this shift in focus, investment and attention must be applauded, only when it’s genuine is it worthy of shouting about.

Just last week we’ve seen institutions clamour aboard the bandwagon to shout high and low about International Women’s Day, but is it driven by passion and dedication to the cause or fear of being singled out for not saying anything? 

And it’s not confirmed to gender. Take mental health, racism and sustainability - many institutions are going to great lengths - and at great cost - to be part of the zeitgeist. If these gallant marketing efforts are matched in tangible action, progress and achievement then great, shout it from the rooftops. But what about when it’s not? When the fanfare fades and all that’s left is hot air, lip service and the people you’ve bruised along the way? Are we confusing authenticity with optics?

The problem is, people believe it, they buy into it, they make decisions based on the information these institutions are putting out there and how they present themselves. At a time when consumers are more empowered, sceptical and woke than ever, their trust shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

If investment in the optics outweighs the lived experience then there’s a very real problem - and one that won’t go away easily. It takes commitment to maintain a lie. The larger the disparity between reality and perception, the more resentment will build - until the truth spills out in spectacular fashion, leaving reputations in tatters. 

Over the years, we’ve observed seemingly progressive companies of all sizes, public and private, that have swept instances of sexual harassment and bullying under the carpet, manipulated poor staff wellbeing survey stats and championed ESG and sustainability on one hand while not practising what they preach on the other. All whilst investing heavily in promoting their ‘achievements’ in these areas. 

Yes, thankfully, there are many shining examples of companies living by their values and making a positive difference, not just in the arena they operate, but in the wider world too. In order to not undermine these efforts, it’s all the more important that we distinguish between those saying they do, and those doing what they say. 

The PR and communications industry takes a lot of flack for its perceived hand in the so-called dark arts. A reputation deserved by some, no doubt, but as a graduate at Edelman (where Rishi and I first worked together) I was brought up in the school of thought that “you only get the reputation you deserve”. 

We care about the work we do, and the companies we work for - so we only work with those that share our values, strive to make the world a better place and don’t just talk the talk. We work with progressive companies and next generation leaders that, like us, believe choice between profits and purpose is no longer binary.