How to create Purposeful Partnerships

“Purpose” is everywhere. It’s a key part of the Marketing Society Manifesto. The current President of the IPA made it the centrepiece of his inaugural speech. Global PR and marketing companies are falling over each other in the rush to measure Purpose. And it even has, this year, made the theme of an entire edition of “Marketing”.

Is this just faddishness, a fashionable re-branding of CSR and Mission statements? Or does Purpose embody something much deeper than conventional CSR: a vital need for businesses to deliver more than just profit?

True “Purpose” expresses and strengthens a business’s entire strategy. It is bespoke to that business, central to its future, boosting company performance and delivering a return to society as well as to shareholders.

Purpose should make your employees more productive because they are able to turn it into everyday actions and are motivated to do so. Your products and services should reflect your purpose and be constantly improved by it. Your social actions should make commercial sense not just societal sense.


Here are five principles for all successful, purpose-based partnerships.

1. Stay True

Businesses are best at ‘doing good’ when they leverage what they do well commercially. Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign has promoted outdoor play, thus enhancing the well-being of children but also promoting their dirt-cleaning credentials and selling more washing-powder.


2. Partner With Equals

Partnerships work best when both sides are equally committed, motivated and passionate about the cause. When charities and businesses unite to improve the world around them, both sides benefit. Tusk Trust, an African Conservation charity and Investec, a global asset management business originally from South Africa, reflect the powerful change that such strategic relationships can bring, as does the partnership between Domestos and UNICEF on better sanitation.


3. Be Specific

Be clear, creative and, above all, highly specific about your social goals. Toms ‘One for One’ scheme uses the profits from the pair of shoes you buy from them, to provide shoes to someone poor who would otherwise go barefoot. Hiut Denim, a denim company in Cardigan, Wales, demonstrates the power of ‘doing one thing well’ by focusing their impact on bringing employment to their small rural town.


4. Make it part of your DNA

With social media on the rise, genuine commitment is crucial. ‘Green-washing’ – or promoting an environmentally and socially positive image, while failing to match this in actual business operations – is easily uncovered in a world of endless information. The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal has shown the danger of concealing environmental impact. Ethical and environmental commitments must be reflected in the supply chain, or they lose credibility (as the ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirt campaign demonstrated: its powerful message destroyed by the T-shirt being made under slave labour conditions). CSR must be more than a marketing manoeuvre; it should align with the integrity and aspiration of the business.  


5. Just Do It, But Do It Well

Actions must precede words. Too many companies do an ad campaign on their purpose before acting tangibly on that purpose. 

There are also many examples of partnerships between commercial companies and NGO’s / charities that have proved to be highly superficial or worse. The partnership between WWF and Coca-Cola aims to conserve water resources and to replace the water that is produced in the process of manufacturing their drinks. They have called it “global water neutrality” but many analysts have pointed out that this term is not scientifically defined and Coca-Cola still misuse water resources.

Volkswagen has promoted safer cycling in China and protecting traditional moorlands in Germany. It won awards for its strategic partnership with the Nature and Biodiversity Union. All of this happened alongside the biggest emissions scandal in automotive history.

When you do create a social movement or pursue a social purpose, excellence and attention to detail are as vital as they are for any commercial product or campaign. The Thomson Reuters Foundation embodies this principle. They use their passion for journalistic integrity and reporting skills to create impeccably designed, independent news platforms around the world.