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posted by Michael Powelson Jun 13,2016 @ 09:24AM

Boxed in? The stakes of commercial activism in local business

As I type this, the internet radio says they’re burying Muhammad Ali.

For twenty years, some of the fiercest men on earth failed to put Ali on the ground, and now a handful of heartsick ones will put him in it. Time is, indeed, the conqueror.

It’s been decades since time and illness scored their first victory over the former heavyweight. Parkinson’s disease, doing what opponents, critics and even the United States government could not, silenced him in the mid nineties. And this is perhaps the larger shame. After all, so much has been made of the fighter’s verbal brilliance, his unique ability to speak truth to power and an unflinching will when his principles demanded great risk.

Call it another crown in time’s trophy case: the ironic twist that all the things which made Ali a pariah in the mid sixties — the unapologetic autonomy, social activism and conscientious objection — are precisely the reasons he’s now one of the most inspirational sports figures in history.

But it’s not the sporting, or even the cultural context of these triumphs that interests me here. It’s the professional one. You see, in 1966, Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a prizefighter or folk hero. He was also a business. Big business.

 

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Behind the championship belts and mesmerizing interviews, there was an enterprise. It employed people. It supported families. It provided a living that soared beyond the wildest expectations of a black man from the Jim Crow south who barely graduated high school.

And yet Ali proved willing to lose it all for his convictions.

In response to the Justice Department denying his conscientious objector status and sentencing him to five years in prison, Ali said, “I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars…So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

I can not think of a contemporary parallel.

Yes, we live in an age of greater corporate social responsibility. Today, firms all around the world, including my own, believe it’s imperative to do good in addition to doing well. And this is clearly a positive evolution in what it means to be a decent business. But risking everything it is not.

Yes, Target, Starbucks, General Mills and many other national brands have enacted internal policies or consumer facing communications to promote a more charitable, tolerant and just society. Some have even faced resistance from the fringes of their customer bases. Still, I’m doubtful that any such actions were taken before cost/benefit analyses and public opinion polling showed the reward outweighed the risk.

Please don’t mistake this for criticism. I don’t believe good works are any less good when they also happen to be good business. I’m simply curious about the times they’re not. What do smaller organizations in markets like ours do when they feel compelled to right a perceived wrong, but lack the scale to weather a backlash?

Recent history has offered no shortage of cultural flashpoints. Flags. Bathrooms. Background checks and marriage licenses.

What business are these of our businesses? And, regardless of your stance on any of them, where is the actionable tipping point for you? When does something become important enough to risk everything?

I like to think I have an answer, but I’d be lying if I told you I was one hundred percent certain.

What I am certain of, however, is the hope that you and I and every other businessperson never have to find out. That we’ve learned to respect one another and work together to find equitable solutions to the differences we face. I hope no one reading this is ever forced to risk everything for the ability to live with themselves afterward.

But I also hope that those who were, and did — “The Greatest” among us you might say — are forever championed.

Time the conqueror be damned.

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This piece first appeared in the June 13th edition of the Columbia Regional Business Review

posted by Kevin Smith Oct 28,2015 @ 08:00AM

How We Spend Money

1920s: We outspent ourselves.

1930s: Then we spent nothing.

1940s: We spent only when necessary.

1950s - 1980s: After that, we spent as instructed.

1990s - 2008: We outspent ourselves -- again.

2008 -  2010: Then we spent nothing.

It may have been a cycle, but it isn’t anymore. It’s not that “this time is different.” Every time has been different to a degree. I don’t believe we are in the midst of a modest recovery that will ultimately culminate in another glory decade or two.

I believe the next phase is: “We started caring how we spent.”

The number of brands connected to causes or giving back or being more sustainable is growing by the minute. That’s a trend. I hope it continues. But there is a broader and likely more permanent business context.

Companies that articulate and demonstrate a clear purpose are succeeding. Some might be charitable in nature, but this is not a prerequisite. Given pervasive marketing, given that we are all time-starved and attention-impaired, consumers are choosing to spend money with companies that demonstrate clarity.

Kick Starter announced last week that it will not sell or go public – ever. They are committed to helping fund creative projects, and see reporting to shareholders as a potential distraction to that end. Southwest has held true to its mission of democratizing the air, and stands by the slogan: “bags fly free.” Meanwhile, CVS made the decision to focus on its customers’ health and stop selling tobacco products. As I write this, several of our local network affiliates are providing uninterrupted coverage of Columbia’s tragic flood. They’ve decided to focus on their primary purpose as an affiliate – reporting local news.

This is not marketing, but purpose-based decision making. This is leadership. Clear business decisions driven by a company’s mission and core values. These decisions may at first seem counter intuitive, but they provide clarity both internally and externally. The outcome is loyalty and profit.

Our marketplace has never been more crowded and communication channels have never been more fragmented. Most marketing programs have become a scattershot of tactics. In this environment, purpose and the clarity it yields brings customers in the door and keeps them coming back.

A recent Gallup poll found that only 28 percent of employees strongly agree with the statement "I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors." The same poll found that when customers can see alignment between a company’s purpose and its behavior, they give it twice the share of wallet.

Given this dynamic, I am shocked at how few companies have a clear sense of purpose. Mission statements and core values abound, but they are most often anything substantive. If one of your company’s core values includes integrity, this most likely includes you. Basic honesty is not a core value. Being “best in class” or “providing excellence” is not a mission. A committee of employees assigned to work on the mission statement typically leads to general platitudes on which everyone can agree. Unfortunately, committees rarely offer organizational clarity or existential intent.

Ask instead: Why were we created? What would be lost if we were gone? You and your coworkers have to know why you show up each day, beyond making money. In doing so, I believe you’ll make a whole lot more of it. 

posted by Teresa Coles Sep 23,2015 @ 05:11PM

The social company as bedrock for success

Open any business book or magazine these days, and you’re likely to encounter narrative around the benefits of being a “social” company. In fact, there are no less than 131,960 book results on Amazon under this exact heading.

What's that all about? And how could there possibly be this much fodder around the concept? Corporate social responsibility and the use of social media appear to have grabbed the microphone on this issue, given the prolific conversations in each of these two spaces.

 

The path of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has made its way from a self-regulatory construct for major corporations in the 1960s to an element of the “triple bottom line” in the 1990s. Practices include a wide range of endeavors, from environmental sustainability and product innovation to skills-based employee volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. In 2011, the concept of corporate social responsibility was identified as a driver to creating shared value (CSV) by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School fame. This advanced model seeks to link economic and societal factors through conscious decisions that:

  • Identify unmet human needs.
  • Inform new products and services.
  • Optimize productivity in the value chain.
  • Build economic development clusters.

Social media, the great connector

The skilled use of social media has been credited as a catalyst on a seemingly endless list of strategic corporate objectives: trend and product launches; long-term brand influence; short-term sales; customer service; venture capital; crisis management; recruiting, and many other areas. While there’s no denying the impact of social media on these business imperatives, some thought leaders contend that the deification of social media can sometimes become a crutch for corporate leadership and effective decision-making.

 Which brings us to the third — and I submit, most meaningful — definition of what it means to be a social company.

 

Social core, social company, social brand

Social companies are those in which culture, products and services are in complete alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision and mission. These corporate beliefs impact everything in the company, starting with internal behavioral systems. For example, employees in social companies behave in a way that is highly collaborative, self-sacrificing and committed to group interests. Employees in companies that are more transactional — as opposed to social — typically are less collaborative and guided by their own self-interests.

The business world has become familiar with the characteristics of social companies through the work of leading authors such as Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Terrence Deal and others. They’ve exposed us to the social infrastructure that has defined success for companies such as Amazon, Google, UPS, Hewlett Packard, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Trader Joe’s and many others. Their research has yielded data that clearly connects social companies to higher performance levels; one study indicates that social companies consistently perform at three times the Standard & Poor’s average.

Social companies achieve this kind of outward, quantifiable success by connecting their cultural expectations to exceptional product and service delivery systems, then bringing those to market through highly authentic brand marketing. There’s no question that the Patagonia brand is a direct reflection of Patagonia, the social company. Newer companies like Warby Parker and Harry’s are bringing fresh interpretations of what it means to be a social company, and their performance is there to back it up.

 

Size does not make social

Being a social company is in no way restricted to Fortune 500 corporations or national retailers. Any company — no matter the size or type of market — can apply the principles of social business. All it takes is the willingness to stop and consider three important whys:

  • Why your company really exists.
  • Why defining your belief structure is important.
  • Why the way you deliver your product and service is key.

Understanding these three concepts paves the way to an effective internal culture and an external brand that resonates with the market.

I believe American business is on the precipice of creating more value for humankind than ever before. As a marketer, it’s my great pleasure to work with companies that realize this and are building cultural and operational systems that support it. The social company knows its core, nurtures it and demonstrates it in the market. Executed well, success is the only outcome.

 

This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Will Weatherly Oct 22,2014 @ 12:46PM

FAAAC: A closer look at African American art

An affiliate of the Columbia Museum of Art, The Friends of African American Art & Culture provides supplemental member benefits focused around a deep dive into African American arts. Offering artist home tours, specialty exhibits, group trips and more, the organization bridges ethnicity and age while fostering appreciation for the cultural contributions of African American artists.

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For CreateAthon this year, we'll be working to help by developing marketing strategies, re-crafting web messaging, and designing support collateral.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 20,2014 @ 08:00AM

Sustaining Our Seniors: Creating scale around senior care

Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve. Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve.

According to the most recent Census data, 1 in 8 Americans (13% of the population) are 65 or older. This is projected to grow to 1 in 5 (19.3%) by 2030, the year all members of the Baby Boomer generation will have turned 65. By 2050, seniors will make up 25% of the population.

Staggering numbers, to be sure, with a significant projected impact on the US economy, healthcare system, housing market, and all manner of other areas that affect quality of life for Americans. Perhaps the more profound consideration is the impact the “silver tsunami” already is having on individuals; older, often fragile adults who increasingly find themselves making difficult choices: food vs. prescriptions; heating bills vs. transportation; dental care vs. pet care.

It’s the type of perfect storm Sustaining Our Seniors of South Carolina is seeking to manage. This new nonprofit will serve as an intermediary designed to connect interested volunteers and financial supporters to qualified senior-serving organizations throughout the state.

“Senior citizens and vulnerable adults need a champion,” said Coretta Bedsole, president of Sustaining Our Seniors board of directors. “We want to be that champion by identifying resources, information, guidance and service options to improve their quality of life.”

Connecting people to organizations in the way of donations, hands-on service, and skills-based volunteerism can help build capacity for the many senior service programs already in existence throughout South Carolina. Leaders from Sustaining Our Seniors are quick to point out the organization is not designed to replicate services, but to help build scale behind those services in a way that will enable them to deliver even more assistance to South Carolina seniors.

The RP CreateAthon team has the privilege of helping this organization develop foundational strategies such as product design, organizational development, and brand marketing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an organization from the ground up, and look forward to helping this organization connect people with a heart for seniors to opportunities for service and support.

 

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