Picture: Unsplash/Joel Muniz
Picture: Unsplash/Joel Muniz

Gone are the days where businesses could operate for profit alone. Companies are now expected to take a moral stance on societal issues if they don’t want their bottom lines to suffer. So, is corporate citizenship the way to go?

In this episode of the Future of Media online conference series, sponsored by Vodacom, EziAds, Primedia Outdoor, The MediaShop, Tilt, Wan-Ifra, The FM Redzone and The Media Online, Siya Sangweni engaged with experts who have taken a role in ensuring the consumer is heard loud and clear within their businesses.

Sangweni started by asking panellist Hennie Myburgh, programme manager at Jacaranda FM, how they have supported long-term clients during this time. Myburgh said there has been a lot of humanizing, and many honest conversations have been had. “The past 12 months have taught us to connect and listen. As a group we embarked on a couple of campaigns. One that stands out is the ‘Jacaranda Gives Back’ campaign, where we appealed to businesses to reach out so that we could help them get back on their feet. Activation, connecting and using first-party data helped forge and strengthen relationships,” he said.

Whether these corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts are in place to take care of employees, to take care of a community, or to advance a positive change, there are few large businesses in SA that can afford to ignore the corporate citizenship imperative. Who better to promote anything than the media – so what is the media’s role in supporting and promoting corporate citizenship?

Lyndon Barends, head of group strategy at Arena Holdings, explained that the media has been part of the storytelling business for years now, focusing on good and bad stories. “It’s the media’s mission to inform, educate and entertain. These stories are good for the brand and the consumer when a story is told in a truthful, objective and meaningful manner,” he said.

Myburgh added: “Storytelling coupled with authenticity will drive impact in campaigns and influence the connection between a brand and its audience.” 

A good example of this is Vodacom, which has implemented various corporate citizenship initiatives, such as its initiatives in the medical and educational fields. Thami Majola, executive head of brand and communication at Vodacom, said: “During the Covid climate, we have tried to stay away from being too revenue focused, and rather focused on creating platforms and programmes that lead with purpose.” He mentioned apps like BrightStar, Doctors and Digi-Parenting. “The products and services we offer look to serve our customers and drive our purpose-driven ambitions,” Majola added.

While it was agreed that brands need to drive change and create a sustainable difference in people’s lives through corporate citizenship, Natalie Botha, director of creative development at Kantar, reminded the audience that “CSR and purpose are different. CSR is tactical and purpose is something you lead with, it’s embedded in everything you do and for this to be properly infused into your brand, it needs to be included in the C-suite mandate.”

In the same way purpose and authenticity have become a mandate for marketers, so has empathy. This brand Band-Aid has forced marketers to think out of the box. Jeanine Rainier, GM at Tilt, said: “Empathy is not a box-ticking exercise, you have to be transparent in what you do and you have to have a brand purpose. Consumers can see if brands are just throwing money at something or if they are truly invested in it.”

Engagement is also an important cog in understanding culture and being culturally relevant. Botha advised brands that “when it comes to being culturally relevant, the only way to do it is to put in the legwork upfront and communicate with consumers in order to understand cultural nuances. Once you get it, the consistency needs to be on point, otherwise the narrative can erode your authenticity.”

Majola also felt strongly about authenticity and explained that branding and marketing never used to be a balance sheet item, but these days “goodwill” branding is a real asset for a brand. He believes that it symbolises a promise of service and quality, and that it connects community and family. He also warned that brands that are not authentic will get caught out and brands that are purpose driven will be trusted and gain a loyal following.

It’s time for a different way of thinking about how people engage with media, each other and the world around them. As an industry, we need to listen first to better understand what to do next, so in closing our panellists shared their final thoughts on corporate citizenship and how to make this a key to the success of the future of media.

Rainier shared that in order for brands to be successful in their purpose, they need to truly listen to what South Africans are saying and then be agile in using that information.

Barends reminded the audience that we live in difficult times in SA and while we often focus on the higher purposes, we also need to appeal to the masses. “Remember, ubuntu speaks to the heart of CSR,” he concluded.

Myburgh’s advice to brands was simple: “Be authentic, get real, genuinely care and get involved in an area that your brand has a role to play in.”

Botha stressed that connection is everything. “We connect on digital platforms but we are not engaging face to face. Attempt to connect with your consumers as much as you can, so you can have genuine insights that will drive your business forward, and then remember to be consistent.”

And lastly Majola added that tech is nothing without humanity. “Be at the heart of connecting with humanity and make sure that the connection is purpose led.”

To watch the full discussion, click here.

The next online event, “Fighting through the fog: consumer attention as a scarce commodity”, will take place on May 5 2021 at 10am. For more information, or to register, click here.

The big take-out:

Gone are the days when businesses could operate for profit alone. As an industry, we need to listen to our consumers first to better understand what to do next.


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