MONDAY 18 SEP 2023 4:20 PM


After the agency recently became a B Corporation, Barley Communications' founder and co-CEO, Sam Williams, explains why this certification alone should not be enough to impress.

In her 1997 smash hit single ‘That don’t impress me much’, Shania Twain lists several attributes (being a rocket scientist; a brain surgeon; Brad Pitt) which men have used to try to impress her.

As the song’s title implies, none do the trick. The Canadian country star goes on to explain that when seeking a partner, she is not interested in job title, status or prestige, but whether you can provide her with what she really needs.

Apologies for the fact that that song will now be stuck in your head for a few days, and for the parallel I’m about to make.

The song makes me think about B Corporations. Since it came to these shores in 2015, nearly 2,000 UK companies have achieved B Corp accreditation, showing their commitment to high standards of social and environmental impact.

I’m proud to say that Barley Communications itself recently became a B Corp.

But I don’t expect that to impress you much. Actually, no - I do expect you to be somewhat impressed. After all, the B Corp accreditation process is no tick-box exercise, and the 114.1 score which Barley achieved is far higher than both the pass mark of 80, and the score the average non-B Corp would achieve. Barley is very proud of having achieved this, at the same time as being keen to grow and develop its approach in future.

Impressing purpose

Amid ongoing debates around biggest challenges facing humanity, and the need for purpose-led, socially aware and environmentally conscious communications has grown. Getting B Corp accreditation certainly puts a communications consultancy in a good position to provide that service.

But the crucial point is that B Corp accreditation shouldn’t be considered a be-all and end-all when you’re considering coupling up with a B Corp comms agency. What really matters is whether they can provide you with the partnership you really need.

For example, there are B Corp marcomms agencies who work for fossil fuel extractors, something Barley itself has committed not to do. Some would see that as a violation of the standards to which B Corps commit, others might justify it – and never the twain shall meet. The same goes with clients in other sectors which Barley would consider unethical, but other B Corps might stomach.

Similarly, as an employee-owned business, Barley scored highly in the ‘workers’ dimension on our assessment, but other B Corps will have a very different approach to their workforce.

If you’re considering whether or not to be impressed by B Corp accreditation, consider whether the organisation in question provides a clear narrative around what it means in their case. This is why Barley has launched its 'Purpose Plus' platform, to demonstrate and document our social and environmental commitments, and the fact that actually, we hold ourselves to even higher standards than those demanded by B Labs.

I’m comfortable with the fact that different organisations have different values. Barley wouldn’t be the right communications partner to some clients, but B Corp accreditation will help make it clearer where we might find good matches. Our accreditation and Purpose Plus has already got a good reception with our clients, with many saying this reinforces that Barley is the right match for their own organisational values and appreciating this demonstration that we walk our talk.

At the end of the day, a communications agency ought to be able to communicate. If you’re considering entrusting a consultancy with communicating your values, but they can’t seem to clearly communicate their own, then you should certainly not be impressed.