THURSDAY 6 NOV 2014 1:20 PM

STRAIGHT TALKING

How the sustainability agenda is changing communications for the better

London College of Communication, University of the Arts London’s guest lecture series returned last week with Salt PR’s founder, Andrew Last, discussing how public relations must align itself with the sustainability agenda to ensure the industry has a successful future.

Last began the lecture by looking at the history of PR from the perspective of its supposed founding father, Edward Bernays, who led the adoption of social psychology to promote all manner of unethical causes.

Last stressed, however, that PR is changing. Whereas in the past the industry may have suffered from negative perceptions of dubious campaigns, this approach is simply not sustainable in a world where corporate transparency is vital to an organisation’s future success.

Last cited a number of factors driving the need for change. Thanks to the internet, everything PR and its clients do is visible. More importantly, anything an organisation says or does is searchable online.

Meanwhile, journalists are no longer the only third parties with which PR communicates. There are now thousands of influencers from journalists to bloggers, YouTube directors to unhappy customers on Twitter.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Last discussed findings from a Salt PR study into ‘Generation Z’ consumers (those born after 1995) which reveals their worldview is based on community, authenticity and justice - three attributes that will become increasingly important for the way organisations and brands operate if they want to engage this emerging generation.

As a result, Last suggested, these impending consumer expectations will make the need for transparent and authentic relationships between organisations and their stakeholders non-negotiable.

Drawing on case studies of Salt PR’s work with Unilever on Lifebuoy soap and Global Handwashing Day, Last demonstrated how the sustainability agenda can act as a foundation on which organisations can build authentic and transparent communications strategies.

Global Handwashing day is an annual event created to encourage people to share good hygiene practices using the key message ‘Clean hands saves lives’. Last explained how the campaign has been created by Unilever to enable Lifebuoy soap to undertake a powerful social mission. Using “the simple power of soap!” Last explained how, by taking its soap to Africa, India and other emerging countries, Lifebuoy is able to create a clear social call to action to help eradicate disease. Crucially, by embracing transparency and directly acknowledging that a healthy, safe country is also likely to be a successful future market for Unilever, Last explained how the campaign creates a win-win situation for both the public and the brand.

Looking to the global success of Global Handwashing Day, Last outlined six steps for developing effective sustainable communications strategies, among them were; ‘Be transparent about your business motives for supporting a social mission’ and ‘Engage people within your own organisation as part of the mission’.

Summarising Salt’s approach, Last asserted that successful campaigns come about by being clear about your direction, being transparent about your motives, telling the story of your journey and embracing vulnerability. By identifying a social problem and committing Lifebuoy to solve the problem the brand was able to create a profit and set the sustainability agenda.

The next in the LCC lecture series is will be Weber Shandwick’s EMEA CEO, Colin Byrne, on Thursday 20 November.

. The series is sponsored by Precise.

Words by Aaron Shardey, BA public relations student, University of the Arts London, London College of Communication.

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