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Purpose-led communications campaigns have skyrocketed, and Porter Novelli has moved in lockstep with this trend — helping clients find, live and tell their purpose. We spoke with CEO Brad MacAfee to hear more about their pivot towards purpose.
It’s no secret that humans — both as consumers and as employees — seek meaning
and purpose from the world around us. Few people know better than Sustainable
Brands® readers how powerful it is to communicate the sense of purpose
that drives our daily efforts. As a result, purpose-led communications campaigns
Porter Novelli has moved in lockstep with this
trend — helping clients find, live and tell their purpose. It now focuses entirely on purpose communications. In 2017, it acquired Cone Communications, well known for its work in the area of corporate social responsibility and nonprofit marketing, and integrated the teams in a way that clients have welcomed.
We spoke with Porter Novelli CEO Brad MacAfee to hear more about their pivot
Brad MacAfee: More than 45 years ago, Jack Porter and Bill Novelli
opened Porter Novelli’s doors, and were fueled by the idea that the art of
communication could advance society. In the past three years, we have focused on
aligning our business strategy with our heritage and values.
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We see Purpose as more than just a trend, but rather a business imperative —
which is why we made the decision to merge with Cone Communications in 2017 and
launch the largest dedicated global Purpose practice in 2018. We have also seen
a continuous, increased demand for Purpose communications experts from our
clients, who are approaching us with new challenges that we wanted to be able to
meet with innovative solutions.
Helping our clients find, live and tell their unique Purpose to drive their
bottom line and make a positive impact on society is the proper go-forward
strategy for our organization, because it is authentic to who we are. I could
not be prouder of all we have accomplished and look forward to what the future
has in store for Porter Novelli.
BM: Our merger with Cone brought two winning agencies together to broaden
our capabilities, and ultimately prepared us for the launch of our Purpose
practice in 2018. The acquisition also brought together two rich skillsets:
combining Porter Novelli’s longstanding expertise in social marketing, creating
some of the world’s most recognized behavior change campaigns, like the landmark
with Cone’s leadership work in CSR, social impact and cause marketing — with
award-winning efforts like AHA Go Red for Women, Xylem Watermark and
Hilton Travel with Purpose.
Together, we learned how to blend two iconic agencies with varying expertise
into one harmonious communications consultancy. With the unwavering support of
our talented and resilient staff in Boston and globally, we now have 100+
subject matter experts working with 140+ clients, including 4-H, the ALS
Association, Dick’s Sporting Goods,
Target, among others.
Finally, we combined intellectual priority research and innovation to drive new
ways of bringing research and insight to the market, like our new 2019 Porter
Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics
We took advantage of our diversity and combined resources to come up with five
dedicated products designed to help companies further drive Purpose strategies.
Arguably, we are stronger than ever before.
BM: You are correct, in that Purpose has become a bit of a catch-all phrase
for meaningful marketing or a re-articulation of a company’s ultimate reason to
exist — but it’s so much more than that.
What was once considered corporate philanthropy, then cause marketing, has now
evolved to Purpose. In the last five years, we’ve seen consumers expect
companies support and advocate on issues that go well beyond their transactional
footprint — including things like travel bans, bathroom bills, and women’s
reproductive health issues, among
None of those things have gone away — but they have become more interconnected
and tied to a bigger platform of Purpose. Consumers and all stakeholders want to
understand what drives companies and if that driving force aligns with their
values and expertise.
At Porter Novelli, we believe Purpose defines an organization’s authentic role
and value in society that allows it to simultaneously grow its business and
positively impact the world. It must be deeply embedded within the organization,
the brand and the experience that is delivered.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a B
but it does mean that your purpose serves as your north star that guides
business decisions — whether that includes how to treat your employees, what you
invest in for product innovation, your responsible business practices or social
And, there are three driving forces that reinforce corporations driving Purpose
BM: That’s a difficult question because I’m incredibly proud of all the work
we do. On any given day, I hear of something new and exciting we’re doing across
our global network to make an impact on society and help our clients find, live
and tell their purpose. It’s truly inspiring!
There is one particular campaign that touched the hearts and minds of many —
internally and externally — this year, and that’s the Stop
Traffick campaign that our Atlanta team executed in partnership with the non-profit
organization Street Grace and BBDO Atlanta. Every year, there are
roughly 3,600 kids who are sold for sex in the state of Georgia. In Atlanta,
it’s a $290 million a year industry. So, with the eyes of the world set on
Atlanta as it prepared to host Super Bowl LIII, we worked with our partners
to change the conversation from “traffic” to “traffick.” The goal was to create
a campaign that would be impossible to ignore. In January 2019, we arranged for
72 school buses (representative of the 3,600 kids impacted each year) wrapped in
anti-trafficking messaging to drive through the heart of Atlanta, creating a
mile-long billboard that encouraged citizens to sign a pledge to combat domestic
sex trafficking at StopTraffick.com. The
campaign has received numerous accolades, including 1 Silver and 3 Bronze Lions
We have been doing wonderful work with Dick’s Sporting Goods, helping to launch
their inaugural Corporate Responsibility report — The Purpose
Playbook. Dick’s decided to create this piece to reinforce the importance of making choices that promote people and planet, strengthen their business, and contribute to a better world. Their mission as an organization is to ensure all kids have an opportunity to play sports, which is what inspired the first-ever
Playbook. By sharing their First Corporate Social Responsibility report
publicly, Dick’s Sporting Goods invited their stakeholders to be part of the
It has also been a milestone year for one of the most iconic campaigns in our
history at Porter Novelli — the fifth anniversary of the ALS
Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge. Back in July
2014, our Boston office helped support the viral
phenomenon that was the Ice Bucket
Challenge. This campaign served as a powerful example of how communications and
marketing could unite millions of people across the world to raise money
($200M) and awareness for a valuable cause. In honor of this milestone
anniversary, Porter Novelli has engaged our global offices to support the ALS
Association’s latest movement, CHALLENGE ME.
And, we are excited to be involved again this year in the UN General
Assembly, driving awareness of and showcasing One Young World and its
Lead2030 initiative, helping more brands and
organizations participate and make 2019 the best year of #GivingTuesday on
BM: Purpose is simply something that consumers are demanding. Individuals
are not only asking for companies to live and share their values, but are also
willing to do research to make sure that brands are authentically living their
Beyond consumer demand, we know purpose is linked to better business results:
We know from our 2018 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Premium Index research
that Purpose drives (13 percent) of a company’s overall reputation, and
companies with a strong reputation also have strong Purpose scores.
Our 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics Study also notes that
Americans are more likely to have a positive image of (89 percent), trust in
(86 percent) and be loyal (83 percent) to brands that lead with Purpose.
In today’s market, it is imperative that brands understand the power of Purpose
and the direct impact it can have on financial
and reputation. When executed properly, Purpose-driven communications can help
bolster a company’s performance and build lifelong brand loyalists.
For Porter Novelli, Purpose is not only our go-forward strategy, but a
commitment to our people, clients and partners to drive meaningful work for the
agency, the industry and the world.
Published Sep 18, 2019 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.