PRXNE Keynote Speaker Carol Cone does more than CSR. She holds an impressive record of show jumping accomplishments.
If your PR efforts include getting any organization to think beyond its boundaries by bettering society, odds are you applying the tools and cause marketing ideology that were pioneered by trailblazer and serial entrepreneur, Carol Cone. Long before terms like CSR, cause branding, corporate citizenship, sustainability or social purpose were adopted as business vocabulary, Carol created and claimed a new position within the C-suites of Fortune 500 companies, awakening them to the compelling business outcomes of engaging with society to leverage their reach and resources to do something purposeful with their influence. Where that vision has taken her, and savvy business leaders and marketers of all stripes, will be the subject of her PRXNE16 keynote on Monday, June 13th when Carol Cone comes back to where it all began, Boston.
Loring Barnes, APR, PRSA Boston Chapter President and an early alumna of Cone, Inc., caught up with her former boss on topics ranging from authenticity to what it means to be competitive for this special expanded installment of Fast 5+5.
CC: When I founded Cone in 1980, Route 128 was known as “America’s Technology Highway”, with Boston home to important corporate brands – John Hancock, Gillette, Sheraton, Polaroid, BankBoston, Digital Equipment and Reebok – that gave this region a unique center of innovation, power and corporate leadership. Today, there is a differing type of innovation largely centered in healthcare, bio and medtech, underpinned by the regions expansive educational foundation of our universities.
Q: You’ve been called ‘the mother of cause marketing.’ Is that a big mantel to carry?
CC: To the extent this associates me with authentically linking the power of companies and brands with social issues, I’ve come to accept this as a succinct explanation of a complex and very exciting new business strategy. If every CEO or Executive Director understood how to harness social transparency and the interconnectedness of people and social purpose, their corporations and NGOs wouldn’t need an expert to bring big ideas and diverse partners to make this happen. It’s fulfilling professional vocation that has been exciting to nurture over time. Actually, it is my personal purpose that I was fortunate to discover very early in my career.
Q: Are Millennials the torchbearers for advancing purposeful corporate social engagement?
CC: Their generational imprint is an asset to a company or nonprofit that is looking to grow its visibility and impact. Millennials are teaching organizations that committed employees want to bring their ‘whole’ selves to work, contributing to missions that are compatible with their personal values and sense of purpose. They don’t want to bifurcate their convictions, rather they view their jobs as another channel through which they can achieve meaningful social impact. The challenge is for the employer to understand how to leverage that compassion as it inspires younger stewards of change to support the goals of their employers at the same time.
Q: What is your worst PR or marketing experience and what did you learn from it?
CC: The phone call from my office started this way: “At least no one died!” It was Thanksgiving weekend and that opening certainly got my attention. We were conducting a promotional tour for Smirnoff Vodka providing a real-time concert via a highly accomplished pianist, formally dressed in tails, sitting on an elegantly decorated flatbed truck, touring the city. Key to the decor was a 15’ high Smirnoff bottle illuminated with tiny glowing lights. What we didn’t know was that the display’s creator did not use inflammable plastic. The giant bottle, after an hour or so, burst into flames causing the pianist to leap off the flatbed. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the news coverage was not exactly what we planned. Lesson learned: make sure you have lots of insurance coverage and plan, plan, plan for all eventualities.
Q: OK, so what was your best experience and how did that inform your work going forward?
CC: The creation of the Rockport Fitness Walking movement, that brought fitness walking to America as the next means of credible and accessible exercise. It also elevated Rockport to become a beloved national brand, growing them from an unknown $20 million company to over $150 million in 5 years. The second has been inspiring PNC Financial to embrace early childhood education as their core social purpose, committing $350 million over 20 years helping children to be socially, emotionally and intellectually ready for Kindergarten. We coaxed PNC to partner with the National Head Start Association (obvious) and Sesame Street (not so obvious). They have reached millions of children and families and have helped launch a national movement for early childhood education. Lesson learned for both: do your homework; find the next emerging social purpose and link amazing partners with a long-term commitment.
Q: How would you describe yourself in one word?
Q: You’re at a point where you can write books and relax. What is it that you still want to accomplish with Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, your next entrepreneurial venture?
CC: When we’ve cured every social malady or inequity, I guess we can fold up our tent, but one only need to look at crushing world health and education needs, environmental abuses, and social stigmas to see the demand for change in our world society. Big ideas need expert accelerators to bring them to life, and that’s where our Purpose Collaborative steps in. I am so excited that in less than a year, we have grown to 32 members, representing more than 300 experts in purpose, from culture enhancement to comprehensive program development and execution to virtual reality for social impact. I am humbled by the community we have created, the smarts and passions of my “partners” and the challenges we are addressing.
We find that while executives want to do more, they often concede that bandwidth limits how their organizations externalize ethics and trust. This is the new way of doing business, and its only growing. As long as there exists a need to upscale bold ideas with organizations that are willing to anchor them at the center of organizational and brand strategy our work is not done. Companies that get it – like Unilever, Microsoft, CVS, PNC and Starbucks – show the upside of adopting societal engagement at their core and learn that integration of their core competencies with society provides magical impacts well beyond their initial plan.
Q: The reality of virtual communication reshapes how employees and customers learn and interact. What are your thoughts on the best of technology vs. in-person learning?
CC: Technology allows almost unlimited access to information, from short form to long, from print to videos. The challenge is not getting overwhelmed, yet staying curious and looking for obvious — for learning — and not so obvious, such as connections for ideation. In-person learning has a wonderful aspect too, especially if teams come together with a shared purpose to solve a challenge and some ground rules as to how they interact. I really like both.
Q: I will never forget our first phone interview: were keenly interested in how I defined being ‘competitive’ outside of the office. I later learned that you had arguably a dual career as a competitive equestrian. It’s hard to term your impressive record of show jumping accomplishment a ‘hobby,’ but how does this competitiveness indicator predict the profile of someone who will excel as a cause communications specialist?
CC: The DNA of any innovator requires habits that hone knowledge and grow your confidence outside of business hours. Competitive horse jumping, as one example, takes inordinate discipline, off-hours commitment for work and travel, and a selfless willingness to roll up one’s sleeves for the most unceremonious tasks, such as cleaning horse stalls. The performance aspect emerges as minutes from years of training, learning and being coached. There are personality parallels of a competitive person that informs the focus of anyone who sees their PR career as one of transforming our world. Carol Cone ON PURPOSE is being built with collaborators who live this truth of social activism: you have to make it happen, with resilience, persistence, and active collaboration. Being competitive – meaning never giving up and learning, learning, learning and giving of oneself is a perceptible core belief system that is evident in how someone spends their personal time and influence others to do good works.
Q: When you finish your presentation at PRXNE16, how do you anticipate the audience will think and feel about who they are, what they do and how they do it?
CC: I hope they will be inspired, and have an elevated understanding of the role of social purpose in business today and how they can bring their values, passion and smarts into this new way of working for personal, business and societal impact. Doing well and doing good can be profound! You just need to be authentic, do your homework, not give up and look for the ‘gems’ to ignite for amazing outcomes.
Carol offers this list of inspiring and must reads for CSR best practices: Download CCOP Cause Resource List HERE.
About Carol Cone, Founder + CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE
Twitter: @carolcone Web: http://www.purposecollaborative.com
Carol Cone is CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE (CCOP), a 21st-century consultancy whose mission is to move social purpose to the center of business and brand strategy. At the core of CCOP is The Purpose Collaborative, a collective of over 30 agencies, boutiques and individuals, with deep purpose, CSR and sustainability capabilities from strategy to execution.
For over 25 years, Carol has embraced a commitment to building lasting partnerships between companies, brands and social issues for deep business and societal impact. Her groundbreaking work includes Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, Reebok Human Rights Awards, American Heart Go Red for Women, American Lung Association Lung Force, PNC Grow Up Great, Microsoft YouthSpark and The Vaseline Healing Project.
She is also a recognized thought leader in social purpose, having conducted the world’s first research, then dozens of studies with business executives, citizens, employees and nonprofits to gain critical insights to inspire organizations to engage with society as being a wise business strategy. She is a sought-after speaker and media expert, sharing her insights on purpose branding, corporate citizenship, sustainability and CSR.
Carol served as the founder, CEO and Chairman of Cone, Inc. from 1980-2010. In 2007, PR Week called her “arguably the most powerful and visible figure in the world of Cause Branding.”
In 2009, she was one of two US judges for the first PR Lions Awards at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Her first book, Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding was published in 2010. Overall, Cone’s signature cause programs have raised more than $2 billion for various social issues. www.purposecollaborative.com
About Loring Barnes, APR, Chief Communications Officer, Clarity
President, PRSA Boston + PRXNE16 Conference Co-Chair
Twitter: @claritynews + @loringbarnes Web: www.claritygroup.com
Anyone who caught World Cup fever in ’94 or rode transit to Boston’s first Tall Ships knows Loring’s capacity for creating and executing big ideas, in part by uniting new partners, a core premise of cause communications. These programs earned nods by the USOOC and changed the culture of a behemoth government bureaucracy, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).
Cone, Inc. was among Loring’s earliest and most influential agency posts that included the eventual Omnicom sibling agency Copithorne + Bellows among others in TX and PA. She founded Clarity in 2001 as a reputation and brand-building consultancy in order to be closer to the action as a C-client advisor. Clarity’s transformation of the CDC’s National HIV Testing Day campaign to become the Federal agency’s most impactful and praised at the United Nations by the White House stands out on a career highlight reel that includes: professionally recognized launches, mature brand reinvigorations, partnerships and effective crisis counsel alongside law enforcement agencies of all jurisdictions. The UMass Amherst ‘Alumna to Watch’ is passionate about dog rescue among a variety of board and volunteer commitments she keeps in play.
Follow PRXNE16 News: #PRXNE