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Acting with purpose

By Michael Bennett, Managing Director Sustainability Practice

I was recently invited to attend the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Horizon Conference as a panellist to discuss “Clients, talent and the future: sustainability and ESG.” at an event which took place last week.

According to the CIPR, the annual event brings together up-and-coming practitioners with

established in-house, agency, and freelance PR professionals to foster knowledge exchange,

collaborative discussions, and insightful deliberations on the evolving landscape of PR.

I was struck by the focus on sustainability and purpose. It was a topic close to the hearts of

many of the young PR professionals in my session, which was one of several sessions focussing on CSR. Chatting to some of them in the breakout, many said it was important for them to work with business that have ‘purpose’.

It’s fair to say many of the people I was talking to were Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) and they already constitute almost a quarter of the workforce globally. Understanding what matters to this generation is crucial to businesses, both in appealing to Gen Z as consumers and in attracting them as employees.

What they have in common with the older cohort of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) is an

appreciation of, and loyalty to, brand and businesses with purpose. But it is a mistake to believe millennials and Gen Z are exactly the same.

What does Gen Z look for in an employer?

While purpose is important to Gen Z, workplace engagement is less important to them than it is for millennials. Not to make you feel old, but the first millennials, often a catch-all term for ‘young people’, are approaching their 40 th birthdays.

Gen Z is a pragmatic generation which witnessed parents in Gen X lose up to 45% of their wealth during the 2008 recession. Consequently, financial stability is more important to Gen Z when looking for a job than it is for millennials. XYZ University discovered two in three would rather have a job that offers financial stability than one they enjoy. This is in stark contrast to millennials, many of whom prioritise finding a job that is fulfilling over one that simply pays the bills.

So the days of office ping pong tables and nap pods have come to an end, but if you think this means a decent salary and pension scheme is enough to attract a new generation of workers, think again.

Gen Z and businesses with purpose.

Here’s what Gen Z has in common with millennials; they care about ethical consumption and are likely to avoid brands involved in scandals, or that refuse to take a stand on important issues.

Considering Gen Z is now the world’s largest consumer segment, it’s important for today’s brands to think carefully about how they weave purpose into their business model. This generation expects the brands they love to stand for something.

At a basic level, purpose is what an organisation aspires to be and do. It’s about what you’re doing for the wider world, your customers, your community, the environment. The Purpose Pulse 2020 report found millennials and Gen Z expect companies to take clear positions

on social and environmental issues. Six in 10 (61%) respondents said it is important or very

important that companies take a stance on issues that matter to them. More than half of those surveyed also said having a clear purpose beyond profit is important to them when considering which brands to buy.

The importance of authenticity.

Data shows 89% of Gen Z would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that does not, so it seems a no-brainer that putting your name to whatever cause is trending will show you in a good light among this demographic.

But credit Gen Z with more savviness. One of the reasons traditional ‘celebrities’ have taken a back seat to social media and YouTube influencers in recent years is because they’re seen by Gen Z as more ‘authentic’, and this search for authenticity makes them scrutinise the motives of brands and businesses.

Coming out in support of a cause that is unrelated to your brand’s mission statement or purpose will come across as a shameless play for public brownie points, ultimately damaging your brand’s reputation. ‘Authenticity’, like ‘purpose’ is more than a buzzword for your marketing strategy. You need to carefully define what your brand is before aligning it with a cause.

In order to convince Gen Z that you truly care about a cause you also have to be willing to invest in it. Piggybacking onto a trending hashtag without any demonstrable action will only agitate young consumers who will see it as ‘goodwashing’.

‘Goodwashing’ is seen by some as the new ‘greenwashing’, and businesses which attempt claim to have purpose without authenticity do so at their peril. Gen Z values being part of movements far bigger than themselves, placing great importance on doing work that improves our world. They will also align themselves to brands which demonstrate

similar values to themselves. In fact, 57% of consumers are buying or boycotting brands based on social or political purpose.

So, to attract Gen Z to work for you or shop with you, it’s not just helpful to have purpose, it’s



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