MSOC Conf 2012

Impact is all that matters

Our 2012 President reflects on her first Conference Speech

10 years ago on November 28th 2012, I made my first conference speech as the President of The Marketing Society at the Royal Opera House.

At that time the brilliant Hugh Burkitt was the Society's Chief Executive and I was highlighting the newly refined definition of marketing which was to create sustainable growth.

In that context, I observed four things:

  1. The power of making decisions that you would be happy for your children to inherit
  2. The diminution of accountability when it's a collective decision versus a personal investment. And then put your actions where your words are
  3. Ensure your company lives up to its purpose
  4. 21st-century marketing should be about creating sustainable growth with the conscience and voice of today’s consumers and equally importantly their future generations.

Since then there will have been billions of words written around these subjects as people re-articulate things in their own style. Just as I would have been rearticulating the millions of words before me only this time brought to life with my own experiences.

So I reflect on those points and wonder for all the words spoken and written, have we made any progress?

I think we have but the pace is excruciatingly slow. Strikes me that has been determined by the number of leaders that think this way; the markets who represent the shareholder; and the appreciation of the downside of not acting this way.

Rather dispiritingly the chances of greater take up at greater speed lie in the downside being more obvious for all to see, the markets thinking about their stranded assets and leaders' enlightened self-interest.

And to add to this cynicism I want to scream when I read yet more on the subject of purpose. More 'best self' rhetoric.

What's happening here? I think I am usually considered enthusiastic, energetic and optimistic. And here I am to paraphrase Samuel Johnson exhibiting distinct 'tired of life' tendencies.

Why is this?

I have now spent 6 years running a charity that convenes businesses and gets them to collaborate on issues or in places to make systemic change that benefits our communities. We are a think-and-a-do tank. And if the last 6 years have taught me anything just observing, just galvanising, and enthusing is pointless unless you create impact and change on the back of it.

Between leaving AVIVA where I sat on the executive committee and starting as Chief Executive of BITC I was on loan to Project Everyone as 'senior advisor' / Chair. My job was to lend a hand and bring form and function to ensure a brilliant idea got over the line. Richard Curtis, Gail Gallie and Kate Garvie had the most phenomenal vision determination passion and belief and since the launch in 2015 the incredible team has driven that awareness building which has created a real movement to lead impact. If people know about the sustainable development goals they will make them happen. Business strategy will incorporate the goals, countries will be helped to be accountable and we will have more chance of achieving them. But impact has to be central to any campaigning.

Self evidently marketing has a fundamental role here. I believe marketers can be ever more powerful in helping this if they really believe their role is in large part as the voice and conscience of the consumer and their future.
 
But fundamentally there is no substitute for getting on with it. There is no substitute for determined, focused unrelenting hard work and grit if we want a world that is sustainable; that grows solely with the purpose of improving the lives of all people.

Popping back on my cynics hat again, let's face it we are not going to get there. It is too ideological and the concepts are relative ideas not absolute, so it's impossible to imagine a moment when we proudly declare victory. However, we owe it to anyone and everyone to give it our best shot.

I am thinking what could be said 10 years from now? We rarely look back or forward far enough. For everyone who was at The Marketing Society conference last week, how are you going to define your personal impact in 10 years' time? It doesn't need to be lofty you are but one person, but will it be doing something to help create a more sustainable and fairer world? And of course, you can't do it alone.

And any significant shift takes time. Adults always lament how long it takes to learn a musical instrument but when you learn it as a child 10 years of piano practice goes by in a blink alongside school. 10 years ago the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards was 12.5%. It's now approaching 40%. 10 years ago it was a very rare company that had an environment plan with science-based targets that the executive were accountable for now investors will not support companies unless they do. Now 68% of all BITC members have one. 10 years ago the UK got c 12.5% of its energy from renewable sources and now it's three times that.
Progress is all around us but in the maelstrom of the day-to-day noise and detritus it's so easy to lose sight of this and our role in it.

The stakes are higher, the tools of manipulation are better, the ability to lose ones way easier so our resolve to create impact needs to be greater.

I have spent the last 8 years working in the not-for-profit sector, I now plan to build a portfolio where I will spend half my time for profit and half not for profit. I was asked to reflect on my 'leadership journey' the other week for a talk and as prep I looked back at the notes for several of the talks I have given over the last 30 years.

In the ruthless edit there are just 3 things to consider.

  1. You are 90 sitting on a park bench what matters? What will make you think 'I've done what I was here to do? My actions have made a difference. I've left the world better by being in it.'
  2. In any moment think in whose service you are and act accordingly. And always aim to be in the service of others and not yourself
  3. People always say to know yourself. I might suggest just getting comfortable with yourself. We can't be perfect. We can't achieve perfection. But we can make a difference. Little by little. Day by day. Just keep at it.

So to today's marketers, you have so much power in your hands to persuade, to make a difference to drive impact. Don't fall back on rhetoric please be ruthless and courageous in your pursuit of positive impact. I know The Marketing Society will be right with you in helping that happen.