Gone are the days where businesses were able to operate for profit alone. Companies are now expected to take a moral stance on societal issues if they don’t want their bottom lines to suffer. So, is Corporate Citizenship the way to go?

In this episode of the Future of Media online conference series, sponsored by Vodacom, EziAds, Primedia Outdoor, The MediaShop, TILT, Wan-Ifra, The FM Redzone and The Media Online, Siya Sangweni engaged with experts who have actively taken a role in ensuring the consumer is heard loud and clear within their businesses.

Sangweni started by asking panelist Hennie Myburgh, Programme Manager at Jacaranda FM, how they have managed to support long-term clients during this time. Myburgh went on to say that there has been a lot of humanizing during this time and a lot of honest conversations have been had. “The last 12 months have taught us to connect and listen. As a group we embarked on a couple of campaigns. One that stands out is the “Jacaranda Gives Back” campaign, where we appealed to businesses to reach out so that we could help them get back on their feet. Activation, connecting and using first party data helped forge and strengthen relationships,” he said.

Whether these CSR efforts are in place to take care of employees, to take care of a community, or advance a positive change – there are few large businesses in South Africa that can afford to ignore the Corporate Citizenship imperative. Who better to promote anything than the media, so what is the media’s role in supporting and promoting corporate citizenship?

Lyndon Barends, Group Strategy at Arena Holdings explained that the media has been part of the story telling business for years now, focusing on good stories and bad stories. “It’s the media’s mission is to inform, educate and entertain. These stories are good for the brand and the consumer when a story is told in a truthful, objective and meaningful manner,” he explained.

Myburgh added that “Story telling coupled with authenticity will drive impact in campaigns and will influence the connection between a brand and its audience.”

A good example of this is Vodacom, who have implemented various corporate citizenship initiatives such as their initiative in the medical and educational fields. Thami Majola, Executive Head of Brand at Vodacom elaborated by saying: “During the Covid climate, we have tried to stray away from being too revenue focused and rather focused on creating platforms and programmes that lead with purpose.” He mentioned apps like Bright Star, Doctors and Edu-Parenting. “The products and services we offer look to serve our customers and drive our purpose driven ambitions,” Majola added.

While it was agreed that brands need to drive change and create a sustainable difference in people’s lives through Corporate Citizenship, Natalie Botha, Director of Creative Development at Kantar reminded the audience that “CSR and purpose are different. CSR is tactical and purpose is something you lead with, it’s embedded in everything you do and in order for this to be properly infused into your brand, it needs to be included in the c-suite mandate.”

In the same way purpose and authenticity has become a mandate for marketers, so has empathy. This brand band aid has forced marketers to think out of the box. Jeanine Rainier, General Manager at TILT continued by saying, “Empathy is not a box ticking exercise, you have to be transparent in what you do and you have to have a brand purpose. Consumers can see if brands are just throwing money at something or if they are truly invested in it.”

Engagement is also an important cog in understanding culture and being culturally relevant. Botha advised brands that “When it comes to being cultural relevant, the only way to do it is to put in the leg work up front and communicate with consumers in order to understand cultural nuances. Once you get it, the consistency needs to be on point; otherwise the narrative can erode your authenticity.”

Majola also felt strongly about authenticity and explained that branding and marketing never used to be a balance sheet item, but rather that these days “Good Will” branding is a real asset for a brand. He believes that it symbolises a promise of services, a promise of quality and it connects community and family. He also warned that brands that are not authentic will get caught out and brands that are purpose driven will be trusted and gain a loyal following.

It’s time for a different way of thinking about how people engage with media, each other and the world around them. As an industry, we need to listen first to better understand what to do next, so in closing our panelists shared their final thoughts on corporate citizenship and how to make this a key to the success of the future of media.

Rainier shared that in order for brands to be successful in their purpose, then need to truly listen to what the citizens of South Africa are saying and then be agile in using that information.

Barends reminded the audience that we live in difficult times in South Africa and while we often focus on the higher purposes, we also need to appeal to the masses. “Remember, Ubuntu speaks to the heart of CSR,” he concluded.

Myburgh’s advice to brands was simple: “Be authentic, get real, genuinely care and get involved in an area that your brand has a role to play in.”

Botha stressed that connection is everything. “We connect on digital platforms but we are not engaging face to face. Attempt to connect with your consumers as much as you can, so you can have genuine insights that will drive your business forward, and then remember to be consistent.”

And lastly Majola added that tech is nothing without humanity. “Be at the heart of connecting with humanity and make sure that the connection is purpose led.”

To watch the full discussion, click here.

The next online event, ‘Fighting through the fog: consumer attention as a scarce commodity’, will be taking place on 5 May 2021 at 10h00. For more information, or to register, click here.

The big take-out: Gone are the days where businesses were able to operate for profit alone. As an industry, we need to listen to our consumers first to better understand what to do next.