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Shifting from 'Public' Relations to 'Purposeful' Relations

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Thanzyl Thajudeen, founder of Mark and Comm Ltd CIPR International Committee Member reflects on the shift that PR must make to respond to a new world, in which authentic connections and social responsibility are paramount.

PR has undergone a significant transformation, evolving beyond its conventional role of managing an organization's image to a more purposeful and values-driven approach. This shift from 'public' relations to 'purposeful' relations reflects an understanding that authentic connections and social responsibility are paramount in today's dynamic landscape. A study by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) emphasizes the changing dynamics of PR, highlighting the need for organizations to move beyond superficial communication strategies. The research suggests that purposeful relations are becoming a crucial component of effective PR, with authenticity and social commitment taking center stage. As societal values evolve, organizations are recognizing the imperative of aligning their actions and communications with a meaningful purpose.


Authenticity is the way going forward


Authenticity has today become a non-negotiable aspect in crafting and disseminating messages. PR professionals need to ensure that communications genuinely reflect the organization's values and commitments. In this regard, building trust through transparent and truthful storytelling becomes a key focus. A global consumer survey conducted by Edelman revealed that 81% of respondents consider brand authenticity a significant factor in their purchasing decisions. Authenticity fosters trust, encouraging consumers to engage with organizations that demonstrate genuine commitment to their stated values, and this is something that brands can no longer ignore.


A research paper in the Journal of Marketing Management explores the link between purposeful branding and brand loyalty, finding that consumers are more likely to develop emotional connections with brands that embody meaningful values.


Social commitment is everyone’s business


Gone are the days where social responsibility is done just for the sake of feel-good or gain goodwill. It has now become a very basic expectation, to say the least, in the mind of the consumers. One shouldn’t do this just to gain PR, instead one should do just to gain trust, in all honesty. Communicating such efforts effectively can certainly enhance reputation and stakeholder perception, but do not overdo it to a point where they no longer belief. Good work done will always speak for itself. A comprehensive meta-analysis published in the Journal of Business Ethics suggests a positive correlation between CSR and organizational performance. Organizations that actively engage in socially responsible practices are likely to experience enhanced reputation and stakeholder satisfaction, which are crucial elements of purposeful relations.


The book "Let My People Go Surfing" by Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard, details the company's commitment to environmental sustainability. Patagonia's purposeful approach has not only resonated with consumers but has also been a source of inspiration for other organizations looking to integrate purpose into their operations. The Harvard Business Review features a case study on Ben & Jerry's activism, highlighting how the company's purposeful engagement in social issues has strengthened its brand and customer loyalty. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research examines the impact of TOMS' "One for One" model on consumer behavior. The findings suggest that the clear and actionable social mission of donating a product for every purchase positively influences consumer perceptions and loyalty. The Reputation Institute's annual Global RepTrak study consistently shows that organizations with strong CSR initiatives and purposeful communication enjoy a positive reputation, earning the trust and support of stakeholders.


Steer the direction your employees engage


You don’t really need to establish formal internal communications and begin things from there on. Whether you do or not, employees will always have their say about the organization and its culture. The smart way is to be able to steer such conversations in the right direction, to find that right ‘fit’ between your values and theirs, and to keep it going sustainably. It’s crucial to be able to speak into their hearts and groom them to be influential advocates for the organization's values, contributing significantly to purposeful relations. And as such PR professionals should actively involve and engage internal stakeholders in the organization's purpose. Employee communication strategies should align with the overall purpose, turning employees into ambassadors for the brand. Research from Gallup underscores the link between employee engagement and organizational success.


The Harvard Business Review reports on the increasing importance of purposeful work in attracting and retaining top talent. Organizations that prioritize purposeful relations are more likely to create an appealing work environment.


Do storytelling, only with a purpose


Storytelling is not about marketing, it’s about sustainability. Organizations that effectively communicate their purpose through compelling narratives create a strong emotional connection with their audience, fostering lasting relationships. Mastery in purposeful storytelling becomes a core skill. PR professionals must be skilled at crafting narratives that not only convey information but also evoke emotions and align with the organization's purpose. Utilizing various channels, including social media and multimedia, to effectively tell purpose-driven stories is imperative. A case study published in the Harvard Business Review emphasizes the power of purposeful storytelling in building brand loyalty.


Adaptability is the new resilience


Being resilient is not being patient or countering various factors but rather it’s about embracing and adapting to the constant changes out there. PR professionals need to be highly adaptable to changing societal expectations and values, ensuring that communication strategies evolve accordingly. A report by McKinsey highlights the importance of organizational adaptability in responding to evolving societal expectations. In crisis management, emphasizing the organization's purpose can play a crucial role in maintaining trust and mitigating reputational damage. PR professionals must align their strategies with the organization's overarching purpose, and keep revisiting often as to the relevancy and effectiveness of such strategies.


Research published in the Journal of Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility demonstrates that purposeful organizations are more likely to stand out in the market, appealing to consumers who seek brands aligned with their values. A white paper by Deloitte on risk management underscores the role of purpose in crisis resilience. Organizations that prioritize social responsibility are better equipped to navigate crises, as stakeholders perceive them as more ethical and trustworthy.


Conclusion: In for the long ride when done right


The success of PR efforts should be measured not only in terms of traditional metrics but also in the impact on stakeholder perceptions, brand loyalty, and the organization's overall purpose. Developing new metrics and evaluation frameworks that capture the qualitative aspects of purposeful relations becomes essential. PR professionals need to stay updated on societal trends, values, and expectations. Continuous learning and research will enable them to adapt strategies and keep communication relevant. Proactive monitoring of industry best practices and case studies related to purposeful relations is crucial.


Collaboration with other departments becomes integral for a holistic approach to purposeful relations. Ensuring consistency in messaging across different departments contributes to a unified organizational narrative.


As the PR landscape continues to evolve, purposeful relations emerge as a strategic imperative for organizations seeking to thrive in a socially conscious and values-driven marketplace. Supported by research and real-world examples, the importance of authenticity, social commitment and purposeful communication becomes evident. As organizations integrate purpose into their strategies, they not only build a positive brand image but also foster enduring relationships with stakeholders. The intersection of purpose and PR is a powerful space where organizations can create a meaningful and sustainable connection with their audiences, driving long-term success. And quite honestly, a business is only as worth as its relationships built over time. 




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