On day two of Spectra, a reputation management-focused online conference, Andy Pharaoh, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, Mars, addressed a panel on ‘Building back a better world for the people and the planet’. He spoke at length about the various challenges facing businesses in a post-COVID world, how Mars continues to step up and evolve in the face of a changing environment while keeping its core values intact, and the five most important things for businesses to consider.
PR as a force for positive change
“In a year dominated by uncertainty and misinformation, consumers and employees have turned to companies as a trusted news source. We’ve lived in the virtual world this year, and companies like Mars have been largely insulated against the worst economic effects,” Pharaoh said. He added that Mars has been able to use its PR effort and resources on a global scale through the pandemic to enable better, more sustainable, more purpose-driven ways of working.
Purpose in business
Pharoah believes that companies are not just vehicles for employing people and making money. They play an active role in society. COVID-19 has changed everything about how businesses run, and as a family-owned company, Mars’ principles have guided the leadership during this time – to protect associates’ health, to stop the spread of the virus and to ensure core business continuity. “We’ve also focused on local communities, from refugee aid to donations to the UN Food Programme to the tune of $26 million. In India, we’ve addressed animal welfare and partnered NGOs to reach health workers with our products, among other initiatives,” he said.
He circled back to purpose which, according to Pharaoh, Mars understands to be an articulation of an organisation’s North Star. “If your purpose cannot be used as a lens to make business decisions, it is probably not a purpose at all. Purpose must be real and aspirational. At Mars, we say, ‘The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today’,” he explained.
Mars judges success by following what it calls the ‘Mars Compass’, which defines purpose as the engine for business success. It comprises:
- Strong financial performance
- Being well-positioned for future growth
- Having a positive impact on the world
- Being a trusted partner in society.”
Evolving to consumer demand
“Mars has never shied away from ‘difficult’ subjects. We talk of poverty, race, deforestation and basic human rights and take corrective business decisions when necessary. We recently underlined our purpose of inclusivity when we changed the name of ‘Uncle Ben’s Rice’ to ‘Ben’s Originals’. We listened to the voices of our associates, especially those in the black community to arrive at this decision,” Pharaoh said.
Mars is also operating better with communities it works with, handling more refined processes in the agricultural supply chain and identifying products that pose challenges across different levels, he said. A case in point is the issue of palm oil, which is great when produced sustainably. However, it is driving deforestation in South East Asia, and there are complex human rights issues to go with it. To counter this, Mars has recently announced the ‘Palm Positive’ plan which is a deforestation-free palm oil initiative simplifying the company’s supply chains. Through this process, Mars is taking the number of mills it sources from, from 1500 to fewer than 100 by 2021.
Another difficult issue, climate change, has seen Mars breaking the link between economic growth and carbon growth. “We’re looking at upscaling with fewer emissions, and have science-based targets for our greenhouse emissions. Of all the electricity we buy now, 53% is renewable,” he said.
Five key things for businesses to consider
Pharoah left the audience with five important factors that businesses must always keep in mind:
- What an organisation chooses to do is more important than what it chooses to say. It’s all about defining and staying true to the business purpose.
- From a communications standpoint, if the purpose is clear, believable and aspirational, it can be a very effective way of telling a company’s story.
- Embracing purpose and picking destinations means a business must have a point of view. And not everyone will agree with it. If something matters, an organisation must be willing to take a stand and take criticism. It also helps to remember that in the world of social media, criticism will come at a business quickly, and dealing with it is not for the faint of heart.
- The role of corporations is evolving. Having a focused mission to communicate positive change is now a clear part of communicators’ mandates.
- The way the world is moving now and the history we are living through right now is the biggest ever test case of a company’s mission. Walking the walk has never been so important.