CANNES – PR agencies should focus more on their own purpose and doing social good, as well as on supporting clients with their purpose, according to speakers at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Speaking on a panel session last week, Rachel Bell, founder of Shine, said: “I genuinely think to have integrity in the area of purpose for clients, agencies have to come through a place of purpose themselves. It’s not just about stickering a campaign.”

Bell is the new non-executive director of Don’t Cry Wolf, the first PR agency to be certified as a B Corporation, assessed on its balance of purpose and profit. She said: “B Corps hold themselves up to account. Purpose-driven clients know they that will have people and planet policies that mirror their own, and people are increasingly choosing partners based on shared values.”

Don’t Cry Wolf founder John Brown said creative teams would soon no longer have a choice about doing ‘good’: “The way audiences are responding to brands right now, expecting them to step into areas where governments aren’t fulfilling their promises, and expecting organisations to be more transparent, open and honest in the way they are communicating, means those failing to do so will be hauled over the coals and there will be a graveyard of creative teams who haven’t spotted this.”

And Brown said agencies with their own purpose had a role to influence clients’ policies as well as communications: “There’s a lot of virtue signalling going on out there. From a PR perspective we need to influence from the inside out.

“Because we declare ourselves to be a B Corp and a purpose-driven agency, everyone expects us to be working with charities and cuddly businesses. We don’t – we work with businesses to move them in the right direction. Comms teams need to challenge, and to say no. We can’t just accept a brief for a diversity campaign when there’s no diversity policy. I want to sit in front of the board and say ‘you have to do this first before you even think about a campaign.’”

From an in-house point of view, Shamima Biggar, group managing director of communications at Adobe said communicating purpose and values externally could be a delicate balance: “It’s all about authenticity. Adobe has an Asian CEO, a board of people from different ethnic backgrounds, and is big on diversity and inclusion, but the corporate comms team is not too pushy about that message. It’s not about making Adobe look purposeful, it’s what they are actually trying to do, such as providing technology to supporting young creatives through education.”

She added there would be a talent issue for brands that didn’t clearly express their purpose: “You’re not going to attract the right people, because the younger generation want to work for a brand that stands for something. Purpose isn’t just about their audiences you’re trying to reach, but about the people you’re trying to attract into the workforce.”

Another B Corp on the panel was design agency Leap. Founder Matt Hocking said: “Certifications like B Corp really open up the complexities and governance of a business and sharing that through internal and external communications. This is a huge opportunity to revolutionise business."