Rob McFaul is client director at Mindshare and co-leader of Mindshare Purpose.
The idea of brand purpose and companies ‘making the world a better place’ has been hotly debated. There are those that see it as detracting from the marketer’s job of making money and those that are more sanguine.
So let’s hear from someone who actually works to deliver brand purpose.
(And remember, if reading this gives you itchy feet, you can view new opportunities at Econsultancy Jobs)
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I co-lead Mindshare Purpose within Mindshare, a global media agency network that’s part of WPP.
The pioneering businesses of our age, from Unilever to Patagonia, are examining the way they do business by looking at the long-term issues underpinning global uncertainty. They are directing resources and brands to create long term value for both their shareholders and society. At the same time, people increasingly expect businesses to make a positive impact in their lives. As an agency we have to explore this shift.
We set up Mindshare Purpose two years ago to understand what purpose-driven business means for our clients, agency and industry. Purpose is very much an emerging space, and is often misapplied or misunderstood with no universal definition. My role is to navigate this ambiguity and develop principles and approaches for us to understand how, through our work we can make a meaningful difference to both society and planet.
More specifically, I work at all levels within the business. With our clients, depending on where they are on the journey, I either find ways of introducing the strategic opportunity to be more purpose-led, whilst for clients that are already onboard with purpose, I work with our teams to activate their purpose in media in a way that creates both social impact and commercial return.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation?
I sit within Mindshare’s UK office, however, part of my role is to share our thinking and knowledge across Mindshare’s global network. Mindshare has a rich history for award-winning purpose led work, and I want to scale the thinking that goes behind these campaigns across the network.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I liken where we are now with purpose to the early days of digital. Back then we needed to develop entirely new skills and ways of working to bring about digital transformation. As I go about my work and connect with others in our industry wanting to take a more purpose-led focus, I see the following skills emerging:
Collaboration: It’s about being the collaborator between partner agencies, teams and departments, encouraging them to all think differently about how they can be more purpose-led in their work.
Story-telling: Finding the right narrative to engage and influence people. Stories can help people connect with their ability to create positive change through their work. It’s important to find the right story that connects and motivates people.
At ease with uncertainty: Being comfortable with ambiguity and complexity to be able to accelerate the shift to an industry and clients that scale positive impact is a challenge. The answers on how to do this do not come easily. It’s therefore important to understand what change you want to see and allow for answers to develop as you set about your work, reflecting and learning from every interaction you have and intervention you do.
Tell us about a typical working day…
My days can vary widely. Some days I’m designing and facilitating all-agency workshops to uncover ways for a brand to make a meaningful difference whilst remaining true to its identity as well as creating commercial return. Other days I’m working closely with our strategists, planners and creative teams, ensuring the principles we’ve learnt are applied, in order to make effective purpose-led campaigns.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love the potential for our agency and industry to direct its creative firepower to make positive change. I love the energy in our workshops when people understand that their business has the scale and resources to be part of solving a bigger challenge.
The harder part is hearing the cynicism. With brands trying to make positive moves to make the world a better place, there is often scope for quite a great deal of criticism. Sometimes the criticism is well placed (looking at you Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad) but what the cynics miss and what pioneering businesses have figured out, is that environmental and social issues are connected to business value. Companies will be less competitive if they do not control the risks that these issues bring or innovate to seize the opportunities that come from solving the world’s challenges.
The word ‘purpose’ has too much baggage in our industry. I now see part of my work is to evolve this language. I’d ideally like to be able to drop the term entirely but, we would still need to communicate a way for everyone to understand the underlying concept and vision.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My goal and vision is for purpose-led work to be instinctive. At Mindshare UK we talk about our audience as our number one client. That to me is an important and significant step on this journey.
Right now, I measure the success by the number of campaigns we’re developing and sessions I’ve been called in to facilitate. We’ve also coined our own KPI measurement, we call ‘Key Human Indicators’, to encourage us to think how we measure the social impact of our campaign ideas.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
I apply many of the tools from the world of social innovation, systems thinking and human-centred design. Systems mapping in particular – simply the act of taking a pen and paper, throwing the issue in the middle page, adding all the elements and nodes that connect to the issue and drawing the connection and relationship between them all – it is a really powerful way of understanding how things interconnect around a social issue and identifying the role for a brand to make a positive difference.
What I like about these approaches is that they take us away from our screens and encourage real conversation and collaboration.
How did you get end up at Mindshare and where might you go from here?
A collision of careers in insight, social entrepreneurship, development and brand innovation brought me to Mindshare and to my current role. Mindshare recruited me for my insight and innovation experience and I then carved out my current role to bring in my other skills and experiences.
There are others within WPP that are working on purpose too. There is real value in connecting these individuals and forming a wider collective or department that develops WPP’s approach to purpose for creative, media, programmatic and beyond. I believe the first group agency that fully embraces purpose will have the competitive advantage.
Which recent work have you admired?
I’m inspired by the collective Project Energy, a great of example of our industry finding a purpose. Seventeen of New York’s top agencies have put aside competition to fight global warming. Through a targeted portfolio of campaigns, Potential Energy aims to educate the public about climate change, simplify the language around what is needed to mitigate its long-term impact and spark real change.
Do you have any advice for people who want to persuade their business to be more purpose-led?
I’ve learnt that it starts with discovering and exploring why this work matters to you and the power of sharing that story so that others may also discover why it matters to them too. You need grit and motivation to make change happen, and you need to empower others to find their motivation too.