B Corps – A Lot of People To Please
Caring about our society is a nice thing for all of us to do, but for Benefit Corporations, providing a positive impact on society is actually a legal responsibility. How they go about fulfilling that responsibility, however, can be a bit tricky.
Beyond providing a benefit report that shows the corporation has met its statutory requirements, a well-run B Corp needs to meet a high threshold of communicating to several stakeholder groups. Sometimes, those stakeholders have similar needs and wants. Other times, those needs become more disparate.
Below are some examples of what successful B Corps need to think about when communicating with those groups:
Employees = Action
When a B Corp recruits, it does so looking for employees that want to be part of the mission and take a leadership role in creating value. Typically, the prospective employees themselves have a similar goal when looking for an employer. Once hired, they aren’t the kind of people who ask if or why they can or should participate in achieving the B Corp’s purpose. It’s about how they can take an active role. B Corps that keep that in mind will ensure employee happiness.
Shareholders = Results
Shareholders gonna sharehold. Investors need to understand the ultimate impact—yes at the mission level but also the potential bottom-line return on their investment. Drawing a solid line rather than a dotted one in explaining the what is the biggest key to getting investors to buy in and believe. Without that succinct and clear connection between the mission and financial returns, shareholders can become frustrated and get in the way of the ultimate purpose.
Customers = Connection
Clients and customers are similar to shareholders in that they need a clear line. But rather than financial returns, customers need to see a clear alignment between the business’s operations and its benefit. With customers, a B Corp’s most crucial role is answering the why of its mission and how its products, services and growth strategies tie into that mission.
Partners = Validation
As key participants in the value chain, suppliers and vendors represent a mix of the how question that employees ask and the why asked by customers. Ideally, the partners provide a “humble brag” of working with your B Corp to others. After a while, it becomes second nature that this B Corp partner is equally committed to doing good and doing (financially) well.
Media = Narrative
With journalists and other public influencers, the top priority is having a clear narrative that stitches the components described above. But the stitches themselves are just as important as the broader story, and those stories need to be told with grace and sophistication. Sometimes it’s impossible to know which stories that make up the overall narrative might resonate with a media member or influencer, so the logical answer is to tell all of those stories well, and connect them to things that are relatable to everyone. Demonstrate the “benefit ecosystem” that your B Corp has combined into a smart approach, without saying things like “benefit ecosystem.” Be human.
Every B Corp started out with an interesting story, challenge or goal. Or maybe all three. And as they grow, they pick up more stories, challenges and goals along the way. But as is the case with almost everything, having the empathy and flexibility to tell the broader story to different constituents can often be overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
Steve King (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Director of Digital Strategy and former owner of a B Corp. He develops integrated marketing programs for B2C and B2B clients that focus on measurable results.
Joe Checkler (email@example.com) is Director of Media Relations at Peppercomm. He develops unique strategies for engaging with the media, and helps clients create thoughtful and compelling narratives through the storytelling techniques honed during his 11 years as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.