How to Grow your Company with Purpose Driven PR

An article detailing the importance of strong core values, and how being a purpose driven company allows for engaging PR opportunities and campaigns. With advice from the experts, this article contains essential tips to execute your own purpose driven PR campaign.

published: March 18, 2020
updated: June 16, 2021

The purpose of PR is to communicate with your stakeholders and audience. By effectively managing your communication channels, and using them to distribute relevant content, PR can grow your business through increased brand awareness and brand authority. In our whitepaper on Rethinking PR in 2021, we identified the trend that today, more people want to consume brands that align with their values, viewing brands as the vehicle for social change. As such, it has never been more important to be a genuine, purpose driven brand. In this guide, we will explain why purpose is important to your brand, and how to use purpose driven PR to grow your company. As well as offering our own experience, we talked to Alette Boogman, PR specialist for TOMS to bring you insights from one of the best examples of a purpose driven company in the world.

Difference between mission, purpose and values

Before getting into the strategy you need to understand the definitions of the concepts we’re using here. Investors, employees and customers can spot a disingenuous purpose statement a mile away. If your company’s purpose sounds like a cliche from a beauty pageant, i.e. “To achieve world peace”, you need to reflect on these definitions to strengthen your branding and your communication with your audience and stakeholders.

Knowing the difference between your mission and purpose statement will help you devise a cornerstone manifesto if you will that will inform and influence all future messaging coming from your company.

A mission statement describes what we want our company to achieve. As a kid, everyone has inevitably been asked the question “what do you want to be when you grow up”. Think of your mission statement this way. What do you want your company to be or what do you want to achieve when it grows up?

Purpose explains why your company wants to achieve this mission. If you told your parents you wanted to become a doctor or a rockstar, they most likely asked you “why?” What is the reason driving your company to achieve its mission?

You start a company because you notice a gap in the market. Some common challenge that people were facing, whether in their personal or work lives, a need that had to be filled. Then you thought to yourself, “I’ve got a great idea...” This is the moment you have to go back to when thinking about your purpose, and being driven by it as you grow. What was it you noticed wasn’t working? What was it you were trying to solve?

For example, say your company offers a grocery delivery service. Instead of winning customers over with the cost and time effectiveness of your offer, consider the deeper reason why they should use your service: “because spending time with your family after work is more important than spending time at the grocery store”; “because everyone, even people with busy schedules, should have the option to cook a healthy homemade meal”.

Here your purpose is more than just delivering a good service. It is to help people spend more time with their family or to give more people the opportunity to eat healthily.

Your values guide how you‘ll accomplish your mission. They are the qualities that drive you, such as integrity, or innovation. They are the philosophies or beliefs that drive your business, and will impact how you interact with employees and influence the customer experience.

  • Mission = What you want to accomplish
  • Purpose = Why you want to accomplish this
  • Values = How you plan to accomplish it (with innovation, integrity, etc)

How to build a purpose driven campaign

We can now build upon these definitions to create a successful purpose marketing campaign. We take our purpose and consider it in the context of a new factor, the audience. Considering who your target audience is will help you craft messaging that speaks directly to their challenges and values.

  • Purpose + Audience = Campaign
  • Why = Purpose
  • Who = Audience
  • What = Campaign
  • How = Channels, tools, strategy

The first step is to take your purpose and consider how it impacts your target audience. This will help you identify what your campaign will look like. It’s not enough to simply identify your purpose and expect an audience to grow around it, you also have to consider what your audience’s ‘why’ is for purchasing your product. Go beyond material reasons, like providing the lowest prices.

Consider the following questions:

  • Why is it important to your audience?
  • What are their goals or aspirations?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • Why would someone purchase your product to help them overcome this obstacle?
  • What are the motivations and constraints of the audience to make a purchase?

From here you can understand what your campaign will be focused on.

Let’s go back to the example of the grocery delivery service. You noticed a gap in the market: People often don’t have time in their busy schedules to go grocery shopping. This is a challenge because they either have to sacrifice time with their loved ones to do the shopping or settle for another takeaway. This is your company’s why. Now consider what your audience’s why is for using your service.

- If you’re focusing on families who want to spend more time together, what is it that they miss out on by not sitting down to have a meal together?

- Another angle here is also how many busy people who struggle with staying in shape. Having the time to cook a healthy meal, instead of ordering another pizza, can really help them achieve their fitness goals.

This is the step where you identify your campaign. Maybe it’s “Bringing family dinners back” or “The healthy delivery choice”, if you do your research and really consider why and who, you’ll have the elements you need to create a strong purpose-driven campaign that can build a narrative around your brand that people will relate to.

Your campaign should be focused on communicating your purpose using the tools most suited to your target audience.

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Making purpose the cornerstone of your organization

To truly become a purpose-driven organization you have to live and breathe your purpose. Your purpose should be something that impacts everything from your daily decision-making to the way you hire. Studies show that purpose-driven companies are more likely to have employees who are engaged, loyal, and likely to promote their company outside of work. As a result, these companies experience greater customer satisfaction and higher profits. A three-year study found that 58% of companies with a clearly articulated and understood purpose experienced over 10% growth.

It’s not just internally. Purpose also has a strong influence on consumer behavior. Today people are not just looking for a product, they’re looking to be inspired and be able to contribute, even in small ways, to society. A global study found that 66% of consumers were willing to pay more for products from sustainable brands. In fact, amongst millennials alone, this number increased to 73% speaking volumes about this ongoing shift in consumer behavior.

Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company that lives and breathes its purpose. The company’s purpose statement is to, “Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

When investors and consultants began pressuring the airline to charge for bags, claiming it was losing out on $300 million a year, CEO Gary Kelly faced a difficult decision. He would have to go against his purpose or his investors. Ultimately, Kelly decided not to compromise his purpose and instead ran a “Bags fly free” campaign. By sticking to his company’s purpose, the campaign raised over $1 billion in revenue, offsetting the cost of not charging for baggage.

People want to consume brands that have a purpose aligned with their own identity, so communicating your purpose throughout your organization is essential.

Example of purpose driven campaign

Although it is useful, you don’t have to be purpose driven from your company’s inception. The intention of this guide is to make clear that you can reflect on your purpose and launch a campaign that communicates this purpose with your audience. Let’s look at Axe as an example that shifted their marketing strategy.

In the last few years, Axe, the well-known line of men’s grooming products, completely repositioned its messaging. And when you consider the company’s brand purpose: “Give guys the confidence to look, smell and feel their best”, this move makes a lot of sense.

In the past, the company’s marketing strategies focused on traditional conceptions of masculinity and featured ads focusing on men suddenly becoming completely irresistible to women when using their products. Ultimately, the company realised this image, not only failed to align with their original purpose, but it also alienated a large portion of their audience by upholding toxic misconceptions of masculinity.

The company set to work studying their key demographic (males under 25) in collaboration with research company Promundo and the United States Institutes of Peace. What they found was that the real barrier to their audience’s confidence was actually the same traditional notions of masculinity the company was displaying in its ads.

In 2016 Axe began releasing new campaigns which took a completely opposite approach. For example, “Is it ok for guys”, which launched in 2016, was based on the most common search results that show up when you type this phrase into Google including questions like “Is it ok for guys to be a virgin?”, “Is it ok for guys to not like sports?” and even, “Is it ok for guys to like cats?”

With this campaign they effectively addressed their purpose (why): “Give guys the confidence to look, smell and feel their best” by tapping into the actual concerns impacting their audience’s confidence (who). Let’s look at another company that demonstrates perfectly how purpose wins over your audience.

PR campaigns need to be researched and focused on the actual concerns and experiences of your audience. This avoids alienation and makes it easier for the audience to align with your brand.

How TOMS put purpose at the heart of their brand

At one of the PRLab meetups, we invited guest speakers to discuss brand activism. One of the key speakers was Alette Boogman, Head of PR at TOMS EMEA who gave us insights into how they managed to spread their company’s mission globally. In order to go into more depth on how to build a purpose driven PR campaign, we will cover Alette’s three elements that she identified to become a successful purpose-driven company.

During a trip to Argentina founder Blake Mycoskie had been struck by the number of children he met who couldn’t afford shoes. These children were at risk of contracting infections from soil-borne diseases which could greatly impact their health and future. Having founded a number of companies in the past, his entrepreneurial mind thought up a business model that could generate funding to provide free shoes to children in need.

In 2006 TOMS was one of the first companies to introduce a 1 for 1 model. Buy 1 pair of shoes, give one pair to a child in need. Before that, there weren’t a lot of companies that enabled consumers to make such a direct impact.

This made Tom’s a very different breed of the company from its inception. As Mycoskie stated in an interview with Business Insider, "we are a mission with a company".

The problem was, in the beginning, the team didn’t have a budget for paid media. As a result, PR and earned media became central to the company’s marketing strategy from day one. There were 3 main strategies TOMS relied on to get their mission off the ground.

Purpose is at the heart of TOMS because they made a company to achieve a purpose. Purpose should be genuine and authentic like this, and not forced.


Building a community

It was actually university students who were the company’s first brand promoters. Already major advocates for what the company was trying to achieve, in 2007 a group of students from Pepperdine University staged the first One Day Without Shoes event. During that day you could see a mass of students walking to and from classes completely barefoot. Photos of the event were shared to raise awareness of the mission TOMS was trying to achieve. The major difference with companies built for social good is that consumers are not only more ready to buy and expect change from them, they’re also willing and ready to help these brands achieve their goals. According to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study of US consumers:

- 78% of people would tell others to buy brands from purpose-driven companies
- 73% would share information or stories about them
- 68% said they would advocate for issues the company supports
- 68% are more willing to share content from purpose-driven companies in their social networks than from traditional companies

“For many retailers, their profit margins are low. They spend lots of money on advertising – whether it’s paying celebrities to endorse your product or taking out significant billboards. Toms doesn’t have any ad spend. A big portion of our spending goes to give. But by giving, we build a community and people recommend us through word of mouth and on social media,” Mycoskie shared in an interview. Today’s purpose-driven buyers don’t just want to advocate a company’s purpose through their dollars, euros and yen, they want to be part of the action. As Alette explained during her talk, the best strategy for young social good startups is to, “Build a movement, not a PR list.”

TOMS gave opportunities for their target audience to be directly involved in their brand by actively contributing towards their purpose.


Bringing in influencers

When you don’t have a lot of visibility and journalists aren’t knocking on your door, remember, you always have your social network to turn to. And this is exactly what TOMS did. Just like your consumers, the people in your network will be more than happy to endorse a company that has a great purpose behind it. Already having a large network from his previous entrepreneurial endeavors, in the beginning, Mycoskie leveraged his network to spread word of mouth about TOMS even further.

“As PR people we have a huge circle of concern. Use this circle and you can have a huge impact on your own company,” Alette shared. To know more about the power of influencers and how to incorporate them into your marketing strategy, check out our article on the power of social media.

Work with influencers who are also aligned with your purpose as they’ll already have a circle of interest that matches your brand’s profile.


Great storytelling

The last element identified by Boogman is storytelling. At TOMS, Alette’s campaign building mantra is to, “Start with what we’re doing as a company.” Ask yourself, “Why is it important? What’s the impact? How can we craft messaging around that? That’s how you get your campaign.”

“Purpose is always used as the lens we look through when creating” she explained. At the moment she spends 60% of her time on giving stories and 40% on the actual product.

35 million pairs of shoes later…

TOMS’ success became clear very quickly. So far the company has given over 35 million pairs of shoes to children in need and has helped restore the eyesight of more than 250,000 people. It’s now a global brand available across international markets.

But remember, you’re never done. Your purpose can and should evolve. The next goal was to go further, from providing basic services to fueling human potential. But what does that take?

According to Alette, “It’s so important for businesses to have a core purpose but how you express it and how you want your customers to act can change.” You can find more information about the art of storytelling in our ultimate guide to PR for Startups.

From passive purchase to active participation

With more revenue comes more opportunities to bring consumers closer to the impact they’re making. Instead of just sharing videos, photos and stories from the company’s giving trips, TOMS has leveraged advances in VR technology allowing visitors to their stores to experience the impact their purchase can have. The first experience followed TOMS employees on a giving trip to Peru. The more you can connect your audience to your purpose, the stronger your impact will be.

From being the hero to enabling heroes

As part of the evolution of their strategy, TOMS has shifted from being the hero to celebrating heroes. After all the initial help they received in getting started, they’re now able to give back and help other social entrepreneurs realize their vision. As a result, the company is now partnering with changemakers across the world.

For example, TOMS recently partnered with Josh Coombes, a hairdresser from London who’s on a mission to provide free haircuts to the homeless. Beyond the haircuts, this initiative is more about creating a human connection by listening and sharing these people’s stories. TOMS is now helping Coombes to spread his hashtag #DoSomethingForNothing.

As Alette explained, “You don’t need a lot to make an impact. You can start small.” Homelessness is an issue that’s always been central to TOMS’ purpose, “highlighting the work of others, rather than the company, gives legitimacy to the change you want to make.”

From giving global to giving local around the world

An important part of making a real impact is actually listening to your audience and taking time to reassess how you can improve and make your efforts even stronger. Ultimately, aligning business needs with consumer insights can also lead to major innovation.

While the company had many supporters, TOMS also faced some criticism. One of the most contentious issues leveled at the company was whether or not their efforts were actually undermining local shoe production.

At the time, the company was producing shoes in a select number of countries and then shipping them globally as part of their giving initiative. Listening to their critics and analyzing the possibilities, what they realized was that moving production from global factories to local factories would actually align both their mission and business needs.

As the first step towards its giving local strategy, TOMS went on a mission to build a “responsible, sustainable” shoe industry in Haiti. While the company had given many shoes to people in need, especially after the recent natural disasters the country faced, it was now also going to focus on providing jobs. By producing locally they’re also cutting costs on the shipping of their free shoes. The company’s long term strategy is to produce at least one-third of all giving shoes in the places where they’re distributed.

Focus on the greater story that your company exists in. The focus of your campaign should be to use your brand to enable others to address important issues in the wider context and community.

What is purpose washing and how to avoid it​

An important point came up during Boogman’s talk, which is as more companies are jumping on the purpose-driven bandwagon, what we’re seeing is the rise of purpose washing. This is claiming to have a purpose to appeal to your audience, while not actually living the values you preach.

We’re seeing some brands like Pepsi misuse purpose-driven marketing and fail, while others like Nike have used this momentum to raise important debates. One important question raised after Alette’s session was, “Can profit-focused companies also take a stand on issues?”

According to Alette, “We believe they can but it needs to be:

  • Built in to the brand’s core mission
  • Needs to backup issue advocacy with concrete action that aligns with their values
  • And followed by a long term commitment and systemic change”

As more businesses are influenced by the rise of social entrepreneurship and purpose marketing, we’re seeing more brand activism than ever. To actually use this momentum to help create change, keep Alette’s three must-haves in mind.

It’s also important to respond well to criticism when it comes to growing your company. Like how Axe realised their marketing was out of touch, you should listen to the needs of your audience and learn from their feedback. Having a community and engaging regularly with your audience will help with this.

Now that you’re familiar with purpose driven PR, and have looked in detail at an example of it done successfully, let’s go over the steps so you can easily integrate purpose into your organization and execute a purpose driven campaign yourself.

You can’t just talk about the purpose of your brand, you need to back it up with action to ensure your company embodies the values it may claim to represent. Pay close attention to the needs of your audience, their feedback is invaluable.

The steps to purpose driven PR

Based on our own experience with purpose driven PR, and the valuable insights from TOMs, we can make a clear list of the steps you can take to execute your own campaign.

  1. Identify your purpose, mission, and values. A good way to do this is to create a big mind map and just get down all your ideas about the brand, your story, your motivations and your goals. Ground it in research on the niche and need you are looking to fill in your industry.
  2. Communicate these concepts throughout your team and organization. You should make sure that everyone is informed about your purpose so they in turn will embody it as they go about their work and interact with clients. Having a clear purpose and mission helps to give clarity to employees and promote meaningful work.
  3. Research the needs and motivations of your target audience. There are several ways you can keep up to date with your audience and the needs of your industry. Following the relevant journals, reports as well as your competitors is a good starting point, but you can also conduct your own research through surveys, and plugin to your engagements
  4. Build a community of brand advocates. Now that you have researched your target audience it is time to build a community. This community will be important in learning more about your users, and giving them opportunities to also experience the purpose of your brand.
  5. Consider bringing in influencers (if appropriate for your type of business). Approach relevant influencers who can promote your brand to their followers. Our guide to social media explains in depth how to develop an influencer marketing campaign.
  6. Develop your story and narrative. The PR campaigns you launch will become part of your story. Your story is essential to communicate your core values and purpose, you can learn more about the specific storytelling techniques in our ultimate guide to PR for startups.
  7. Give opportunities to engage your audience. Leverage your social media outlets, encouraging engagement between you and your audience, as well as between consumers.
  8. Always be listening and adapting to change. As a society our needs and values are always changing, so don’t be afraid to evolve your purpose as your company or the world around you changes. By not paying close attention to current discourses and events, purpose driven PR can go very wrong. On the flip side, executing a genuine and authentic campaign that people strongly relate to can do wonders for brand awareness and trust.


You will not feel these amazing benefits if you only pay lip service to your company’s purpose. Take decisions that will advance your company’s purpose, regularly remind your employees why you’re doing what you’re doing, hire people who believe in your purpose and, by all means, make your purpose the core of all your internal and external marketing strategies. Simply setting out to beat the competition or make lots of money won’t make you an industry leader. To truly innovate you need to have the motivation and drive to do it. This comes from truly understanding why you’re doing something.

March 18, 2020
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