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ITV’s head of social purpose, Clare Phillips, speaks to The Drum’s executive editor, Stephen Lepitak, and explains how the 65-year-old broadcaster is “shaping culture for good“.

 

Social purpose has been a hot topic over the past few years. In 2020, it’s become common for brands to embed a social purpose of some kind into their business model – but how long will those ideals last in a recession? 

Ahead of her appointment as chair of The Drum Awards for social purpose, Clare Phillips discusses what brands should be doing right now to uphold social purpose while running a business in these unprecedented times.

In recent years ITV has led campaigns that deal with topics such as mental health and environmental sustainability. What changed at ITV to enable that?

ITV has always been doing it [social purpose] but it’s been quite shy about coming forward with some of the work. Take a show like Coronation Street, which has been around for decades. It has been incredible in changing people’s attitudes to some interesting social subjects like transgender people, equal marriage, online grooming and domestic violence.

It’s something that’s been baked into ITV’s DNA right from the very beginning, but it’s not something we’ve ever done in a coordinated way. What really changed was having a new chief executive, Carolyn McCall. Her arrival brought the recognition that modern brands really need to step up and make a positive difference to society. With that brand stewardship, we’ve been able to campaign more and get behind issues that we can change.

How do you choose which issues to tackle?

We undertook quite a big exercise about two years ago where we looked at what our competitors were doing, what our viewers wanted, and crucially and most importantly, what ITV’s colleagues wanted. With that we set up a five year strategy focusing on four areas reducing impact on the environment, promoting better diversity and inclusion, giving back to communities and championing better health, both mental and physical.

Because we’re such a mainstream broadcaster, right at the heart of popular culture, it’s right for us to take these on, to start tackling the big issues. Mental health was something that we felt was quite niche and that was stigmatised for years. Lots of brands have done fantastic work in getting people to open up and talk about mental health but I think it needs a brand like ITV to make it mainstream and a normal thing everyone should be talking about.

One of the most phenomenal ‘Get Britain Talking‘ campaigns was the One Minute‘s Silence with Britain’s Got Talent. How did this come together?

We had a really good idea, a compelling argument that we put forward to our colleagues including the editorial team. Everyone at ITV wants to do the right thing, wants to do good, and they all recognise that we work on a platform that has the ability to change hearts and minds. We spoke about the issue of mental health, demonstrated how widespread it was and how something quite simple as just talking more was able to help people’s resilience. It landed very well on the programme, Ant and Dec were pleased with how it went and because of that, it made it easier to continue working with that show and the team.

How has this strategy extended to commercial partners, and how does it reach advertisers?

We often think about how we can increase our reach and our commercial partners are brilliant at doing that. This year we took ’Britain Get Talking’ out to other commercial brands like Just Eat and Talk Talk and they benefited from that association. Not only are they amplifying the message, but it also worked really well.

We collaborated with Channel Four and Sky this year on our ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them‘ campaign, which is about encouraging kids to eat more vegetables. But we’ve also worked hand-in-hand with pretty much every single UK supermarket because the only way to get kids eating vegetables is to buy them through the supermarket. You need to recognise that if you have a good enough idea, you will gather allies or an army of people behind that idea, which is to the benefit of everyone.

Television has become more important to our everyday lives in recent months. What has ITV’s role been in this?

We’ve really stepped up in this time. It’s been a huge amount of work that we’ve been doing, communicating important messages on behalf of the Cabinet Office and Public Health England. We ran messages on ITV2 and ITV4 to encourage young men to stay at home. PHE found that men were the main group flouting the lockdown rule, so we could do something to address that group in particular.

We also done campaigning around hand washing. As lockdown eases, the way to stay safe is to remind everybody about the importance of hand washing, so through soaps, we’ve been reminding people to socially distance, stay at home if they can and hand wash.

The BGT campaign that ran from March until May was also quite huge as we could see lockdown was on the horizon, we brought forward our campaign on mental health by about two months. Within six days, we’d gone from a brief to being on air with our work. That was really critical because we were reminding people that whilst we all had to be physically separated from each other, it was important to stay connected. Then we also did our bit celebrating the NHS and every Thursday at eight o’clock, ITV paused to encourage viewers to go out and clap for the NHS, as well as doing a bit of fundraising for them.

There was no time to prepare in February, we had to hit the ground running. What lessons have you learned and what will you take going forward?

It’s extraordinary what people can do when they put their minds to it. And we’ve worked at pace for a long time. We can demonstrate that we can do that. I really miss the office and seeing my colleagues. I’ll appreciate some of the things that I may not have before. There are things that we’ve learned from how we can work remotely and having a sense of purpose is very good at galvanising action. It’s going to be brilliant when we do meet face to face again, thinking about how we create meetings that are more meaningful and valuable.

Do you think brands will find it harder to push socila purpose messages during the pandemic?

Brands will recognise that it’s not just enough to sell to people. They will need to think really carefully about what they stand for. Increasingly, viewers and consumers are going to be wanting to spend their money and their time with brands that share their values.

Often, we talk about this split between profit or purpose, ethics or economics. It’s a false dichotomy. We are going to find that business as usual, is all about doing the right thing and contributing to society. A lot more brands will worry and act to improve their diversity, environmental sustainability and to make a positive contribution over and above selling and making a profit.

What advice do you have for brands trying to choose which form of activism to support?

You’ve got to walk the walk. You can’t be greenwashing. It has to be something the entire organisation can get behind and put into practice. Whether that’s your legal team or tech team, all parts of the business need to understand what changes you want to make, and they need to be part of that and coming up with ideas to help. Authenticity is critical and with that comes long-term commitment. Sometimes it’s brave to put your head above the parapet and to say, “we’re going to do this!” Even if you don’t get it right the first time, just keep going with it. You may get a bit of flack and criticism but it’s better to try than not.

For ITV, Carolyn believes in us all. If it comes from the CEO, then it really does proliferate the entire company. It’s very difficult to do this job if you don’t have an executive team and the chief executive backing it. But that’s still not enough. You’ve then got to get, in our case 6,000, people to understand it, believe in it and to act on it themselves.

A lot of the time it’s about not being a control freak. Coming up with an idea and then giving it over to other teams and they run with it. One of our best examples is the news team. They called me one day and asked about doing a Britain Get Talking podcast. This was great. They had the presenter lined up, were ready to make it happen and asked if I was ok with that. That’s when you know an idea has really landed well with an organisation.

Finally, always feed back and remind people of the impact they’ve made. We spend a lot of time in evaluation and making sure that we can demonstrate the changes that we’ve made. My favourite stat in all this is came from BGT, which ran from March until May this year. We had 6.5 million people having a conversation as a direct result of the campaign and that’s phenomenal. That’s getting close to 10% of the UK population. To say that to the people who worked on the campaign, that what they did made a significant difference to millions of people, is wonderful and rewarding.

As chair of The Drum Awards for social purpose, what are you looking for from the entries? What are you excited to see?

A lot of the time in our jobs we get a bit head down and we’re stuck in our own little words. I’m really excited about being able to take a step back from the day job and just looking around. It’s about finding inspiration and I’m excited to learn. It’s really important in this job that we’re learning every day and we can learn a lot from each other. What I love about awards is you’ve effectively got the thinking, the creative and the results all neatly packaged up in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in, reading and learning. I want to be jealous and I want to shamelessly steal some ideas.

The deadline for the awards is Friday 28 August. Make sure you submit your award winning work for a chance to be recognised on a global scale.