Stuck to my psyche is a post-it note reminding me of the kind of work I always want to do. On the note are the words ‘… and don’t forget to change the world.’ It’s a pretty big phrase for a small imaginary post-it but it’s there to remind me that, every time I make a piece of creative work, I have the choice to make the world a little better or a little worse with that work, and the second option is not an option.
Better in what way? Well, it would be nice to have a world with a little less prejudice, a little less sexual stereotyping, a little less focus on an unattainable levels of beauty. It would be good to have a bit more tolerance, a bit more fairness, a bit more mindfulness, a bit more opportunity. It would be great if we could think less about ourselves and more about others, if we could support those less able than ourselves, and if we could be less self-centred as a generation leaving the planet in the hands of generations to come.
All of that equals better in my view, and of course you will have your own version. But as makers of culture, we have magic in our hands; we put ideas into the public realm, and in a small way, or in a larger way, those ideas can be part of any change we want to see.
How can we change things? Well first of all, we can choose to work with causes we believe in. In the last three years, I have been lucky enough to work with a cancer support charity, a children’s hospital, two conservation-orientated charities, a wildlife foundation, a socially-minded politician, an educational foundation, two human rights charities and a foundation for disadvantaged children. Helping those organisations articulate and publicise their purposes furthers a greater good that I believe in.
We can also look to work with companies that believe in the causes we believe in. Currently my team at Pentagram are working with a global organisation that is structured to donate a large proportion of its hard-earned profit to philanthropic work. It is a privilege to help them communicate their humanitarian example to the world. We are also working with a startup that wants people to look up from their screens and enjoy face-to-face social experiences again. And we have spent the last two years working with the brilliantly enlightened Brazilian cosmetics company, Natura, which passionately furthers the causes of sustainability, community and natural rather than unattainable beauty.
Have we got lucky? I don’t think so. Companies with a social purpose, once rare in the for-profit sector, are increasingly common. Tom’s Shoes, Patagonia, Keep Cup, Warby Parker and of course Unilever with Project Sunlight - these are all part of a growing global roll call of organisations that are here to reconcile what they do for their balance sheet with what they do for the world.
Even when organisations are not systemically social, the post-it note reminds us to propose that they could be. Back in my HHCL days, we helped Fuji create a powerful and successful brand campaign that used photography as a force for social change. At St. Luke’s, we created a radical campaign for Boots No7 featuring a woman and her beautiful thoughts rather than her beautiful appearance, helping to promote an idea of beauty that everyone can aspire to. Right now my team are working with a large organisation to help them celebrate the modern family in all its wonderful shapes and configurations and sizes. With millennials increasingly favouring brands with a larger scope than their own profit, changing the world is an increasingly potent marketing strategy.
And if we can’t persuade an organisation to take this perspective - if they do just want to promote their crisps or price comparison engines with minimum fuss and maximum margin - are we beaten? No, and if fact, this is where the post-it note is most necessary. Armed with the right intention, you can still put a thoughtful or interesting idea out there, or give a new perspective or piece of knowledge, or say something with progressive and non-stereotypical casting, or be a good turn of phrase, or be an attractive artefact, all of which can elevate the work beyond a piece of cultural pollution and make it something which, in a small way, enriches the world with its presence.
And the post-it note is there to remind you of something else as well. All the while, alongside your client work, there is the other big canvas, your personal work. It comes with less budget, but with all the freedom in the world, and allows your heart to have say. In our team, there is one person who is running a site promoting products with great social stories, another who has founded the first girls community football club in London, another who is highlighting the absurdity of advertising messages by changing ad headlines and reblogging them, another who runs a Twitter feed about race and politics, and another who tweets a poem every day on mindfulness. Together we wrote Gamechanger, the Pentagram Holiday Card, that ridicules that horror that is corporate jargon. And together we all help to run Do The Green Thing, the charity that puts out creative green inspiration as a public service to the planet.
True, these projects may not have the reach of a Benetton Colours or a Unilever Project Sunlight, but if they can inspire even one other person to think, or do, or to post their own note to their psyche, they have influence, and that is a form of success.
We can wait for an opportunity to change the world, or we can make an opportunity to change the world. Either way, we must always remember to take it.