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The Art of Appearing Virtuous

The Art of Appearing Virtuous

I'm a recovering brand/advertising agency brand strategist.

At agencies, a few people at the top get to decide with whom they will do business. Of course, there are the proclamations of focusing on good, ethical standards, moral high ground, blah blah blah. But for the most part, when you work at a brand or advertising agency, you don't get to choose your clients. Your job is to sell. To create plans and content that will inspire or motivate (manipulate) people into buying something, whether they need it or not.

Inevitably, you work on an account with which you may disagree. Maybe it's fast food, alcohol, or financial services. There's no set list; each person's mindset dictates what they believe is true or false, beautiful or ugly, or good or bad. So, much justification occurs (both among leaders and account teams) because everyone can make a large amount of money.

"Fast food isn't bad, in moderation. People need to be responsible for their choices. And look at all the jobs it creates (including at the agency)!"

"The good the brand provides far outweighs the environmental impact of the packaging and pollution from production."

"Using low-wage workers (with few/no benefits or work/life balance) to keep costs down is providing them an opportunity to work their way into a better life!" 

And so on.

I'm not trying to target just agencies because it's most companies, and it's the world I know best because it's where I spent the last 13 out of 15 years, the last two building Dorothy's Power Foods. If we desire people to trust us as businesses, we must make our true intention wholly transparent and be unafraid to live it.

If your goal is to make the most giant pile of money you can, and there is very little you take issue with, then be and say that. You will find customers and employees that share that same worldview. If your goal is to change the world and you don't care how much profit you make, then be and say that. Likewise, you will find customers and employees that share those same values.

The problem comes when you are not authentic and genuine to your true intention - on either side. Suppose your focus is money, yet you espouse things that make you sound like a caring, sustainability-focused it's-not-about-the-money kind of company. In that case, you will have a conflict with your customers and your employees. Likewise, suppose your focus is on principle, and yet you project a hard-nosed, ruthless focus on profits and efficiency to satisfy investors, donors, or stakeholders. In that case, you will also face conflict across customers and employees.

There's a simple test to know where you stand. Ask yourself this question:

"If I had to choose between increasing profits and decreasing trust or increasing trust and decreasing profits, which would I choose?"

No middle ground or hedging. "But why can't increase both?" Because you can't, and the topic for another blog. But answering this question by choosing guides you as to where your transparency and authenticity must lie. And transparent and authentic you must be, because now people will see through your BS pretty fast.

At Dorothy's Power Foods, we will always fall into the camp of Trust first, profits second. That is not saying we won't focus on making a profit - we will. But it will be a reasonable profit that NEVER comes at the expense of people. Some of the principles we have in place (as we grow) are:

  • A minimum salary that is a living wage
  • A goal of zero waste
  • A plan of 100% renewable energy sources
  • Healthcare benefits for every employee
  • Continuing educational/learning for every employee
  • Responsible community involvement where we exist
  • Respecting diversity, equality, and equal opportunity

And as we become profitable, twenty-five percent of those profits will invest in rural senior centers so seniors can commune in safe, modern, networked facilities. 

We all want honesty. People have different values, and we'll always have that in our society. We desire to pick and choose the companies we do business with, the companies we work for, and the people we associate with. When we can do that, we can live our own authentic life. 

But only if we know what others genuinely stand for.

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