To B Corp, or not to B Corp?

In this instance B stands for Benefit, although you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Bane. Particularly after you’ve spent a year wrapping your head around how to become a B Corp and getting yours in order to achieve certified B Corporation status. Faff aside, it’s something I’m immensely proud of doing, far more so than any award we’ve won. We can hold our heads high and call ourselves a B Corp creative agency. Consider this our acceptance speech.

What underpins the B Corp movement is a belief that businesses can and should be a force for good. Moving beyond simply making a return for shareholders, the B Corp community works to reduce inequality, lower levels of poverty, create a healthier environment, stronger communities and more jobs with dignity and purpose.

While certifications like Fairtrade are given to products like bananas, B Corp certification looks at a business as a whole, peeling back the skin of Banana Corp to reveal what’s within.

It’s spread like wildfire across the US and is taking hold here in the UK too, with nearly 1,500 certifications on our isle, including the likes of Innocent and the Guardian. In fact, the B Corp directory is starting to read like a client dream list. Just saying.

Not enough impact

I went into the process somewhat cocksure. I had set up Nice and Serious in 2009 to ‘Make creative work the world needs’. We do branding, campaigns, films and more for charities, organisations and brands with purpose – so I assumed we’d breeze through the process. We’re hardly fracking fossil fuels over here. But as it turns out, I was wrong; there was a mountain to climb.

You set out by using the B Impact Assessment tool which evaluates how your agency’s operations and business model impacts your staff, the community, the environment and your customers. Doing a bit of pro-bono work, carbon offsetting a few flights, or writing a lofty purpose statement won’t cut it.

Making a big commitment

The tool made me realise that there were so many areas of our agency’s impact that I hadn’t considered. From having an official code of ethics to proper financial transparency with the team, to supplier screening and a breastfeeding policy. And it wasn’t enough to make hollow promises. In order to get above the minimum threshold (80 points), policies needed to be in practice across the business. As someone who recoils at the idea of more paperwork and processes, there were times I wanted to pack it in and set fire to V_FINAL_FINAL_FINAL of our Environment Policy in protest.

But we had a dedicated group within the agency who wanted to see it through. So with grit and determination, we continued the climb. Nearing the summit, there was one final rockface to scale: amending our legal governing documents, our articles of association, to require the company directors to balance both profit and purpose. This is often the stumbling block for many businesses, as it sends a clear message to shareholders that the business cannot simply pursue profits at any cost, that the directors have a duty to manage and reduce social and environmental impacts. I genuinely respect those running big businesses who have convinced their shareholders for the need to change. In my eyes that’s real leadership.

The way the wind is blowing

The nature of agencies is that we operate on behalf of our clients’ businesses. While in most instances they have a far-greater impact than our own operations, we don’t exist in a bubble. As a creative agency, we have offices within communities, we hire people with personal lives and career aspirations, we buy electricity to keep the lights on, we purchase water and food to keep our team functioning, and ideas, our currency, help our clients to grow.

With the rise of the brilliant Purpose Disruptors, along with XR’s nudge, there’s a groundswell of concerned creative folk wanting to challenge briefs and encourage our clients to be more purposeful, to back causes, to stand for something. So, it’s never been more important to get our houses in order, if not for fear of the pot calling the kettle black.

The business case

When you acknowledge the scale of environmental and social problems we face, it’s hard not to see the business case in taking action. And to me, B Corp gives a comprehensive framework and stamp of approval to set your agency on the right course. But if that sounds too soft for you, here’s a more hard-nosed reason.

Rewind to 2019. We lost out on a dream client pitch, the kind everyone wants – really wants. On the it’s-not-us-it’s-you feedback call, the client gave three reasons why they had chosen the other agency. I suspect the first two reasons were the usual British half-truths designed not to shatter our precious egos, but the third we couldn’t compete with – the winning agency was a B Corp.

It totally stands to reason that the world’s most progressive and pioneering brands, the ones that we all want to work for, will increasingly want their agencies to reflect their own values. So, we put ourselves in the running with fellow B Corp creative agencies. And will rinse, repeat, recertify every three years.

The agency divide

We’re at a critical moment in the history of our industry. We have a chance to set a new course. Agencies will fall into two camps: those who choose to take meaningful action to tackle the problems they’ve created; and those who continue with BAU until, one way or another, it's too late.

As B Corps become more familiar, their mention is increasingly met with “oh wow!” over “…a what?” and explaining that no, it’s not Tech Bro jargon. In fact, there are now almost 6,000 companies – including 125 B Corp creative agencies in the UK – who’ve reached the dizzying heights of certification and many more are in training.