APR, Founder and Chief Communicator, DiOrio Communications
Never before has it been more imperative that companies look within to explore the social conscience of their brand. Today’s extraordinary societal upheavals will likely drive a deeper, more critical look at the authenticity of responsible brands everywhere. Those that have long believed in genuine human connections – and demonstrated their humanity in tangible, honest ways – can serve as models moving forward.
I was honored to speak recently with Andy DiOrio, APR, founder and chief communicator for DiOrio Communications and a veteran communications leader that has worked for multiple billion-dollar brands. He shed light on how three unique brands from his experience have shared DNA that is ultimately about connecting and caring for people, and how they bring that belief system to life in believable and compelling ways.
Understanding their Truth
Teresa Coles, Riggs Partners: Every successful organization must understand what lies at its core, and how to channel that inner truth as a driver for organizational success. You’ve worked with three major, seemingly dissimilar brands that have been very effective at this: Hallmark, AMC Theatres and Sprint. How would you describe their respective core beliefs?
Andy DiOrio, APR, DiOrio Communications: Hallmark has long focused on what they call an “emotionally-connected” world; the company works to make a genuine difference in every life, every day. AMC, during my time there, identified its core purpose as simply making smiles happen. This was part of what the team called an “AMC amazing entertainment experience.” Sprint focuses on the belief that mobile connectivity can help bring families and friends more closely together, for good.
TC: What is the common thread among their belief systems?
AD: At first glance, these companies in manufacturing, entertainment and telecommunications seem unrelated. But even with very different missions and visions, there’s a common undercurrent. They’re focusing on how to make your life easier, and what benefit they can bring to your life. With Hallmark, caring outreach makes a difference. At AMC, they’re going to make you smile as part of your experience. And finally, with Sprint, it’s about bringing families together. And the common thread that ties all three together is they’re showing they truly care about you, the consumer.
TC: These companies seem to be about connecting the human spirit.
AD: Correct. And the manifestation of core beliefs like this needs to be authentic. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that 64 percent of consumers are belief-driven; they need to see a company care about something more than its business. But organizations need to be careful not to “truth wash;” that is, to just make a splashy promise and then let it wash away. If someone digs deep into a brand, they need to find out what the organization stands for, its motivation behind its purpose, and how it puts words into actions that make an impact.
Demonstrating their Beliefs
TC: How does their shared commitment to forging human connections play out? What are some interesting ways these brands have channeled particular areas of business as demonstrations of that commitment?
AD: AMC, for example, has been particularly innovative in reflecting its beliefs within its workplace culture. AMC brings people together in a theater, right? It’s a very communal experience. When they moved offices, the company rebranded its headquarters as not another home office, but rather a Theatre Support Center, with its main purpose to provide a central location that supports its theatres. The singular building has an open floorplan that features two-story screens on multiple floors to run movie trailers, welcome guests and host company events. Employees essentially walk into a giant theater experience, which completely exemplifies what they’re trying to do, and who they need to support.
TC: What about corporate social responsibility efforts in general?
AD: All three companies offer robust programs for employees to volunteer in each community, with charities of their choice. As one example, Sprint has done a good job of living into the efforts – making them about more than just philanthropic activity that gets reported as stats and charts and graphs, but instead about making a real difference in people’s lives. For example, in 2018 they surmised their partners had generated philanthropic impact worth an estimated $49 million that year and causes that benefitted. Sprint highlighted the impact the efforts have in their CSR communications products. It’s important to tell the full story in this way, not just report on the numbers. That’s how people get excited about the work.
TC: How are these brands engaging with employees in a way that helps them share the company’s belief system?
AD: Hallmark rolled out an employee advocacy program called “brand champs.” It brought ready-made, approved information about the company to employee phones so they could easily share with their respective social media networks. Essentially, employee brand ambassadors would open an app on their phone and have pre-approved images and words to send out to their main social media channels. In a year, the program achieved more than two million impressions. It helped put power in the hands of employees. I think it’s a great example for many organizations, as long as the culture supports it.
TC: What about other stakeholders? For example, how are these brands sharing what they stand for with suppliers?
AD: For Hallmark, high standards are not just on a wish list; they are a must have part of its supply chain. During my tenure, overseas partners knew if they weren’t meeting Hallmark’s standards, the company would look for a different supplier. How the workers making Hallmark products are treated is equally as important as the product itself. Hallmark makes sure that not only are its products manufactured safely and soundly, but also ethically, and that its workers are being taken care of as well. As a Hallmark employee, it meant something to know the company cared about and connected with its workers all across the world; that Hallmark did business with good partners verses perhaps the cheapest partner.
TC: What lessons can other, perhaps smaller, organizations take away from these Fortune 500 companies?
AD: Corporate social responsibility is not just for big brands and billion-dollar enterprises. I think if you remove the word corporate and just focus on social responsibility, it tears down some of those walls. For example, take a laundromat owner who’s thinking, “this doesn’t apply to me; people just come in and spend a few quarters to wash and dry their clothes.” Instead, that laundromat owner could focus on what she’s really providing. She enables people to be clean and feel good about themselves. So maybe she takes some of her profits each year and helps purchase clothing for the homeless. It’s an excellent example of linking your core business to something that helps people in the community. Even on this small scale, a laundromat owner can position the business to make a tangible, societal difference.
TC: It’s clear there’s a real need for organizations of any size to build an intentional culture that stands for something.
AD: Absolutely. What’s universal among consumers is that, regardless of what they’re buying, they expect brands they support to act with a conscience. They have the power to choose, the power to switch, the power to avoid and the power to boycott their buying based on what a business does or doesn’t stand for. Whether dealing with a laundromat or a large enterprise, consumers want to feel good about the products and services they choose. It really is all about human connection and showing you care about a greater cause.