Andy Pharoah, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, looks at communication through chaos and clutter, and getting on the front foot to tell one’s own story. The article, which recaps a keynote speech by Andy, was originally posted by BrandEquity.com.
“The past 18 months have been dominated by uncertainty, by hyperbole, by misinformation, and consumers and employees have turned in great numbers to companies as a trusted new source (of information),” said Andy Pharoah, vice president of corporate affairs and sustainability, Mars Incorporated as he started his keynote speech for India Communication Summit 2021. “But just as people look for somebody to trust, they may also look for somebody to blame. And it's very easy for organizations to move from hero to zero,” he added.
Pharoah shared how the shift in trust can be assessed through the Edelman Trust Barometer. He added how Richard Edelman and his team have been doing the same for the past 21 years. “In that period of 21 years, businesses having some real highs and some real lows are actually in some way at a high point at the moment,” he said.
He added that in 2021, globally, businesses are more trusted than NGOs, governments or even the media. Trust in businesses is 61%, which is the highest of any of those four groups. Highlighting the situation of India, Pharoah said that the condition is a bit more nuanced. “In India, trust in business is also very high at 82%. And it's the highest of any in the 27 countries that others look at. It is higher than NGOs and higher than the government, although both of those have scores in the high 70s,” he said.
Pharoah mentioned how he thought that it is foolish to underplay the role of governments in dealing with the issues that businesses face. But he also thinks that it is important to remember that companies themselves can have the impact on towns, cities, and even small countries. “We did a couple of estimations, we looked at our environmental footprint. And we found it was equivalent to the country of Panama. When we looked at our economic footprint, depending on how you do the maps, it's either Luxembourg or Ukraine depending on the multiplier effect. So, none of those are huge countries, but they can nonetheless be very significant,” he added.
He also spoke about how businesses are expected to do more, and CEOs are expected to step in when the government doesn't fix the subtle problems. “They're expected to lead, not follow. They're expected to have a wide agenda. So why is this case well, then the conclusion element for each is that society has reached a stage of information bankruptcy. Trust in information sources is at record lows. And this raging infidelity feeds mistrust,” Pharoah stated.
Pharoah shared Edelman’s four conclusions on how to emerge from this age of information bankruptcy. They say business needs to embrace and expand its mandate. It needs to lead with facts, but also act with empathy. It needs to provide trustworthy content, and it can't do it alone. He used these four conclusions to establish why one needs to own the narrative. “It's an important part of rebuilding trust and making society work. And that matters for business success and businesses on the whole that do not thrive in highly divided societies. It's increasingly an expectation of business. And finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, if you don't tell your own story, someone is going to tell it for you,” Pharoah said.
He went on to share how Mars found its own voice and said, “We saw that the world was facing critical issues around the environment, around social issues. And it was critical, we felt business drove action. So, if you can't find your voice on those issues, what can you find them on? The second one is we recognize that you cannot do it alone. And we needed to build coalitions of support to drive change. And finally, we found that if we didn't, we couldn't stop our story being told, it was just a question of whether we played any role in telling that story.”
Highlighting more about narrative, Pharoah said, “I think what is important when one talks about the narrative is that you cannot rely on the vagaries of the opinion of the hour or the day or the last focus group you listen to, you have to know what you want to do and why you want to do it and have the guts to do it, and accept the pushback that comes.”
Sharing what makes Mars unique, Pharoah said that Mars works on a very long term approach. Its outlook is more generation based, rather than quarter based. He also shared that pet care is its biggest business right now and more than 65,000 of its Associates take care of half the world's pets for nutrition, veterinary health and services, establishing how important it is to stick to the brand purpose.
Answering to what extent purpose is fundamental to Mars, Pharoah said, “Our answer to that is something called the Mars compass. It sets out what the Mars family, who are our shareholders, believe are the objectives for the business, and it includes four quadrants, strong financial performance, being well positioned for future growth, having a positive impact on the world and being a trusted partner to the partner site. And we have very detailed measurements for each of those. And the board and the management team are required to deliver against them.”
He then highlighted how purpose without performance is not possible, and performance without purpose is just meaningless. “And I think, again, that's an important message around the narrative. Narrative needs to be based upon truth, it needs to be based upon who you are, and what you've done, it can't just be aspiration. And for the group that I'm talking to today, I think it's important to acknowledge that you know how we work as communicators,” he added. Speaking about the Mars approach to communication, he said that in addition to how it markets, it believes everyone should have access to the product information they need to live healthy lives. That's why it provides very transparent factual information across the entire food portfolio, to help consumers make informed choices.
Pharoah mentioned the change from Uncle Ben’s Rice to Ben’s Original™ and shared how it wasn’t just a change in the name of the brand identity. It also involved taking action to enhance inclusion and equity that comes with the new brand purpose, which is to create opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table. Increased representation on workforce leadership and talent pipeline were also looked upon.
“So why did we do this? We did it because we stopped and we listened to our Associates and consumers. And, we felt it was important to make a change. But we didn't do it overnight. We thought that you can't make a judgement in the snap of the finger, particularly on such an important historical topic. And so, it was absolutely necessary to fully understand the weight of our actions in the past, present, and future and what we needed to do,” he added.
Pharoah pointed out that this was again something about owning the narrative. “Sometimes there are times when the right thing to say is nothing, the right thing is actually just to think, and not come out super quickly, but come out when you're clear about what you want to do,” he said. He further shared about Mars’ plans on hunting sustainably sourced rice and said that it had already started a pilot in both India and Pakistan for the same. “We are offering incentives to farmers, providing training and support on how to make their farms more sustainable,” Pharoah said.
By 2025, Mars is looking to advancements in science to reduce water consumption by 30%. and improve smallholder farmer incomes by partnering with industry experts and suppliers. “Peanuts is another area that we're working on for the supply chain. And while India is the second largest producer of peanuts, farmers face significant challenges that hinder production. They have low yields, limited extension support for research and training, and a lack of quality control measures to find critical food concerns. That is why Mars is engaging in a net with a network of partners to try meaningful change,” Pharoah said.