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Purpose: why does your company even exist?

Last month I was at a workshop that Stefan, pr.co's CEO, did at the TNW conference. The workshop's goal was to create a complete PR strategy for the attendees' companies. Quite a promise in 45 minutes, but you’d be amazed how far you can get once you ask yourself the right questions.

When you start working on a PR strategy, before you think of themes, channels and audiences, there’s a crucial first step to take: defining your company’s purpose.

I’d like to ask you for a favor. Sit back, focus and write down the answer to the following question:

What’s your company’s purpose?

What seems like a very easy question, turned out to be a major blocker during the workshop. Look at what you just wrote down: does it explain why your company does what it does? Does it cut to the core of your business?

Surprisingly, many people don’t know their company’s purpose. Super interesting, because a company’s purpose is its foundation. It’s why the company was founded in the first place. A purpose makes a company meaningful.

I would go so far as to say it’s your business’ one and only reason for existence.

The problem with purpose is that we tend to focus on what we do. True, that’s what your company adds to society. Real purpose goes beyond that, though. A company’s true purpose is what drives the collective of people working for it.

Purpose isn't what you do, it's why you do it.

Ever started a company? Remember why you founded it? That believe you had when you founded it; that’s the purpose.

For a lot of companies that purpose has been faded over the years. But the foundation very often is still there. It’s your company’s guideline, and you’ll find it to be an excellent means to give direction to your external communication.

By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

Simon Sinek

Real-life examples

Back in 2008, two friends had a vision: they believed they could spread happiness by turning an everyday essential into something that makes you happy. They chose socks, and made them awesome, with loads of color and excellent materials. Today, Happy Socks are being sold in more than 70 countries and on every continent.

Or how about Buffer. When Buffer started they wrote down their company values, one of the most important values they believed in was default to transparency. Transparency became their number one purpose. Nowadays, their employees’ salaries, their live revenue dashboard, the emails they sent, everything is open to the public.  

(Re)finding your company’s purpose

If you wrote down your purpose is ‘doing people’s taxes’ or ‘selling SaaS products’, then you’ll probably need to refind your purpose.

What I find to be valuable is a variation on the 5 WHY’s analysis. The 5 WHY's analysis is commonly used to getting to the root of problems, but I found it works just as well to get to the core of your purpose. It’s simple.  

First, write down what your company does.

Then do what kids do at a young age. Ask: “Why?”. As often as you can.

The fifth time starts the sentence with ‘because we believe’. You’ll see that this time you wrote something down that looks a lot like your company's purpose.

  1. We sell PR tools to companies, that will make them more efficient.
  2. Why? Because PR often involves a lot of time spent on unnecessary tasks.
  3. Why? Because there’s a lot of technical stuff involved in PR, of which many are just tedious.
  4. Why? Because PR involves a lot of technicalities, like publishing press releases, hosting a newsroom, distributing it to thousands of journalists, etc. That hurts the efficiency of PR teams.
  5. Why? Because it’s an unnecessary distraction from the core of PR: the message.

We believe communication teams should be focusing on what they are best at: telling their story.

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Found your company's purpose? Go on and fill in the rest of your PR strategy with our PR Strategy Canvas! :)