By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (Originally for Fast Company)

I can’t help but get a little frustrated every time I hear someone say that the purpose of their business is to make money.

When confronted with such comments from business executives, my response (at least in my head), is always, “Yes…and?” “I’m in business to make money” is akin to a college student who says they are going to school to get a degree (or, to use the old joke, the chicken who crossed the road “to get to the other side”). Yet, we so often accept this (non)-answer as complete justification for a business’ existence.

That’s not to say that a business shouldn’t concern itself with making money. Certainly, I’ve seen companies develop such tunnel vision with the interests of their leadership that they lose sight of the need to bring revenues in to keep the company afloat, their employees paid and so on.

But this way of thinking is often used to keep a company from confronting the issues that it really should be concerning itself with: innovating to keep its customers, its employees, and its shareholders pleased over the long-term, and to be better long-term partners and stewards of the communities and the environment it operates within. Instead, it seems to argue that fulfilling one short-term goal–making profit to keep its public or private shareholders pleased–is the only purpose of the company.

Think of the number of companies that seem to constanty change what they do (especially as they shift from business model to business model as the company falls apart). In most cases, they were never particularly clear, internally or externally, about what it was they did in the first place. They were there to make money; how they made money could change on a dime, as long as they found short-term profit in it.

This attitude disconnects companies from what it is they do beyond making money–the reason they exist; the need they are supposedly filling; the customers they are serving; and the unique position they are supposed to hold in the marketplace. This way of thinking can be blamed in part for the newspaper industry being much too slow to react to how the media business was changing; how the post office lost sight of being in the message delivery business in a world of electronic communication; and how tech company after tech company has fallen to newcomers in the past few decades for thinking about their product of the moment rather than continuously innovating to provide ever-more-efficient ways to serve their customers.

Such a dismissive attitude often pervades the marketing world in particular. I’ve sat in multiple meetings discussing a potential marketing initiative when someone trumpets the advice, “Let’s not forget we are really just doing this for marketing purposes.” In such an example, the advice is passed along as a conversation-ender, as if to say…let’s not sweat the details for this project too much; its only goal is to promote us. Anything beyond that is just overthinking things.

This line of thinking is insulting to the audiences the company is seeking to reach. If the company that has that sort of response were to actually put themselves in their audience’s shoes, they would be very much concerned with how an initiative serves the wants and needs of its audiences, how the communication from a company addresses a potential customer’s pain point and what actual insight, utility, or value an initiative is providing the audiences it seeks to reach. Of course a program is supposed to market the company…but it’s not actually going to do that very well if it doesn’t educate, engage, enlighten, or entertain its audiences in a way that’s useful to them, not just the company.

Potentially even worse, “It’s just for marketing” or “we’re just trying to make a buck” is an even greater insult to the company itself and its employees. Employees are empowered when they understand, know and believe in the good their work is doing. (See my piece last week on whether marketers should strive to make a difference.) And “only for marketing” implies that no real value can ever actually come from a marketing initiative, which indicates to me that the person uttering such a phrase has internalized cynicism about the value and role marketing can play. I am quite certain that people who believe marketing can provide little of actual value to audiences are in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“We’re in business to make money” and “we engage in marketing to market ourselves” is the kind of circular logic that sends companies spinning into obscurity. And it is to serious business strategy conversations what “because I’m your dad” is to parent/child relations; a shortcut from a leader who does not feel up to developing any reasoned and considered approach at all.

As I embark on 2012, here’s hoping it is a year free of these strategic stonewalls. So far, it’s three weeks and counting for me. If we could all just target purging this way of thinking from our organizations and clients this year, I can’t imagine how much more productive, useful, innovative and energized our companies–and we–might be.

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By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally for Fast Company)

“Do you do good at work, or is doing good something you do outside your job?” That, to paraphrase, was the question that sat before some fellow marketers/corporate communicators and me at a gathering some time back.

The question seemed a simple one to me. Surely, I thought, people get into a field like communications because they have a desire to align with causes they believe in, or they desire to help audiences find out the information they might want or need to know. At the very least, even if out-and-out passion isn’t there, I had presumed people had the desire to promote products that they felt deserved to be shared.

Despite all the cynicism I had seen about the marketing world–so often depicted as subversive brainwashers, spin doctors, or snake-oil salesmen–I’d often imagined that even those who seemed aligned with mind-boggling products, causes, or political candidates must believe in what they do.

That’s my eternal optimism speaking, or perhaps my naivete.

Instead, I was shocked to hear a good number of people in the room express the opinion that the field of marketing was not about doing good nor bad; instead, it was about having a skill (effective communications and persuasion) that could be employed for any cause indiscriminately. From this view, work was work–nothing personal–and doing good was something a marketing professional might do in their downtime. The justification line, it seemed, was something along the lines of: “We’re capitalists; we take on paying clients.”

Many of us who were part of that discussion seemed surprised to see such a split. And–for a second, at least–my inclination was to judge. After all, this is just the sort of logic the industry I had entered gets blasted for from the outside. But then I stopped to think from the perspective of those espousing this belief. They were smart, principled, likable individuals who I had both personal and professional respect for. And they were serious in their conviction that personal judgment should be checked at the door and that “doing good” is something one concerns themselves with after the workday is through.

That conversation occurred some time ago. But I often think back to it as I ponder “what I’m doing here” in strategic communications, a transplant from the academic world who came to marketing and consulting out of the desire to take the types of change I was espousing from academe and see what ways I might be able to contribute to disseminating some of those ideas into industry practice.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m lucky; my employers at Peppercom stated overtly when I started with the company that–should any project come along that I had a fundamental disagreement with–I would never be expected to work on that business. At times, we’ve worked with controversial clients, but I’ve only been expected to engage with those clients if and when I agreed with their stance, at least on the particular issues we were advising them on. (For the record, I have not yet encountered a project at Peppercom that I found objectionable to take part in.) I’ve occasionally worked with clients over the years who I did not always agree with the actions of, but I took pride that the counsel I gave them was “right,” even if it was not always adhered to.

I now understand the perspective of those in my field who hold this “dispassionate practitioner” stance toward marketing. Those people often feel a strong ethical obligation to provide superior counsel and service to those who pay them. And those people also hold strong concerns about the ethics of the field in general, ensuring that marketing is not done in underhanded or manipulative ways. (I’m honored, for instance, to be a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Membership Ethics Advisory Panel. As a group, we don’t consider the “moral correctness” of a company’s actions but rather the ethical practice of marketing.)

Yet, while we may not always be passionate “fans” of some of the companies we do business with–and while we likely have worked with companies whose policies or actions we disagree with from time to time–I’m amazed to occasionally run across people in marketing jobs who are working with a client whose cause they are actually diametrically opposed to or that they believe is in some way harmful to society.

In some cases, people are doing such work because they have to: They don’t work for a company who has a policy like mine, or they are not in an economic position to stand on principle. In others, they adhere to the idea that “capitalism doesn’t discriminate on the basis of scruples or actions.” In fact–at least in public relations–one of the tried and true explanations for the industry’s reason for being has been akin to that of a defense lawyer: that everyone is entitled to adequate communications counsel to tell their story.

I personally find that line of argument quite faulty. Defense against criminal prosecution is one thing; under no circumstance do I think every public figure or organization has a “right” to communications strategy. (Awfully presumptuous of us marketers and corporate communicators to paint our desire for billings as some constitutionally inspired cause…)

I don’t mean to simplistically direct scorn at people who espouse such views. As I mentioned, I’ve heard people in my industry for whom I have great respect espouse similar opinions. But I am concerned about the commitment people feel and–particularly–about the responsibility people take for their actions, in a world where they feel their professional life is not having any positive impact (or, perhaps, even feeling that it has a negative impact).

As I’ve written about in the past, I’m of the firm belief that a more transparent communication environment is forcing companies to be more ethical than ever. And I believe real business success can be found from companies who see themselves as a connected part of the communities they operate in and the audiences they serve–from companies who concern themselves with putting themselves in their audiences’ shoes and aligning themselves more closely with the wants and needs of those who buy, build, or support their products.

However, it seems impossible to make that change in thinking within an organization if marketing professionals feel detached from the work they do; agnostic about the good they might achieve; and a lack of responsibility about the repercussions of their actions. I’m not suggesting marketers need to always agree with a client, or that they should cease doing business with a company every time an unsavory crisis unfolds. But I do believe we have to feel some culpability in the repercussions of the work we do and some concern about the impact of our work, beyond the money it puts in our pockets today.

What’s your take? Do you agree? Or am I akin to the entrepreneurs of the dotcom era, believing everyone should think their toilet brush e-commerce site should be seen as the first step toward world peace? Am I being too idealistic? Do, for instance, the moral concerns of keeping employees in jobs trump the distaste a marketing firm might have for a potential client? I’d love to hear your take.

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An interview with Richard Ouyang, originally posted for PR News.

Let’s face it—everyone is digital and moving to mobile, so PR pros will eventually have to know how to develop mobile app concepts so they can think bigger about what to create. Richard Ouyang, associate director of digital strategies at Peppercom Digital offers here—in no particular order—the top 10 reasons why PR pros should learn about mobile application development.

1. Know good UX: Know what a good user experience is when it comes to how people interact with an app—there’s a science to design and flow.

2. Workflow logic: There’s a logic to apps that applies to business objectives, which in turn applies to app functionality.

3. Simplification: PR pros need to wrap their arms around how people consume information—people read headlines and look at pictures. Too much or too little information can be the difference between success and failure.

4. Know how it works, really: When it comes to all things digital, PR pros often have good ideas, but don’t think through how it comes to life. Understanding technical execution helps ensure your idea comes to life.

5. Connection to everything: Information is pulled from somewhere to appear on your phone. Understand how mobile connects to a Web site and how information is passed to apps and devices. It helps you give people what they want, faster.

6. Devices and software: iPhone? iPad? Nexus? Galaxy? Android? Honeycomb? Understand the implications of devices people use to access the app.

7. Features—what does it do again?: Understand what’s possible with mobile apps. Ask yourself what this app should do. For example, do you know how push notifications work with geolocation and Google Maps?

8. Definitions and process: Understanding mobile app development also means you understand platforms, operating systems and processes—like how long it takes to get into the iTunes app store or Android market.

9. Latest and greatest: Mobile apps are constantly updated, so keep your finger on the pulse.

10. You’re a user: As PR pros, we use mobile apps. It helps you understand the difference between a compelling app and an app that has no long-term value.

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