A New Survey From The Economist Finds More Executives Talk About Social Good Than Act on It

There's a 'disconnect' between thinking and doing

Survey respondents were more than 1,400 executives across 103 countries.
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This might not come as a surprise, but a new report shows that business leaders don’t always keep their hearts in the same pockets as their wallets.

According to The Economist’s survey of more than 1,400 executives across 103 countries, 70% of respondents agree that “operating with social purpose” is important for their companies. However, even more—78%—said companies talk about it more than they invest in long-term initiatives to support it.

The results, released this week during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, illustrate a gap in executing a growing trend across a range of industries looking to improve the world while also improving their bottom line. In fact, 48% of respondents said they felt businesses that operate with purpose beyond profit actually end up gaining a “financially competitive advantage” in their markets.

According to Mark Cripps, chief marketing officer of The Economist Group, said the “disconnect” between executives and their businesses seems to be an area of frustration for many brands and the consumers they serve. That’s at least partially because many are measured by short-term return that makes long-term investment more risky—and costly.

“The weird thing is that people are saying it’s really important for their company to drive social purpose, but they fear actually doing it,” Cripps told Adweek.

A third of the responses to the survey, fielded in April, came from C-suite executives, with more than half working for global companies. The majority of the answers (around 82%), came from men, with 15% coming from women and another 3% from those who didn’t disclose gender. (The Economist said the responses mirror global executive populations.)

According to the survey’s findings, women are more likely to express an importance in social purpose than men, with 87% of women reporting the need for social initiatives compared with just 68% of men. In addition, 62% of women agreed that companies with social purpose have a competitive advantage compared to just 47% of male respondents. According to The Economist, 76% of female respondents said consumers are holding businesses accountable to their values; 63% of men agreed.

The importance of social good also varied by region. The Economist found that 83% of Latin American executives felt their employers’ talk about social good did not reflect their level of long-term investment, compared to 80% of Europeans and 76% of North Americans.

Social good also plays a role in recruitment. About 74% of all respondents said the “next generation” of employees will put more emphasis on finding employers that play a role in social change. That emphasis also varies by region. While 78% of respondents in North America said social good matters when job searching, only 72% did in European and 66% did in the Middle East and Africa.

“The way we define the return on social purposes has to be re-evaluated,” Cripps said. “It’s not just the bottom line.”

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