Forster Communications on how focusing on social change is good for business

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Forster Communications cycle scheme

As B Lab announces the agency’s success, Peter Gilheaney, Forster Communications’ PR director, talks to Gorkana about how it has won the awards for good business practice and how a long-term social change strategy has helped the agency differentiate itself.

Forster Communications has won two ‘Best for the World’ awards from independent non-profit organisation B Lab, it was announced today, which the agency says makes it stand out as the only UK PR agency to receive global awards for good business practice.

The awards are given as a result of scoring in the top 10 per cent of more than 1,850 certified companies, or ‘Benefit Corporations’, from around the world, according to B Lab, which created the awards. These are intended to act as certifications for global for-profit companies that want to show high standards of transparency, accountability and sustainability.

Notable ‘B Corps’ include Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter and Hootsuite.

After applying to certify as a ‘B Corp’, Forster won awards in the ‘Best for Workers’ and ‘Most Overall Community Impact’ categories for companies of its size.

“It is fantastic reward and recognition for the hard work our team has put into our client projects and our own business, it will boost our profile within the industry and with potential clients, and it will help attract potential team members who share our values and want to work for a business like us,” says Gilheaney who believes Forster is different because it wants to serve clients and the communities it works in.

Forster has measured its impact on social change for 20 years

Since launching in 1996, Forster has measured its impact every two years to chart progress in sustainability targets, best practice policies and publically share learnings. The measurement has consistently been completed by independent auditors.

A similar framework is used to certify companies for B Corp status.

The agency is employee-owned (the process where a for-profit company allows employees to own shares in the company) and its overall goal is to ‘harness the power of communications to protect and improve lives’.

“We had been effectively operating like a B Corp without the formal label for the previous 19 years, so it was a no-brainer for us to go for B Corp status,” says Gilheaney.

“We have always used our own business and staff as a test bed for creating change, so we can see what works and what doesn’t and then apply that learning to projects for our clients. As a result, we have very progressive in leading-edge policies and approaches in areas like mental health, staff well-being and sustainable transport,” he adds.

The importance of creating a point of differentiation

Forster Communications’ focus on positive social change means that these values are part of all PR activities it takes on.

The agency only accepts a brief if it is clear that it can deliver social change. Additionally it seeks out projects in areas of social change that it is excited by. For example, the agency has been considering the impact of an ageing population and has actively sought out opportunities with clients to further that agenda.

“As an agency, it is always tempting to respond to all the briefs you receive so you can keep the wolf from the door, but that would be unsustainable for us. Having the focus on social change means we have built up our reputation, expertise and profile with clients in this area,” says Gilheaney.

Forster’s long-term goals and its recent B Lab award are an important point of differentiation for the agency. Gilheaney says: “It marks us out from the competition as an agency that practices what it preaches.

“There is an increasingly desire for authenticity and values in business in general, from consumers, employees and business leaders. It is no longer enough for a business to make money to be considered successful, it needs to demonstrate the difference it is making,” he adds.


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