November 30, 2021

Conversations with our courage – Business needs to give back to the world it exists in


Following a year of turbulence and transition, a new narrative is needed for the balance of pursuing profit alongside social purpose and responsibility

New Year predictions have become an increasing challenge to judge in the tumultuous times that have engulfed the majority of the planet since the first spread of Covid-19. But as attention turns to 2022, it is certain that the world which eventually emerges from the pandemic will not be the same as the one we were previously familiar with.

Change at this pace is a challenge for any individual company but it places even more importance on the value of courageous leadership for trade associations and membership bodies – tasked with finding consensus and providing direction among myriad differing perspectives and commercial priorities.

On Wednesday, we are joining with the Institute of Association Leadership (IAL) to welcome clients and members to our Gresham Street office in the heart of the City of London, to consider the importance of values and vision in these challenging times.  To preview the event, we asked keynote speaker and cultural transformation expert Sharon Newport why the pandemic has provided a good external excuse to change and heard from IAL executive director Andrew Chamberlain about the importance of transcending economic returns.

In the final of our three-part preview series, Laura O‘Connell, Chair of our UK Corporate & Campaigns practice, sizes up the new framework in which enterprise exists, where responsible actions are a reputational requirement and where leaders will have to accept change as the new normal.

Looking ahead to 2022, what new or emerging considerations should association leaders have in mind, compared to the priorities and pressures they were juggling in the pre-pandemic years?

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy in the last two years, alongside other evolving social, governance and environmental issues, has changed the lens through which all companies are now viewed by both external and internal audiences. Businesses’ ESG behaviours are now critical to their reputation and no brand can survive for the long-term without acknowledging that and responding.

“The shock impact of the health crisis on daily and working life has effected profound changes in how people see and want to organise their lives. In the UK, the emergency state support through business loans and furlough has also changed the balance in the relationship between commerce and government. In parallel to these changes, environmental concerns – in particular controlling carbon emissions – and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – with Black Lives Matter as a defining moment – have both reaching critical points as issues.

“All of this has shifted the framework within which enterprise exists. Corporate purpose, values and ethics are now vital to corporate reputation, rather than ‘supporting acts’ to economic activity. Put simply, business needs to be responsible and give back to the world it exists in. For association leaders, representing the whole of their membership, an emerging and critical priority is to guide the direction and communication of the Association’s overarching strategy for reputation management within this new framework.”

There is a growing view that business leaders should put more emphasis on social purpose alongside profit. How do you see this shift impacting trade associations and membership bodies, and what role can they play in responding to this challenge?

“Trade associations and membership bodies play a critical role in navigating this shift in emphasis.

Whereas traditionally, their key role was to advocate for the sector’s commercial success, now it is to advocate for the sector’s moral right to exist in a world which is scrutinising and judging reputations based on the ethics and trustworthiness of organisations. Clearly business needs to be financially sustainable, but a new narrative is needed for the balance of pursuing profit alongside social purpose and responsibility.

“Guidance and leadership will be needed on issues such as DEI, carbon footprint, sustainable supply chains, ethical employment practices, and leaders displaying a moral compass that is not aligned to pure self-interest.

“There will undoubtedly be challenges for leaders given such a pace of change, which few will have experienced before. There may be a broader range of views and priorities from members to assimilate and balance than previously, making the role of representing all members with varying objectives  and perspectives even more difficult.

“In addition, the shift in emphasis to ESG-focused priorities is still evolving, so careful judgement will be needed to identify the critical issues for the membership, and scenario plan how they could evolve, in order to evolve communication strategy across multiple stakeholders including customers, politics and media.  It is no small task for association leaders to guide and represent members in this new landscape, but that is the challenge ahead.”

“Corporate purpose, values and ethics are now vital to corporate reputation, rather than ‘supporting acts’ to economic activity. Put simply, business needs to be responsible and give back to the world it exists in.”

To find out more about this event or how we can help trade associations and membership organisations define and articulate their purpose, please contact


Laura O’Connell, Chair of UK Corporate & Campaigns

Laura is the Chair of Instinctif Partners’ UK Corporate and Campaigns practice and is a member of the Group’s Executive Committee. She is a specialist in corporate communications with extensive experience in strategic consulting and in developing and implementing multi-disciplinary integrated programmes. Her career spans major consultancy and in-house roles.  She joined Instinctif Partners in 2015 following the acquisition of award-winning consultancy Wriglesworth where she was a co-founder and Managing Director and has since led the successful development of Instinctif’s Corporate practice, most recently as Head of UK Corporate & Campaigns. Earlier, Laura worked in consultancies including Ogilvy and Mather and spent 6 years client side as Direct Line Group’s first Head of External and Internal Communications.