On May 16, Ad Council staff gathered for a breakfast Q&A with board chairman, David Christopher. Currently the Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Entertainment Group, Christopher has been an Ad Council board member since 2010, and has served as chairman since July 2015. He addressed his thoughts on three important lessons on social good and smart business practices:
1. Test, learn, iterate, scale as a guiding principle
Businesses have to take risks to survive. But taking risks can be scary. What if a project fails? Or more practically, what if a project wastes money? Christopher argued that in order to avoid this common line of thinking, companies should automatically set 10% of their budgets aside for testing and learning. With this money, companies can communicate that risk-taking is a daunting but expected cost of innovation, advancement and long-term viability.
At AT&T, Christopher has taken this philosophy beyond the company’s balance sheet and into its employees’ daily lives. Employees are encouraged to re-tool themselves and their skill sets in an effort to advance both AT&T’s and their personal career goals. Brown-bag lunches, employee-led programs and cross-departmental collaboration are supported by management to allow employees to step outside of their comfort zones and learn new skills.
2. Businesses don’t exist in a vacuum—they are responsible for their customers and their actions
During the breakfast, one Ad Council employee asked about the role of the “It Can Wait” texting and driving campaign in AT&T’s business and culture. The campaign features real stories of people who were injured and killed while texting and driving. AT&T also produced a traditional PSA that shows just how quickly an accident can happen when texting and driving. Christopher responded that AT&T created this campaign because they felt like it was their responsibility to address an issue that’s inextricably linked to their services. Social responsibility, he said, is not a branding or business necessity, but a human one. Companies cannot simply ignore the role they play in social issues. By using their resources to participate in larger issues, companies have an opportunity to send a message to both their customers and employees that social engagement matters and everyone plays a role making the world a better place.
3. Great work is the pillar of business
Let your work speak for itself. Christopher urged companies that the best way to build a brand is to focus first on what you can do for customers…be it product, service or customer experience. There is no better way to clearly express your values, culture and purpose. Great, innovative, important and responsible work elevates and moves a company forward.