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Noblesse Oblige

I wrote a blog four weeks ago at the start of the lockdown. My main observation – more gut reaction than fact – was that we should expect, and prepare for, a new ‘normal’ when we were free to make choices again. It was my view that the world would change and adapt in unforeseen ways.

That those choices may never be the same ones we made before the lockdown is a probability we have to face. It is calculated by experts in social psychology that it takes between 21-66 days for new habits to form.  As we may find ourselves living this unnatural life for nearly this maximum period, we must be prepared for significant habit change. Whilst we all fantasise about what we are going to do immediately we are released, the fact is, when the time comes, we may not. Our choices maybe very different when we are free to make them.

It has been a month of inconceivable turmoil. Now, at the start of week five, it is possible to see some of the impact as the mist settles. What is becoming clear is that it is a more divided world. Particularly, economically. There are going to be some serious business winners alongside those who have lost it all through no fault of their own. More than that there will be some fundamental corporate villains who have not done the right thing, have put monetary outcomes at the exclusion of human need and acted against the consensus that we are all in this together.

Suddenly we find ourselves as bit parts actors in a version of the Emperor’s New Clothes – naked with nowhere to hide. Are we prepared for this accountability and scrutiny, will we be able to say with conviction, I did what I could, what was right? Or, will we count our lucky stars at the expense of all those that fell to earth.

That is not to say profit is dirty word at this time. We need profit to fire businesses and speed recovery.  For the economy to boom again we should celebrate those who can give the impetus to make it happen. But there is a trade-off. Widespread furloughing is absolutely the right thing to do as a last resort to enable companies to survive until they can get back on their feet and to keep people in employment. Furloughing by companies who could use their reserves but choose not to and further imperil the national economy, is not right. There is no fairy godmother printing free money, we will all have to pay. Furloughing is not a non-recoverable loan, we will as a country be paying it back over years, possibly decades. Do we want to leave this as a trailing legacy for our children’s generation?

At this very moment, businesses and, particularly, consumer-facing brands, have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and recalibrate their purpose. One thing is certain, brands with a clear purpose that resonates with their customers, suppliers, employees and communities in which they operate and impact are here to stay. They will be judged on what they did as much as by the profit they made in this period. The home delivery businesses, the grocery chains, the essential suppliers are amongst those enjoying a bonanza but the stores and producers who have hiked their prices and given us no choice but to pay will suffer in the long run. When we can, we will remember and punish them by never returning.  

Conversely, those that stepped up and did good because they could and not just for personal gratification, will carry forward a wave of goodwill which will continue to sustain them. And, hopefully, put them on path to integrate these crisis actions into a new DNA for their businesses.

We have been plunged into a situation where fortune has randomly smiled on some and not on others. The latter, through no fault of their own. There is a precedence for this in the age-old concept of noblesse oblige where the privileged recognise their obligation to act honourably and generously to others in less fortunate circumstances.

And this goes for us too. Which is why Spider is not furloughing any permanent staff even though we could make a good case because, like everyone else, we have lost business.  We are lucky, however, those losses have not holed our vessel and we have reserves. Instead, we are using this spare capacity to offer our services to charities and those who desperately need support to help them overcome the difficulties they are facing. We see it as our obligation to do our bit as recompense for our good fortune.

We acknowledge, as an agency we are our own community. If we do nothing, we are nothing and as individuals if we do nothing, we are nobody.

Sara Pearson

CEO, Spider

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