Love is love, but money talks

On the need to shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism

Last week I was asked to write a piece on the theme of care, a tough topic to consider given the prevailing climate of despair

It seems to me that, given the widespread and deeply rooted mental health crisis in this country, we are not properly caring for ourselves, our colleagues, our neighbours and our friends. It is without doubt that our institutions either do not care, or do not have the resources to care. This is spoken to at length by writers much more adept at exploring its nuance, so I wanted to hone in on a different aspect: the care we have for those we don’t know. This is less about ‘caring for’ as ‘caring about’. It’s less about the direct provision of support through hard times as about the considerations we make for those beyond our orbits, who are affected by our decisions.

In the marketing and media sector, we’re failing there too.

The economy is a human marketplace, not a digital exchange

Our transactions on that marketplace have serious implications for the lives and livelihoods of people far over our own personal social horizons. At Outvertising, we have a saying, ‘love is love, but money talks’. Inherent in that assertion is the view that economic life is a critical determinant of social justice, and we cannot achieve the latter without addressing the transactional inhumanity of the former.

It all comes down to a need to re-humanise much of that economic life. For too long, businesses have been willing to turn a blind eye to the second-and third-order effects of their activities in the pursuit of profit. In my area, we see this in the advertising supply chain: companies seek eyes-on and engagement with their brand, so they put their money where the eyes and engagement are. Segments of the media have latched onto this, embracing sensationalism to maximise the sacred CPM rate. Over time, this sensationalism has devolved into outright disinformation, fear-mongering and scapegoating; against religious and ethnic minorities, against asylum seekers and migrants, against queer and (especially) trans people.

We’ve all seen it, and what we are seeing is a conscious abnegation of civic responsibility in favour of short-term financial gain. It is ruining our society. 

We need economic actors to start thinking of themselves as components in a human system, not just as disconnected instruments with a sole fiduciary responsibility to shareholders

This is referred to as shifting from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism, one in which the entire universe of customers and potential customers are factored, rather than just a very narrow demographic of direct financial beneficiaries. There are consequences for our actions, often much farther-reaching that we consider in our current assessments of impact and risk. It is not good enough to blinker ourselves to this reality, to box ourselves into a small corner of our industry, to stick our fingers in our ears and watch the share price rise in lock-step with the hate crime rate.

Decisions made in boardrooms, strategy sessions, creative workshops and marketing team huddles have downstream consequences that are felt on the ground every day by minoritised communities, and the decision-makers have to care about that.

We all have a part to play. We all have to care. Only when we recognise ourselves as part of a wider ecosystem, and we start to care for the other human beings in that ecosystem, can we have any hope of reforming it. With transphobic hate crime up 11% from last year, and up 156% over the last five years, that reform is long overdue.

Featured image: RDNE Stock Project / Pexels

Cassius Naylor, Co-Director of Advocacy at Outvertising

Cassius Naylor is an award-winning D.E.I. practitioner, consultant, engineer and advocate. As co-director of advocacy at Outvertising, he leads the organisation's work to reform the UK advertising industry and advises on LGBTQ+ inclusion, brand safety and corporate social responsibility. Previously he was global communications coordinator at the Financial Times, supporting the office of the CMO and the newspaper’s PR, brand, creative and commercial marketing functions. He is a retained creative consultant with the Diversity Standards Collective, as well as a writer, editor, speaker and campaigner.

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