21 August 2019 | Thought Leadership

Taking a stance and facing the critics

While taking a stand on issues gives an organisation a great story to tell and can help position it as a bold, forward-thinking company, there’s an often-forgotten flip side to standing out. By nature, standing out opens one up to wider scrutiny, to naysayers and to those who say the stance isn’t enough or is just another corporate undertaking an initiative for PR purposes.

At The Warehouse Group, the person at the front line of that flip side is Tanya Henderson, General Manager of Corporate Communications. At the Corporate Communications Leaders Summit this week in Auckland, Henderson took the audience through The Group’s recent journey from, as she calls it, “Simply ‘doing good’, to beginning to tell stories about what exactly ‘good’ looks like.”

Henderson began her presentation by offering background on The Warehouse Group and its origins, which most Kiwis have a strong familiarity with.

What’s lesser known, said Henderson, is that approximately 25% of the profits coming from The Warehouse Group retail activities are reinvested back into New Zealand through the Tindall Foundation, K1W1, and various other investment vehicles.

“Last year in FY18 the Group raised $5.3 million for New Zealand communities, which supported seven key charities. Overall, in the past 37 years, funds raised for charities to address some of New Zealand’s most critical needs have totalled over $65 million.”

The numbers are impressive, but these initiatives and community support programmes aren’t anything new. For Henderson and The Warehouse Group, what is new is the fresh look at how the company communicates these initiatives and its move from quietly sharing to doing more ‘shouting’.

“In February of this year, we took several huge steps to shout our sustainability efforts and specifically, our carbon neutral announcement, from the rooftops,” said Henderson.

These steps included launching a new communications umbrella platform known as “Here for Good” which created a way to tell the organisation’s stories across all The Group sites, opening up new Group social channels, paying for billboards and producing emotional, thought-provoking ads tailored for each brand.

Those bold moves didn’t come without risks, though. “We knew people would criticise us based on the products we stock, or that some might see it as a vanity move or greenwashing. But we forged ahead anyway,” said Henderson.

She then went on to describe to the audience the key actions that preceded those moves. The biggest actions? The Warehouse Group’s CEO, along with the Chief Sustainability Officer David Benattar, championing the carbon neutral cause and the associated sustainability activity – from recycling, and reduction programmes through to supply chain packaging reviews.

Benattar led the business in designing three pronged approach to reducing carbon: emissions reduction, native forest regeneration and carbon credits.

With the plan in place, it was time for the communications team to shine. Henderson and her team designed a strategy that would allow them to talk about the amazing work happening in the carbon neutral space, while also giving them the opportunity to expand on the other initiatives they’re behind. The result: the ‘let’s clear the air’ campaign and the expansion of the overarching Here for Good platform.

“'Let’s clear the air’ gave us licence to do two things: Open up the discussion on climate change and hopefully spark people’s interest enough to learn more; and literally do our bit to “clean the air” with our initiatives,” said Henderson.

Henderson walked the audience through her team’s approach to marketing the campaign, which she said was done entirely in-house. With around just one month of lead time in the busy December and January period, her team was able to pull together a launch in Wellington with key stakeholders and the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.

In addition to the public event, there was an internal launch event, social and digital content to develop and 13,000 team members to rally behind this cause.

With the newly-established Here for Good platform, Henderson and the organisation as a whole had a chance to tell stories covering a variety of topics. “The idea behind the umbrella platform of Here for Good, is that it offers all brands within The Group a home for content linked to three core areas: Our People, which covers everything we do for employees and community causes; Our Planet, which focuses on carbon neutrality and stories related to waste, recycling and beyond; and Our Products, which tells stories of our sustainable products, packaging and stories,” said Henderson.

She shared that from a research perspective, the Here for Good platform made a lot of sense. According to the survey The Group tested, 2 in 5 people are keen to support brands that take a responsible and ethical stance. Additionally, the survey found that the next generation of consumers are looking for brands that deliver on both Value and Values, and 44 percent even went as far as saying they would be prepared to make major changes to their lifestyle to help reduce the effects of climate change.

On the growth of the Here for Good platform and the results since its launch, Henderson said that while it’s full of ever-changing topics, it’s slowly but surely taking hold across the organisation. “We make no secret it is a journey and we certainly don’t claim to have it right and know it all,” said Henderson. “What we do know is that we have good intentions, good partners and are taking good advice. We’re walking alongside those making the changes and taking the stance while staying brave enough to address the naysayers and critics. And it feels like a great place to be.”

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