Better Know a B: Forster Communications
Forster is the UK’s leading social change communications agency, working with businesses to help protect and improve lives. We caught up with Amanda Powell-Smith, CEO of this founding UK B Corp.
SD | Tell us a bit about the history of your company?
We were founded 20 years ago by Jilly Forster as a business focused on social change PR. Since then we’ve inspired people to give up smoking and take more exercise, transformed attitudes to mental health, got thousands of people out on their bikes, helped turn small ethical businesses into mainstream successes, and developed movements that have changed society for the better. We remain completely focused on using communications to help businesses and charities protect and improve lives.
SD | Why did you become a B Corp?
Forster has effectively been operating as a B Corp without the formal label for the previous 20 years and it was an easy decision to go for the B Corp status. We believe the B Corporation is the first of its kind, in that it has created a global community of private sector organisations committed to creating measurable change that are willing to share their own best practice for the common good. We were delighted to be a founding UK B Corps - it plays to our pioneering spirit as a first mover, and allows us to share our ‘Business to Society’ agenda more widely.
SD | What excites you about being part of the global B Corporation movement?
The B Corp movement is not just a challenge to conventional ways of doing business, it is a way of signposting a better way to do business. It squares with our core intent to help deliver material positive social and environmental change, while at the same time offering the opportunity to collaborate with, and learn from, like-minded for-profit businesses on a growing global platform. As the B Corp community grows, the power of the network increases exponentially, and with it, so does the opportunity to collaborate, learn and play with the best businesses on the planet.
SD | Can you tell us about the impact that your company is having in the world?
As a BCorp we are committed to making a positive impact on all our stakeholders and proud to have won two ‘Best in the World’ awards at this year’s B Fest. This includes the social change PR work that we do with our clients.
We work with businesses across the sustainability agenda. In 2003 we created Seeing is Believing to end avoidable blindness for Standard Chartered and today, 13 years on, it has raised more than US$86 million raised and reached 111 million people across the world. Our Get Home Safely health and safety campaign for CHC Helicopter employees helped reduce workplace injuries by 7 percent in the first two years.
Behaviour change sits at the heart of our approach, whether it’s changing perceptions or driving action. Our campaign for Alzheimer’s Society over Dementia Awareness Week increased calls to the helpline by 40%. We are really proud of the agenda changing work we have done around mental health for clients including Department of Health, Business in the Community, Public Health England and a range of businesses and charities. Awareness has significantly changed over the last 10 years with but there is still a long way to go to reduce stigma and ensure people get the help they need.
SD | What benefits have you seen since certification?
We are now part of a movement of like-minded businesses, with whom we can collaborate, share information and learn about how to continuously improve our own performance. It is a clear differentiator for us in the PR/communications/marketing industry, demonstrating to our clients that we are serious about walking the talk and helping us to attract talented individuals to join the company.
It’s also given us a shorthand for talking about what we do and how we operate, and it has led to us meeting some amazing like-minded businesses who share our passion for change.
SD | How did your other staff react to the certification?
We are an employee owned business so staff have been involved in the decision making process from early on. We are all proud to be part of the movement and are actively seeking ways to work with other BCorp businesses.
SD | What has changed in your organisation as a result of taking the B Impact Assessment?
Our core purpose of using communications to protect and improve lives has not changed but the assessment framework has helped us prioritise which areas we need to focus on in order to make a stronger impact. For example, there is real opportunity in our supply chain to build awareness of B Corporations and encourage other business to use the certification to measure and prove their impact. We’re also in the process of changing our reporting in line with the SDGs and the B Corp certification which should give more clarity.
We have always done our own thing in terms of assessing our impact, but the assessment has provided us with an external tool and a way of gauging and learning from other businesses and the approaches they take to social impact. There are some fantastic ideas and initiatives from other B Corps that they have only been too happy to share, so I think we are learning from the best and helping to inspire others ourselves as well.
SD | What does the year ahead hold in store for your company?
We are living through times of intense uncertainty, when expectations are being thrown upside down and great gaps in lifestyle, ability and aspiration are revealed. A new acronym has been created of ‘Jams’ – people who are ‘just about managing’- and there remain far too many people who aren’t managing at all. It is up to businesses like ours to help organisations from all sectors (public, private and not-for-profit) to change this; from creating genuinely collaborative partnerships to identifying and testing new solutions to amplifying opportunities for all.
In our now ‘post-truth’ world, clear and evidence based communications has never been more important. Partnerships are based on shared goals, respect and honesty; new solutions will need careful, grass roots behaviour change programmes that are genuinely owned by individuals; amplification will be best achieved by people-led movements.
We are lucky to be working with progressive individuals and organisations as partners and clients who are equally committed to bridging these societal gaps. I’m very excited about some of the new initiatives that will come to life over the year ahead.
SD | Who is your B Corp crush?
Not sure I have crushes! We already met some great B Corps and I know that is just the starting point – there is incredible knowledge, ideas and resources across the community…imagine what we can achieve as a combined force. If I was going to pick one out, then I’d plump for Pukka Herbs, because of the passion they seem to bring to everything they set out to do.
SD | It’s 2020, 5 years since you certified as a B Corp, what does the movement look like?
It will be bigger with some game changing multinationals actively involved and legal recognition for the status here in the UK.
I hope there will be two or three examples of how B Corp members have got together to address specific issues and then shared learnings with others beyond the movement, constantly acting as pioneers for social business.
SD | What is inspiring you at the moment?
I work in an ideas-based environment so am surrounded by ‘wow’ factors but its people who really inspire me – from a friend who is finding time in a very busy life to work with refugees to business leaders who are not afraid to discuss tough challenges that they don’t yet have an answer for. The work that our client Shiva Foundation is doing on modern slavery is very inspiring.