How ethical is your marketing? We Interviewed Stuart Mitchell Founder of Ethical Marketing News, to find out how brands are responding to the ever increasing challenges to act in an ethical way.
Can you tell me a bit about you, your background and your team?
I did my degree in Publishing, and whilst there I discovered a passion for graphic design – I’d always been interested in art, but the practical applications I learned in Publishing sealed it for me, after graduation I worked in academia as an editor for a year before deciding I wanted to do something more artistic. I, then moved into graphic design. One of my hobbies is music and I manage a singer called Jo McCafferty, whilst working with Jo I was heavily involved in her Press and PR, and that brought me towards a career in marketing. I worked in marketing and design for several companies before becoming a Marketing Manager for an LED lighting company.
“In purely selfish terms, marketing that is ethical and helps the community or the environment is not only more successful but it also helps the reputation of the company, so I never understand why it isn’t the default starting position for all marketing.” Stuart Mitchell Founder of Ethical Marketing News
The company relocated form Aberdeen to London and I decided not to go with them. After that I started up my own ethical marketing company SM Marketing in 2016. When setting up my own company I started researching into ethical marketing more and more and discovered there was no real resource so I decided to make one.
As for the team, I have friends within marketing who help me out, a lot of people send me stuff, and some friends write some articles but generally most of the day to day is just me, but I do run things past acquaintances for example I have a journalist friend who’s also an environmentalist so I run things past him if it falls into that category, he hasn’t written directly yet but I keep trying to convince him. I’m always looking for others to write about their own experiences of ethical marketing or anything they think might fall under the banner which they can write about.
Please can you tell our readers a bit about Ethical Marketing News?
Ethical Marketing News is designed to be a showcase of both ethical marketing, and the marketing of ethical campaigns. This means I try to showcase both campaigns run in an ethical way, and the marketing of charities and the interesting way that sector is managed. I try to showcase many examples of ethical marketing both past and present, as well as more direct hints and tips on how to make your marketing more ethical, and interviews with people about their ethical marketing. I want to create a resource that people can look at, maybe pick up some ideas or hints on how they can do their own marketing in an ethical way. I try to showcase those who are at least attempting to do it right.
Who reads EMN?
Primarily those in marketing, but I’ve had some great feedback from environmental groups, and some people with just an interest in ethical stuff. I would like to think it’s easy to read for everyone with an interest in marketing and ethical things. It’s been more successful than I initially envisioned with a lot of bigger agencies now coming to me with stories and articles, so I know many of them are reading.
How did your journey to create Ethical Marketing News begin?
I’ve always been interested in doing things the right way, I feel we are better when we work together and when we try to create something that works in favour of most people. When I worked in previous roles I always looked at ways we could use our marketing both as a promotional tool and as a link to helping those who need it.
In purely selfish terms, marketing that is ethical and helps the community or the environment is not only more successful but it also helps the reputation of the company, so I never understand why it isn’t the default starting position for all marketing.
When working for LED.CO.UK I was very focussed on the environmental impact of LED vs conventional lighting and again that exposed me to a different aspect of marketing and when I went out on my own it seemed a logical step. I’m not comfortable with some aspects of standard marketing and I don’t believe in pushy sales and telling people what they want to hear or exaggerating or outright lying, so I wanted to do something as ethical as possible. After researching and looking for further information I discovered there were was very little out there and I decided o do something about it.
What and who inspired you to become an entrepreneur sharing ethical marketing news?
Lack of other resources really, simple as that. Ethical Marketing is becoming a far bigger deal as time goes on yet it is generally ignored as an offshoot of traditional marketing. Since I started I have been inspired by others, Chris Arnold who we interviewed early on is a real inspiration.
Chris literally wrote the book on ethical marketing and really knows his stuff. Also people like Sian Conway who we also interviewed. Sian started up Ethical Hour which is a huge meeting place for all those in many businesses trying to do the right thing. These 2 are really inspirational people who I have come into contact with since starting the site. On a personal note starting and running the site has been a real learning experience for me personally, and helped me realise how small a part of marketing you work in when you work for other companies and how big the field really is.
When did you launch and what has the response been like from your website visitors?
We launched in February 2017 and within the first 5 weeks had hit 10,000 visitors which is great, and it’s going up and up as time goes on. We have had some great responses, a lot from people outwith the industry who find it interesting as a way to inspire their own ideas. I’ve also received a lot of nice feedback from within the industry. We were recently approached by the head of marketing for a multibillion £ company who wants to write an exclusive piece for us on their thoughts on diversity in marketing, I can’t say who it is yet but it’s a sign we are being noticed by the marketing industry as a whole so that was very gratifying, especially as I can’t afford to pay anyone for writing.
How do you attract new visitors to your website?
Word of mouth, social media and posting lots about it has been the way. I was lucky I got some retweets quite early on from some articles that I think opened me up to the marketing community. One of the best ways for me, especially for getting people outwith the marketing community, was joining groups like Ethical Hour, the people there took an interest in the articles and shared them and that really helped.
Stumbleupon was also a big help in the early days. Stumbleupon used to open me up to a lot of views from people and that lead to them checking out the site. I’ve also found the RSS feed is a good way that people check things out and see if there’s anything they fancy on any given day, the RSS feed gets requested just over 100 times a day.
I would say the majority come from people retweeting or sharing our articles. Just today the CEO and President of the National Geographic Society tweeted our article about their new PR Campaign, and that opened us up to his followers, some of whom retweeted about it, so really things like social media means a lot to us.
“Research from Unilever shows that up to a third of consumers now consider the environmental and social impact before choosing their favoured brands. This represents a potential untapped opportunity of a €966 billion (£820bn) market for sustainable goods.”
What challenges do you face?
In some ways the biggest challenge I face is finding things to put on the site. There are some marketing agencies that are really good at sending me anything that falls under the ethical marketing banner Saatchi & Saatchi are very good at that, and consequently there is sometimes more stuff about their campaigns than some other companies who may be doing as much, just because I don’t know about it.
I would like more companies to see the value in having the good campaigns they do promoted. There are other companies who do send things through when I get in which is much appreciated and makes my life a lot easier. But in order to get up at least one article a day – I would like to do more but I’m always scared if I use up all my articles I might not have any the next day – I spend a lot of time looking at other websites of the marketing new sites in order to see what other people have been promoting.
“It is becoming more and more important for companies to embrace the ethical way of doing things, and one of the reasons is because it’s becoming more profitable to.”
Often I get ideas from sites like The Drum and Campaign Live who will sometimes mention in passing campaigns that fall under the ethical marketing category. I will then search for the people who did the campaigns and ask for press releases, quotes and images and then I will create the article based on what they give me. I hope as time goes on and I become better known that more and more companies will send the release of direct I won’t have to go hunting quite so much which does take up a lot of time.
There are other challenges as well initially I spent a long time thinking about what constitutes an ethical story. It was an early story about Nestle doing something quite ethical and the marketing of that. I know that they are not regarded and rightly so, as one of the ethical companies so it opened up a dilemma of what do you do when a company who isn’t particularly ethical overall does something which is ethical.
My conclusion in the end was that I would cover those stories. My reasoning being that I hoped that if they started getting coverage for the good things that they were doing it might encourage them to build ethical decisions into their overall plans a bit more. It is difficult sometimes seeing what really falls into Ethical Marketing, I did an article on the Greens Election advert which showcased many of the issues with today’s political climate but I decided not to publish as I didn’t want to look like I had a political bias.
What are your plans for EMN in the next year and what impact are you aiming to have over this period?
I would like to get bigger, create more awareness both of the site and of ethical marketing in general and to showcase the best in the marketing world. I would like the site to become financially self sufficient, it doesn’t need much to do that, maybe an advert or two and that would be nice too.
I guess the biggest impact I would like is for the site to be of use to people. I don’t necessarily want to change the world though creating some awareness within the industry about ethical ways of doing marketing, more diversity etc. would be quite nice. I would like the site to be used by those looking for ideas or advice about ethical marketing and for those within the industry to see what is being done by others and maybe inspires them to look to changing themselves, and I would also like to continue to be a showcase for those who are doing it right.
What are your company values and why are they important to you?
Ethical Marketing News wants to showcase those who are doing things right. We want to show the best in both ethical marketing and in marketing ethical things. I guess as we don’t have a physical product our values are really just to try and show what is best in the industry in a fair way, I would like to inspire other people to look at their marketing and see what they can do to change things, but our values are just to be honest and help where we can I guess.
More and more brands write blogs on their websites and tell stories about the impact of their products/services/actions and it seems as though publishing, marketing and PR have blurred lines over the past decade.
All this paired with consumer pressure on brands to act responsibly behind the scenes by being transparent about who made their products, where and out of what has led to trend for businesses globally to act more responsibly, how important do you think this is for brands to be successful in future?
There is definitely a slow and gradual change happening. We’re getting into a place where there are still people pretending to be green who aren’t. In general now even the worst companies are starting to do things better, sometimes grudgingly but they are doing them. It is becoming more and more important for companies to embrace the ethical way of doing things, and one of the reasons is because it’s becoming more profitable to.
Research from Unilever shows that up to a third of consumers now consider the environmental and social impact before choosing their favoured brands. This represents a potential untapped opportunity of a €966 billion (£820bn) market for sustainable goods. This is also something which is happening worldwide. While 53% of shoppers in the UK and 78% in the US say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.
This is a huge market and companies cannot afford to ignore it, and I think it will only get bigger. The big one, I think in years to come will be getting companies to treat their staff ethically, but with initiatives like Fairtrade getting bigger all the time, hopefully this will change over time as well, there is a lot more pressure on sustainability and environmental issues than issues with ethical treatment of people, that is the next thing we need to tackle.
Which are your favourite brands that are making a positive impact on people and planet?
There’s so many, Dove have done some great stuff through the years on body image. The National Geographic have just launched a new campaign aimed at awareness of endangered species. One story that didn’t get a lot of press over here was that Twelve of the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies agreed to a statement of collective intent committing them to work together, in partnership with others, to end deforestation and forest degradation in the global cocoa supply chain, with an initial focus on Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
The fact that those 12 included companies like Nestle is part of why I hope things will change within the bigger companies. There are a lot of great charity ads out there throughout the world. I also like to see it when marketers use their own initiative and just go out and do something, when no-one has hired them. Mother London caused controversy this year when they put a massive breast on the roof of a building to garner awareness for the pressure women feel under not to breastfeed in public. I love to see Agencies do that on their own because they think its right rather than because they’re getting paid.
What’s your favourite ethical marketing news story so far this year?
There’s probably 2 I’ve really liked this year, the first is the Breath by Urban Vision – The Breath is a ground-breaking material hailed by medical experts for its ability to absorb harmful airborne molecules and disperse cleaner air. It was tested in 4 grand spaces in Milan, Rome and London earlier this year. The result was, in 15 days the wrapping absorbed the pollution from over 67,000 cars. These were not big areas they were testing it with comparatively; if we replaced all of our advertising hoardings etc with this material it could make a real dent into pollution.
The second is Saatchi 7 Saatchi’s War on Cancer game in Poland, This was created with the Alivia Oncological Foundation, one of Poland’s biggest cancer charities The game is free to download and play and as the player progresses through various levels they have the option of ‘in-app purchasing’ which uses a unique fundraising mechanism to link the player with a real life patient in need through the Alivia database. If the player doesn’t identify a specific person to link their account to, then any money raised goes to ‘Skarbonka’ – a fundraising pool that supports all of the patients. People spend a lot of money on add ons for games without thinking about it £1 here and there, this strikes me as a really good way to raise money, it’s a modern way to fundraise and the people who are donating the money get something out of it in their gameplay too.
Thanks so much Stuart, so many great examples of ethical marketing. Thanks for keeping us up to date with what’s going on!
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