Welcome to the Purpose-Driven Agency

May 13, 2014


Purpose Driven Agency

We launched a big, super-bad new website today, which is funny because Oliver Russell's new positioning is all about good.

The social good.

This new positioning, captured in this post's headline, has been a long time in coming. But we'll get to that shortly.

An Exploding New Galaxy

We'll start with some definition of the category to create context around the subject of corporate purpose.

There is a business movement toward creating meaningful impact beyond simple financial performance—though research shows the two are directly related, and that one—profit—benefits from the other—purpose.

Business constituencies, from employees to consumers to communities, are responding to this call for corporations to think of their bottom lines more broadly. People, it turns out, want to work for companies that do good, and they want their purchasing and loyalty to translate into the same action.

We'll be working with companies that are operating in this exploding galaxy—and those in its immediate orbit that want to join.

This includes Certified B Corporations that are using the power of business to solve social and environmental issues.

This also covers what are known as “mission-driven” companies, which might include member-owned health insurance co-ops or life sciences companies working to cure diseases, natural and organic foods grocery retailers or social venture startups, among many others.

We'll be working as a catalyst for companies such as these, as well as for those who want to respond to this market demand by more consciously integrating purpose and corporate social responsibility into their existing operations and marketing.

Ann Frank Memorial

A Path that Started on a Nature Trail

We've been working toward this for a long time—nearly 23 years. We have four core values at Oliver Russell: to be creative, collaborative, progressive, and socially responsible. One of our first active contributions was services and cash toward the preservation of Hull's Gulch Nature Preserve here in Boise. I still get chills when I run through this grove that provides transition place between city and foothills, when I think that it could have been lost, but for the support of concerned citizens and companies, of which we were fortunate to be one.

Since that time, we've contributed more than $1.7 million in cash and services to community causes, working with hundreds of nonprofits on projects ranging from providing air conditioners to a senior-citizen living facility to jumpstarting a then-faltering effort to construct the otherworldly Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial on the banks of the Boise River.

So we've always worked with meaning and passion and a sense of accomplishment beyond profit, while still understanding that the profit imperative drives our ability to do good. You don't survive in business for 23 years without watching the bottom line.

An Abyss or a Launching Pad?


Several years ago, we tiptoed to the edge of committing 100% to purpose-built positioning, but backed away after a consultant—a very smart guy—warned us that the market wasn't ready. (I think he used the word “catastrophic” to describe a move into this space.)

We—I—took his advice to pursue a different positioning, one that fit with some of our industry category expertise and likely had far better profit potential.

It was a failure.

In hindsight, it made sound strategic sense. But while we had the chops to do this work, it violated our core value to be creative, and no one at Oliver Russell felt passionate about this direction. We lost our way for awhile, and as the leader who made the call to pursue this direction, I learned valuable lessons about alignment of values and the pursuit of meaning here in our own workplace.

Pivoting Toward Success

During this time, I also co-founded a startup, Social Good Network, with the aim of using the Internet to scale social impact. I've learned a ton from this experience, which has been highly transferrable to the team at Oliver Russell.

Between my work with Social Good Network and lessons learned and earned from our failed repositioning, I gained insights, contacts, and a newfound commitment to the world of purpose-driven companies and causes. As important, the purpose-driven market has grown significantly since I took that consultant's advice, and our team's subject-matter expertise in the category has become much stronger.

Now, our entire team is aligned behind singular purpose. I firmly believe our new positioning isn't the right thing to do.  It's the smart thing to do.

So what are we waiting for? Let's go!

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