A Spotlight on Purpose: Ten Questions for Mars, Inc. Executive Andy Pharoah

September 14, 2020

By Stephen Hahn-Griffiths

Courtesy of Mars, Inc.

Purpose isn’t just a strategic concept at Mars, Inc. — it’s a guiding principle that drives how the company does business. To learn more, I reached out to Andy Pharoah, VP of corporate affairs and sustainability at Mars, Inc., who provided perspective on 10 key areas of purpose.


1. Being Purposefully Genuine

Q. How do you define purpose in a way that’s practical and meaningful?

I think of purpose as a simple articulation of what the North Star for the business is, and something you can use to guide your decision-making. If your purpose cannot be used to make business decisions, it’s simply not a viable purpose. And it needs to come from the reality of who you are. Yes, it needs to be aspirational. But it needs to be rooted in who you are, where you come from, and what is possible for you to achieve.


2. Communicating Purpose

Q. How does that relate to what you choose to communicate in an organization?

I think the most important thing is what you choose to do, rather than what you choose to speak about. Purpose is not a communications discipline. Purpose is a fundamental business philosophy. Of course, from a communications professional point of view, if you have a purpose that is clear and believable, and is real and aspirational, then that can be a very effective way of telling the story of the company. But that’s the benefit. It’s not the objective.


3. Purpose Ownership

Q. Who owns purpose in a company, or who should own purpose in an optimal scenario?

I think it must be at least at the C-suite level. For our company, because we’re privately owned, the purpose is also an articulation of what the Mars family believes. At Mars, it’s very much governed in the C-suite, with our chief executive taking it incredibly seriously. But really, purpose is something that’s owned by the associates and consumers. Purpose must be something that connects with them. It’s something that they have helped make possible.


4. Purposeful Obstacles

Q. Why do you think some companies struggle so much to be perceived as authentically purpose-driven? What do you think are some of the things getting in the way?

The main reason is the extent to which purpose is truly a business objective, as opposed to something you just talk about. Do you have metrics for it? How do you judge business success? Is purpose the nice words you put in the annual report? Or is it something that you track and measure your employees against? To what extent is it a fundamental part of your business? At Mars, we have the Mars Compass. It sets out what the Mars family, who are our shareholders, believe are the objectives for the business, which includes: strong financial performance; being well positioned for future growth; having a positive impact on the world; and being a trusted partner in society. And the board and management team are required to deliver against that. It’s really a 360-degree approach. (To learn more about measuring purpose, click here.)


5. Purpose for a House of Brands

Q. One common purpose across diverse business lines isn’t an easy thing to do. What would you provide as guidance for other companies that aren’t necessarily singularly focused on just one type of product or one line of business, and that have multiple business interests and multiple stakeholders?

At the core of Mars are our “Five Principles” that came from the family and were really codified for the first time in the early 1980s. Those principles and our corporate purpose are category-agnostic. And it’s the belief that each and every day, 135,000 people can make a difference simply by how they’re doing business. At the business-unit level, we support that with category-driven purposes. So, for example, our pet-care business strives to create a better world for pets. And if you look at every one of those business lines, whether it be veterinary health, breed-specific or health-condition specific pet food and care, innovative data solutions, or mainstream pet food, all of them are driven by this desire to create a better world for pets. Because pets make our lives better. We see the same in our food business and in our treats and snacking businesses, as well. So, they ladder up. If you operate across multiple categories, and you try to cover them with a single purpose that is either product- or service-based, it probably ends up being meaningless.


6. Risk of Purpose

Q. Are there risks associated with delivering and fulfilling your purpose?

If you stand for something, then you’re held to account for it. Also, it is impossible to please all people all of the time. And certainly, in this world of social media, everything we do, no matter how good intentioned, will be criticized by someone. But reasonable people do not expect companies to be perfect. They do not expect that you will never make mistakes or there aren’t things you should improve. If we look at our own purpose, we’re saying, “The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.” It’s essentially saying the world we want tomorrow isn’t how we do business today. There are things we need to change day by day to make an increased positive impact on the world. I think if you have the right intentions, and you have a track record you can point to, then I think, in most cases, people will give you the benefit of the doubt.


7. Purpose vs. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

Q. How would you define purpose versus ESG? Are they related in any way, or should we think of them in totally different contexts?

I would say that purpose is at a higher level, and that your ESG goals need to ladder up to your purpose. So, to some extent, those goals would be proof points of you operating purposefully. So, for example, I would say we have our overarching purpose at Mars, and then we have something like a Sustainable in a Generation plan, which sets very clear targets for a healthy planet, thriving people, and nourishing well-being.


8. Integrated Communication

Q. Does corporate communications play a different role in delivering on purpose than traditional advertising does? Are all those things typically in sync, or do they work in contrast to each other?

Once you’ve defined a purpose, you need to pick your priority audiences. Who needs to hear your message for getting your message across? Just as you would with any consumer brand, if you look at your corporate brand, there are a whole range of tools. If you want to appeal to lots of consumers, you must use the full suite of the marketing mix. For me, there isn’t a right and a wrong way to do it. Really, it’s very audience-specific, provided it sits on a firm foundation and you are “living in truth.”


9. Purpose and Social Injustice

Q. What about the growing issues around social injustices? How does that align with your purpose? Using that as a North Star, how would you make different decisions based on enforcing the purpose?

We view purpose as a journey: the world of tomorrow starts with how we do business today. You want to look at almost every aspect of society, including racial injustice, diversity, and inclusion, and think about what you can do to affect change. We employ a lot of people, and we have the economic power of a small country, so we can use that for good. The question is, how do you take action to get the outcome you want? How do you recognize that equality of opportunity doesn’t always deliver equality of outcome? You must hold up a mirror and ask: "Are we where we want to be? Are we where we need to be?"" Purpose provides a good framework for recognizing that you’re not going to get to where you’d want to be in a day, a week, or even a year. But as the saying goes, the longest journey starts with a single step, so you need to have continual progression toward the goal.


10. Implications of Purpose

Q. There has been a lot of talk about Uncle Ben’s changing its name. To what degree did purpose fit into that decision?

Uncle Ben’s is a brand that is enjoyed globally for its quality and focus on bringing people together over shared meals. Yes, we have announced that we will be making changes to it. There are elements of that brand that need to change because of some implicit racial stereotypes. This is about doing what we feel is right. Purpose provides a set of values and a helpful framework to make decisions. It’s important that we listen to consumers, Associates, and communities — and in the case of Uncle Ben’s, this means the town of Greenville, Miss. But ultimately you cannot delegate those decisions because on almost any topic you will hear vastly different points of view. And no one approach will please everyone. So, it is about doing what you believe to be respectful and right and feeling comfortable when you hold up the mirror to yourself. We want the brand to have a long-term sustainable future and many people depend on us getting it right.

To learn more, you can directly connect with Andy Pharoah on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Stephen Hahn-Griffiths (@shahngriff) is EVP of enterprise growth at The RepTrak Company.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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