Thursday, November 7, 2019
Melissa Orozco: Championing Social and Environmental Progress through Impact Relations
It’s not every day you meet someone who turns away 80 percent of business that lands on her desk. But that is just what Melissa Orozco, founder of Vancouver-based Yulu Public Relations, does to ensure she stays true to her values and those of her company. Started in 2011, Yulu champions socially innovative organizations that are making a positive social and environmental impact.
Melissa is also a driving force behind the emerging field of
MK: First of all, can you explain why you called your firm Yulu? Is there a meaning behind this?
MO: Contrary to popular belief, Yulu is not an acronym. Yulu has Chinese origins, meaning “the journey of words.”
MK: You are very involved in the Impact Relations field. Can you share what this is and how you got involved?
MO: Yulu’s roots were with nonprofits and social enterprises, including the Vancouver Farmers Market and Fuck Cancer, from the start. While we recognized the public’s growing hunger to support brands that were built on transparency, positivity, solutions and authenticity, it was still a time when terms like “social impact” and “social innovation” were considered aspirational and bad for the bottom line. In 2014, this inspiration and hunger began to take on the undeniable shape of a new industry, a new way of doing PR. That was when we developed Impact Relations. One year later, we committed to a portfolio of 100 percent cause-based clients –- the same year we became the first PR agency in Canada to become a certified B Corporation and recognized by PR Daily as North America's Top PR Agency for Corporate Social Responsibility.
MK: As a communications professional, you help clients raise awareness of their positive impacts on society and the environment. However, there is always the risk of green washing, blue washing, etc. What is your approach and counsel when you suspect this may be happening with a client?
MO: Yulu has a strict client-vetting process, which results in us turning away about 80 percent of the new business opportunities that come in our door. One of the ways we establish authenticity from brands and companies that come to us to build a purpose-lead strategy is by ensuring we have access and complete buy-in from the leadership team. It is also important that while building out our strategy, we allow time for implementation throughout the company so that the strategy is not positioned or executed as a standalone PR initiative. Our process always begins with a deep-dive assessment where we explore how the company is already creating a positive impact within the communities that they serve. We follow this process by reviewing the issues that are impacting their target audience groups to determine how the brand or organization can add the greatest value and impact.
MK: Have you seen a shift or evolution in how your clients are approaching CSR or sustainability in recent few years?
MO: Consumer demand and customer behavior have absolutely influenced the organizational brand purpose movement. Companies are increasingly seeing that having an authentic social purpose and positive impact is not only a “nice to have” but it's a “need to have,” in order for them to stay relevant, competitive and engaging with their customers. You can find many examples of this on the Impact Relations website here.
MK: Do you notice a difference in approach by sector?
MO: Brands are implementing social and environmental strategies around the globe in response to the climate crisis that is affecting all nations and communities. When it comes to social justice issues that brands are tackling, strategies will vary significantly depending on the issues that are impacting the communities around them. For instance, in the U.S. you will see brands championing issues such as prison reform, gender equality, and racial justices, while other markets such as Canada may have a heavy focus on issues like indigenous rights and immigration reform. Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t cross-over of support from brands looking to solve issues that are universal in scope.
MK: Are companies taking a different approach given the particular urgency in addressing ESG issues?
MO: Climate change is at the top of the agenda for many organizations, more than ever. Through the UN’s Global Compact initiative, brands are rallying and collaborating to address climate action-related SDGs.
If there’s ever been a time to use our voice and communications to inspire and move people to action, it’s now. The good news is there is a groundswell of businesses using their expertise, resources and influence to positively impact social and environmental change. Realizing we can’t rely solely on government, nonprofits and NGOs to solve all of the issues impacting society and the environment, corporations are stepping up to play a critical role in building a more prosperous and regenerative economy. Global brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Tesla and Patagonia are among the thousands of companies placing “social” at the forefront of their enterprise – putting purpose alongside, or even ahead of, profit. Brands are collaborating with competitors more than ever for collective action to address global issues and improve industry standards. It’s no longer about philanthropy; it’s about creating systemic and meaningful change.
In terms of CR, what should corporate leaders do more of?
Lead with their values and be comfortable advocating for what’s right, not just what’s going to drive sales or satisfy investors.
\What should they do less of?
Don't wait on advocating for an important issue until other brands are leading the way – pave the way!
What CR trend will we continue to see more of in 2020?
Climate action and collective action.
What are two to three companies leading the way in integrating purpose with corporate strategy?
Name a corporate leader you admire.
Ben & Jerry's chief executive officer, Matthew McCarthy