Easier, faster, less political: How becoming purpose-driven improved Channel 4’s leadership

Since focusing the business around diversity and inclusion, Channel 4 has found leadership has become much easier and that it has fostered a culture of innovation that boosts long-term commercial success.

easier, faster decisions

Brand purpose is often derided, but when done well and properly integrated there are clear benefits, according to Dan Brooke, Channel 4’s outgoing chief marketing and communications officer.

That is particularly the case when it comes to leadership and decision-making, he says, so long as it is fully supported and understood by everyone within the organisation.

“Purpose makes leadership a lot easier in many ways because you have a north star that everybody instinctively looks to and says, ‘what is the right thing to do?’,” he said, speaking at an event this morning (2 April) held by Karmarama and Accenture.

He admitted there is always likely to be a gap between what brands aim to do and what they actually deliver, but that gap must be “credible”. That requires businesses to be open and genuine about what they are trying to achieve from the start.

“If you are prepared to deliver and you accept that everybody’s definition of the gap will be slightly different, it makes the organisation more decisive and quicker [at making decisions]. But I also think it makes it less political – not unpolitical, but less political – because people have a higher thing to subordinate themselves to, which makes them a bit less ego-driven and as a result it makes the organisation more functional,” he explained.

Driving change from within

Successfully integrating an initiative that consumers respond to also helps from a recruitment and retention perspective. For example, Channel 4’s Paralympic campaign during London 2012 opened the broadcaster’s eyes to what it could be doing internally from a diversity and inclusion point of view.

Brooke described the campaign as a “life-changing thing to have been involved in” because it was a real driver of social change. In addition to the Superhumans campaign, Channel 4 hired disabled presenters for the first time.

“If you’re showing a disability sport, have disabled people present it! That of course seems obvious but no one had ever done that before 2012. We said half of all our presenters were going to be disabled, that’s eight people. There were only three disabled presenters on any channel in any genre in the whole of Britain at that point,” he added.

Four years later, at the Rio Paralympics, Channel 4 increased the proportion of presenters with disabilities to two-thirds, while 15% of the production crew were also disabled.

Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage also inspired a host of new shows such as The Undateables, as well as driving change within the business, both from an employer perspective and within its supply chain.

Purpose makes leadership a lot easier in many ways because you have a north star that everybody instinctively looks to and says, ‘what is the right thing to do?’.

Dan Brooke, Channel 4

In 2012, just 2% of its workforce was disclosed as disabled. Now that figure is 11%, a “massive jump” given its employee turnover is just 10% a year.

“We had enjoyed commercial success by employing people with disabilities to appear for us on screen so we looked to see if we could mirror that in our own workplace,” he said.

“That change has had an extraordinary impact on the inclusivity of the organisation… it has got everybody within the company who might be different in one way or another saying, ‘what about my difference, how can I bring that to work?’.”

On the supply chain side, Channel 4 has been giving away free air time as part of its Diversity in Advertising award for the past three years. Brands to have benefitted include Maltesers, Lloyds and most recently the RAF, the first two of which have enjoyed huge success from the activity. The RAF campaign has only just launched so there are not any results yet.

“The ad revenue that is now generated from clients who say, ‘I want to do diversity- and inclusion-themed campaigns in partnership with you, which is not money I otherwise would have spent’, if you add all of that up it significantly exceeds all of the internal diversity and inclusion costs of the organisation, including talent finding,” Brooke added.

“And that’s before you even get to the bit that I believe is the most fundamental benefit of diversity and inclusion, which is the culture of innovation that it leads to and a culture of greater innovation compared to competitors. All of the studies very clearly show it leads to greater long-term commercial success.”

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