Lessons from the Grand Poobah of PR at Ben & Jerry’s

If you weren’t already a fan of Ben and Jerry, you will be after this reading this. Reader’s note: this post is best enjoyed with a spoon in one hand and a pint of your favorite flavor in the other.

Ben and Jerry Flavors

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a visiting innovators lecture with guest speaker Sean Greenwood, Grand Poobah of Public Relations (yes that’s his real title) for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. It was a night well spent and one of the most interesting and inspiring lectures I have ever attended. From a guy who started as a factory tour guide and worked his way up to grand poobah, the story of Ben & Jerry’s social activism could not have had a better storyteller.

They call themselves an “aspiring social justice company” that happens to sell ice cream – REALLY good ice cream. The company, also known for partnerships with the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Sir Elton John, had very humble beginnings starting with a $12,000 investment and one local scoop shop in a renovated gas station. They built themselves on two principles:

  1. If it’s not fun, why do it?
  2. Business has a responsibility to give back to the community

These two guiding principles get to the heart of their brand and explain why they take corporate social responsibility to new heights. As a certified B Corp, Ben & Jerry’s shows how business can be a force for good. They use fair trade ingredients, removed GMOs from all their products and donate 7.5% of their pre-tax profits to social causes. And that’s just the everyday stuff. In addition, each year they select one big social project, from marriage equality to climate justice, around which they focus the majority of their efforts.

Last year, the spotlight was on the environment. Their “If it’s melted, it’s ruined” campaign educated the public on the effects of global warming and sought signatures on the United Nations Climate Summit petition, which demands 100% clean energy by 2050. They even launched their Saved Our Swirled flavor with a U.S. tour of their Tesla Model S ice cream “truck.” This video shows how one simple, creative idea can really bring a cause to life:

DoughThis year, they are turning their attention to “getting the dough out of democracy.” They’ll officially launch the campaign, which aims to make our elected leaders more accountable to the people — not just to their big donors and allies, in North Carolina in May. Spoiler alert: Insiders tell us the associated flavor will be something minty. So, be on the lookout!

Ben & Jerry’s even takes the honesty policy to a new level. They instituted a self-imposed carbon tax and put the money towards emission reduction efforts within their own supply chain, often researching new ways to fix problem area. During their campaign encouraging the industry to label products that contained GMOs, their activism efforts almost outran their process of removing GMOs from their own products, so they were prepared to be accountable and institute the labeling rules on themselves. And, each year they release a corporate social responsibility report outlining the impact they’ve made, the things that didn’t work and how they plan to be better in the future.

So what does this mean for brands that don’t necessarily have the budget or clout of Ben & Jerry’s? When asked what smaller, lesser-known brands could learn from the company, Sean replied:21472b17_FCD2016_USAcrylicFillerp1

  1. Be creative
  2. Say, “Thank you”
  3. Focus on what matters

I’m sold! For those of you who are now just dying for a scoop of chunky monkey, today just so happens to be Free Cone Day. It’s an event they’ve had from the very beginning to thank their customers for their loyalty, passion and support. Nearly 3 million cones will be served across the globe today. So stop into your local scoop shop, grab your free cone and thank them for being a business with a purpose.

To follow Sean’s #1 piece of advice, let’s get our creative juices flowing… if you could create a new Ben & Jerry’s flavor, what would it be? Describe every delicious detail in the comments.


Photo credits: Delish and Ben & Jerry’s

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