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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

The Cost of Your Values

Several years ago, when I worked as the Chief Marketing Officer for a company that was bringing cannabis-infused beverages to market, I asked a friend to meet me for coffee.

This friend happened to be the President of a well-known, well-respected, multiple-award-winning creative agency.

I asked him to meet with me because I needed to hire a creative agency to help me build our cannabis-infused beverages brand, and I wanted to understand if my friend's agency would be a good fit.*

This friend met me for coffee. We had a nice catch-up. And then he told me his agency wouldn't consider working on our business.

At first, I didn't understand his response.

The product we were selling was (newly) legal.

We had money to spend.

This was a chance to build a brand from nothing and potentially turn it into something big, a challenge most agencies would salivate over... especially given the fact that we had money to spend.

And so I asked him, "Why won't you consider working with us?"

And so he told me.

We weren't the first cannabis brand to approach him about working together. His senior leadership team had met several times to discuss whether they wanted a cannabis client.

And in the end, they decided they didn't.

Because some members of the team had family members with cannabis "issues" (his word, as I remember it), and they felt that accepting work from the industry, however legal the product was and however exciting the challenge may have been, would not be aligned with their company values.

I didn't love his response, because it meant I wouldn't get to work with him and his incredible team.

But I respected the hell out of that decision.

I could relate to it, too.

Several years ago, when I was unemployed and actively job searching, a recruiter friend of mine called me up and dangled a very (very) high-paying role in front of me.

It was the Head of Marketing for Canada... for a global tobacco company.

As the designated breadwinner in our household of six (seven, if you count our dog), it was not easy to decline the opportunity to be considered for such a well-paid role.

My friend knew this. And when I initially refused, she tried to get me to reconsider my decision, saying (tongue firmly in cheek), "Ah, c'mon, David... You've sold caffeine, fast food, sugar water, and cannabis... what's the difference?"


But for me, there was a difference.

To be clear, I don't have anything against informed adults who choose to smoke; that's their decision, and they're free to make it.

But I'm very good at what I do.

And I have four children.

One day, I knew my kids would ask me about my job and what I did to earn money.

And I knew I wouldn't want to have to tell them that I use my skills to convince people they should start smoking, a habit I know will ultimately have a negative impact on their lives.

I don't have anything against people who decide they should start smoking.

I just didn't want to help make that decision any easier for them.

When you live in a free society, you get to decide for yourself, within the bounds of the law, what is and isn't acceptable to you.

And when we're talking about legal products, it's okay to decide, for whatever reasons you may have, if you want to work with tobacco companies, cannabis companies, psilocybin companies, gun manufacturers, fast-food restaurants, gambling organizations, religious institutions, casinos, sugar-water pushers, "Big Pharma", "Big Oil", bitcoin companies...

And it's okay if you decide that you don't.

What's not okay is when what you say and what you do aren't aligned.

Now consider the following five facts:

1. Havas, "one of the world's largest global communications groups", decided to have many of the agencies in its network become Certified B-Corps. Existing as a B-Corp means that an organization agrees to "meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability."

2. If you go to Havas' website and look up their mission, here's what you'll see:

The mission of global creative agency Havas as it appears on the company's website

3. Shell is, in its own words, "an international energy company with expertise in the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and natural gas, and the manufacturing and marketing of chemicals."

4. Oil products are useful to our society, but oil is harmful to the environment in many ways.

5. Last week, the media announced Shell has awarded Havas it's strategic media buying account which, based on what COMvergece reported Shell spent on measured media in 2022, would be an account worth upwards of $240 million.

Does Havas, as an organization, have values?

They did.

Then they sold them for $240 million.

Your values aren't free.

They cost whatever you have to give up to stay true to what you say you believe.


* This was before the cannabis regulations were published that essentially forbid brand-building. Hindsight is 20-20, though.


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