A growing number of PR agencies around the world are embracing B Corp status.
Started in 2006, the nonprofit B Lab certifies companies as “B Corporations” if they can demonstrate that they operate for the good of the environment, community and people—especially employees—while making money. In a nutshell, the status is about understanding how decisions, from who companies employ as vendors to how they treat employees, has a ripple effect.
B Hive, an online platform for B Corps to connect, find resources and search for B Corp products and services, provided PRWeek with a list of accredited agencies. The roster doesn't include all B Corp-certified PR firms—some could be categorized as creative or marketing agencies or strategy shops—but it does provide a snapshot of the momentum that B Corp status is picking up in the industry.
There are 36 PR agencies on the list. Three—Milk & Honey, Ngātahi Communications and UpHouse—have earned certification in at least two countries where they have a presence.
By geography, there are 18 B Corp-accredited agencies in the U.K., 14 in the U.S., three in Canada and two in Australia.
In the U.S., B Corp agencies include Bloom Communications in Austin; Brink Communications in Portland; We Are Rally, which has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York; and Havas New York, which became a B Corp in 2021.
Milk & Honey PR, which has offices in London, New York, Munich and Singapore, gained its B Corp status four years ago and is the highest-ranking B Corp among PR agencies, with a score of 154.2 out of 200.
The accreditation process is anything but easy, taking months and requiring extensive supporting documentation (see sidebar) but the firm says it’s worth it.
“We do have a material impact both commercially, on new recruits and employee engagement,” says Kirsty Leighton, founder and group CEO of Milk & Honey. In its most recent Hive Happiness internal survey from July, the firm received an 87% engagement score, “which we were delighted with.”
In terms of commercial benefit, she says the proof is in Milk & Honey’s growth: its New York office, opened in spring 2021, generated $1 million in year-one revenue. Leighton says that the agency has also worked with clients such as mobile network provider Giffgaff, which sells refurbished handsets, and Luker Chocolate, a Columbia-based global producer of luxury chocolate, on earning their accreditations.
While she says the label has been good for business—“there are certain things you can’t say about yourself, like that you’re respectful, trustworthy or successful; you need external validation for that”—the learning and community provided by accreditation is especially useful.
“I wanted to ensure as an agency that we are finding ways to see what ‘good’ looks like, in terms of ethics, governance and the environment,” says Leighton. “Obviously, there’s a whole set of fragmented elements within the environment, from carbon to water to plastic, but the B Corp integrates all of it, as well as what ‘better’ looks like in terms of governance, employees, community and clients.”
“I have found it to be a hugely welcoming and sharing community,” she says. Leighton is now part of a program called B Leaders, who are ambassadors for the program, and is guiding other agencies in the U.K. through the B Corp accreditation process.
U.S. consultancy Fors Marsh became a B Corp in 2017. CEO Ben Garthwaite agrees one of the major benefits is the community into which accredited firms can tap.
“From a bottom-line perspective, our work with other B Corps has vastly improved our partnership network,” says Garthwaite. “We have joined together with other B Corps to buy health insurance together, leveraging our collective purchasing power. And we’ve partnered with other B Corps who provide us long-term value and in many cases substantial cost savings.”
He adds that it helps Fors Marsh be recognised by Top Workplaces U.S.A. and the Inc. 5000 Hall of Fame, as well as to be Climate Neutral Certified.
“Our engagement with the B Corp movement has been one of the most important factors in this success,” says Garthwaite. He adds that the B Corp movement is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons as to why employees say in internal surveys that the firm is headed in the right direction.
It is no walk in the park once a company becomes a B Corp, with reassessments required every three years. It requires that everything a company does, from client work to landlord agreements, has to consider all stakeholders, rather than just making or saving money.
“The CEO of Patagonia said being a B Corp is ‘a pain in the ass,’ and he is absolutely right,” says Brian Herder, chief creative officer at Russell Herder, which earned its certification in 2019. “I can’t fault someone for not wanting this, because it’s hard enough running a PR firm let alone a B Corp firm. It isn’t just about paying your dues to the Chamber of Commerce; everybody in the organization winds up being involved in it.”
But for the companies willing to do the heavy lifting, “it can be transformative,” says Herder, who cites other rewards. In addition to the environment, agency leaders agree that the PR industry needs to improve in terms of community involvement. Russell Herder’s client work, it contends, is better because it is more contextual and, in turn, meaningful.
“We have a commitment to working within the community so that means partnering with local artists, influencers and other stakeholders, saying, ‘Well, how would you address this issue within your community?’” says Herder. The firm has collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Health to reach communities including African Americans and Hispanics on topics such as heart health and diabetes prevention.
“It has led to beautiful, surprising pieces of work,” he says. “Being a B Corp has turned co-creation into a core value of the agency.”
B Corps also need to be a benefit corporation, which is a legal structure designed to protect a company’s commitment to prioritizing purpose, not just profit.
Agencies such as New York-based Mission North, which commits 2% of its profits and time to nonprofits focused on social equity and sustainability, is a benefit corporation. However, it has decided not to pursue third-party certification from B Lab.
“We looked closely at the B Corp certification process. It’s a great, albeit imperfect program that ultimately was not a fit for our business,” says Bill Bourdon, co-CEO of Mission North. “We wanted more flexibility to run our various social impact programs.”
He says being a benefit corporation codifies and holds companies accountable, just like being a B Corp does.
“To maintain our benefit corporation status, we need to continue doing the work and document that work and its outcomes in a social Impact report published on our website every year,” says Bourdon. “What’s most important is that you do the work, you nurture a culture of corporate social responsibility, diversity, equity and inclusion and put systems in place to measure the impact of your actions.”