Louis-Philippe Trépanier: Making A Good Move

The new Head of Strategy at The Good Company, the Paris-based agency that helps brands have a positive impact, shares his first impressions with us.

por Mark Tungate , AdForum

 

The subject of cause-related communications was on Louis-Philippe Trépanier’s mind long before he became The Good Company’s latest recruit. In fact, he tells me, he spent part of his studies “thinking about what ‘purpose’ meant.” Even so, after starting out in Montreal – he’s French Canadian – he followed a traditional path to Havas before changing course. What provoked the switch?

“This is going to sound like the biggest cliché of all time – but it was the people.”

Like Luc Wise, who founded The Good Company here in Paris in 2019, Louis-Philippe is a strategic planner. But it turned out they had more in common than a shared enthusiasm for their metier. “I’d heard of Luc – because, who hasn’t, in the French ad world? He got in touch, and when we met we spoke for five hours.”

The impression of having found a new home deepened when he met the team. “They’re all very passionate, and they share a common ambition that’s reflected in the project they’ve developed together over the past six years. It’s an unusual agency in its desire to change things, its model and its positioning. I was attracted to that and recognised myself in the project.”

He found that he liked the team both professionally and personally. “It’s like the French expression ‘en bonne compagnie’.” Literally, in good company.

 

Tangible, truthful solutions

 

The agency’s clients include charities and NGOs – on a pro bono basis – as well as purpose-driven companies and traditional businesses, all with the overriding mission of “doing good.”

Consumers are said to be supportive of brands that try to have a positive impact on the world. But which subjects are they most concerned about? Is the environment more urgent to them than, say, diversity?

“I wouldn’t intuitively create a hierarchy of causes,” says Louis-Philippe. “For brands I think it depends on a couple of things: their capacity to offer tangible, palpable, truthful solutions to issues. And their target market: environment is going to be more important to a certain demographic than another. Today, there’s also a strong issue that’s impacting millions of people and making their lives harder, which is inflation and reduced purchasing power. Sometimes, purpose can simply be about offering affordable, tasty food for families.”

The realism of this statement is gratifying – as Louis-Philippe puts it, “It’s hard to worry about the end of the world when you’re worrying about the end of month.”

 

Take note of the four Ps

 

On the subject of “keeping it real”, how does the agency steer clients away from false promises and accusations of “purpose-washing”? Apparently it applies something called the four Ps.

The first one is Proportionality. “If you’re a major, large organisation, people expect you to have an impact on that scale. So you need to set big goals and ambitions. In France you can become an ‘entreprise à mission’ which is about businesses going into the fine print of their DNA as an organisation and putting purpose at its core, entirely changing the way they work.”

The second is Positioning. “If you try to have a purpose that isn’t immediately linkable to your positioning or your identity as a company, people are gonna raise an eyebrow. Purpose is a consequence of long term brand building – it has to be part of your DNA.”

Next up: Proof. “There’s a risk people will say, ‘Wait: yesterday you wanted to sell us yoghurt and now you want to save the world? Why should I believe you?’ Be specific, quantifiable and transparent about what you’re trying to achieve: ‘We’re looking to reduce our carbon footprint by X percent. These are the actions we’ll take to get there.’ That plan has to be in place before you communicate. Simply put: walk before you talk.”

Finally, don’t expect Perfection right away. “You can’t have ‘perfect purpose’ instantly. You can communicate your progress, your successes, but also your failures – and what you’ve learned from them. It’s about continuous improvement. But it’s also about being honest and humble. Don’t be boastful. You’re trying to address this problem because you genuinely think it’s important, but you might not get there right away.”

 

Good from inside out

 

The Good Company necessarily follows its own advice. It’s B-Corp certified and an ‘entreprise à mission’. It donates 1 percent of its annual turnover to environmental causes. All its staff are shareholders, regardless of hierarchy. It aims for low-impact production, with commercials shot close to home. It won’t work for the alcohol, tobacco, pornography or defence industries. And it holds regular training sessions about gender equality and sexual discrimination.

“If you have ‘good’ written above the door, you’re 100 percent committed,” Louis-Philippe laughs. “When I arrived I appreciated the ambition of what they’re doing. It would be easier to do things the way agencies have been doing them for the past 150 years. But creating a new model, with new variables to consider in the way of conducting business, is impressive.”

The agency has published two reports on diversity and inclusion, and Louis-Philippe has a nuanced approach to the subject. “Today our society is diverse and I hope more inclusive, so we need to reflect that. But there are many forms of diversity. For example, rural populations are almost invisible in French advertising. You see young people living in cities, but one young person in three lives in a rural area…In short, we need to represent all the communities that make up our world.”

This includes an honesty about depicting everyday lives, he adds. “When advertising shows human beings with all their flaws and frailties, it becomes less like advertising.”

Clearly the kind of advertising that The Good Company likes to make. When I interviewed Luc Wise six years ago, just after he’d launched the agency, I found it a risky proposition. But it’s thrived. As Louis-Philippe says: “It’s a model that has proved itself. We’re solid and we’re here to stay. Not only that, but we’re becoming a force to be reckoned with…A force for good.”

 

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