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The race to the mainstream

24 July 2012
pic of a pair of trainers

 

Circlesports develops practical and entrepreneurial skills to set young people on a path to successful employment in retailing – some of their funding is generated through cutting-edge young designer and top brand sportswear sold through their website and Westminster store

While I’m sure G4S are praying the ground will open up and swallow them right now, other businesses and organisations are clamouring for media attention... For those of you who have been in the sector for a while, you’ll know that going mainstream has sometimes felt like something of a distant dream.

Going ‘mainstream’ still feels more like dream than reality for the social enterprise sector. But, as a new advertising campaign puts the social enterprise message in front of millions of Olympic visitors, Peter Holbrook says now is the time to raise our game

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are almost upon us. It feels like a long time since the logo was first unveiled and mocked relentlessly by the British media, but it was five years ago. Turn the news on now and you can’t escape the rising number of media stories linked to the sporting event, and many of these are, of course, business stories.

While I’m sure G4S are praying the ground will open up and swallow them right now, other businesses and organisations are clamouring for media attention. They have spent many millions on marketing to reach the masses, hoping the Olympic torch will shine on their various products and services.

In the run up to London 2012 creatives have been working on TV ads, developers on apps for smart phones, designers on posters for billboards. A whopping 17 million people are expected to descend on the Capital over the summer for the Games. These adverts are going to be seen by people from around the world. And among the ads and sponsorship logos for fast food and fizzy drinks, one advertising campaign will be trying to do something different. Its aim is to arouse interest in social enterprise.

In a cloud of messages encouraging us to eat McDonalds (no thanks) or drink Heineken (oh go on then), some of the UK’s most amazing social enterprises are going to be showcased. On very big posters. In the London stations that will catch the attention of Olympic crowds. Social Enterprise UK has been working with Arc, which is the driving force behind the ad campaign, an initiative that is supporting social enterprises in the Olympic boroughs to grow and prosper. The target they’ve set themselves is not an easy one – it’s to connect big business and social enterprises to create a thousand jobs by 2015 as part of the Olympic legacy.

Arc is a Business in the Community initiative. It’s right that we in social enterprise are sometimes wary of big business, but few disagree that we need to help them up their game rather than booing from the sidelines (Will the sports metaphors never end?). This meaningful engagement, that truly benefits social enterprise, is what Arc is all about. Through Arc, we as a sector, have a platform on which to reach new audiences, to make people curious about what it is social enterprises do and why they exist. I’ve no doubt it’ll be exciting for the social enterprises that feature in the ads: Belu, Bikeworks, Clarity and Circle Sports (and we are very proud that three of these four are members of Social Enterprise UK). Their products are on display; their employees are the people in the ads. And the campaign gives us all the opportunity to talk proudly about social enterprise.

For those of you who have been in the sector for a while, you’ll know that going mainstream has sometimes felt like something of a distant dream. If I’m honest it still does on occasion, but this advertising campaign will reach new people and lead to greater awareness of social enterprise. At the moment most people know what The Big Issue is, they recognise a bar of Divine Chocolate and millions are familiar with Fifteen. But social enterprise has still not entered their vocabulary. 

There are some social enterprises out there with well-honed messages that sum up social enterprise beautifully. One that really stood out to the SEUK team recently is: ‘We don't hire people to bake brownies – we bake brownies to hire people' from the Greystone bakery in New York. And The Big Issue’s well-known mission statement, 'A hand up not a hand out', has cut through to the mainstream with great success, explaining with simplicity what they do.

Social enterprise will have ‘made it’ in the mainstream when as many people who know what a business is and know what a charity is, also know what a social enterprise is. So there’s work to be done. This campaign is a boost and I hope everyone in the sector will take the opportunity – the rise of social enterprise is something worth talking about.

Peter Holbrook is CEO of Social Enterprise UK

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