In an empathy drought, agencies can help by thinking (and supporting) small

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

But we can have an impact by considering small things as well.

After yet another day of endless Zoom calls, I’ve come to the conclusion that we're in a bit of an empathy drought.

There was an initial spike in empathy during the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis broke out. Then there was a surge of compassion that summer following the murder of George Floyd. Back then, empathy — or at least discussions of it — were everywhere. Brands and businesses were joining the conversation, digging deep and identifying their purposes.

And then… it all sort of faded. 

Remember when every day, we came together to bang on pots and pans to show support for front line workers? Or when we consciously shopped at our corner bodegas and coffee shops to keep them going in tough times? Or when we decided to risk something to support people in our communities from different backgrounds—coworkers, friends and neighbors— when they were attacked? 

I remember.

Maybe it’s fatigue from the last two years. Maybe it’s the cumulative stress of everything we’ve been through. Maybe we’ve put some distance between ourselves and the causes that united us in 2020. Whatever the reason, we’ve become more selfish and more focused on shiny objects. As a result, purpose—or at least the idea of purpose—is at a crossroads

But as humans, citizens and agency people — the strategists and creatives who genuinely have the opportunity to shape culture — we can fix that.

It’s time to be honest about our own purpose, given the work that we do. It’s time to ensure that our clients not only thrive, but continue to have meaningful impact in our communities and our planet by embracing their purpose in revolutionary, creative ways. It’s time to encourage brands to be bold in their intentions and speak confidently about their purpose to customers and employees alike. Yes, the Patagonia’s of the world are out there, loud and proud with purpose. They arguably don’t need us to help define it or frame it further. Even retailers like Target and Kohl’s have embraced small and minority-owned brands. And this past fall, Domino’s gave gift cards to local restaurants that ordered delivery. American Express has backed small businesses since 2010, making “shop small” part of our lexicon. 

But we can have an impact by considering small things as well. That’s not only within our capacity, but our wheelhouse and our interest.

Agencies must think small to create a big impact. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Small wins are still wins. Even little gestures mean a lot. Consider how you can help fuel the businesses you interact with in your daily lives, both personally as well as professionally. 

At Superunion, we recently partnered with Robinson Family Foodson to give them a fresh brand identity and to help spur their online business. That was an incredible “small-but-big” moment. A step in the right direction, for sure, but I feel completely comfortable saying we need to do more. One business isn’t enough. 

Put your effort where your mouth is and help the businesses at the heart of the communities you call home, so that they can continue to do what they do. 

Nora Bradshaw is head of growth, North America, at Superunion.

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