Purpose At Work: How Hershey Stands Behind Youth to Create the Future
Brands across the spectrum are positioning themselves as purpose-driven leaders. In this environment, how can a company stay true to their unique reason for being and give back in authentic ways that distinguishes it from the competition? It’s not about being the agent of change but rather creating a platform for others to drive meaningful change.
The Hershey Company is an exemplar for grounding its business in where it adds meaning in the world and from its successes, be able to make a bigger difference in the world. It is unique in that the company’s founder, Milton Hershey, was one of the greatest social entrepreneurs of his time. He built the company with a mindset that to do well, you need to do good. Milton started the company with the desire to make chocolate, once only available for the wealthy, accessible to everyone. This democratization of this delicious treat, quickly created a purposeful space in the hearts and minds of Americans in making more moments of goodness. As the success of Milton’s business was taking hold, he was able to contribute to society in more meaningful ways.
“Milton Hershey specifically wanted to provide orphans with an education and a community so they could be contributing members of society,” Todd Tillemans, U.S. President of Hershey, tells We First Branding.
In 1909, Milton and his wife started a free year-round boarding school, Milton Hershey School (formerly known as the Hershey Industrial School). Today, more than 110 years later, the school has more than 2,000 students and one of the largest endowments for a K-12 institution in the world.
The company carries the values established by Milton in its ethos today. The company’s leadership discussed how they could best expand on Milton’s social impact during Hershey’s 125-year anniversary.
“We asked, ‘where are the societal pressures facing young people today?’” Tillemans says. “What surfaced was social isolation as one of the biggest issues of our time. Social media is intended to bring people together. Ironically, it can create isolation. There’s an emotional disconnect. So, we asked, ‘How would we play a role in helping youth create a future of social inclusion.’”
To foster that sense of social inclusion, the company launched a new initiative called The Heartwarming Project and hosted a Makers Of Good Teen Summit this year. The Summit was created for teens by teens and focused on overcoming social isolation.
The Hershey Company’s media partners, including Google, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Imugr and Facebook, helped participants share stories from the Summit. Participants showed how they’re overcoming social isolation, bullying, violence and suicide. By opening up the conversation, Hershey was able to facilitate discussion about isolation around the world.
“The beauty of our next generation is they’re very purposeful. They’re quick to take action. Our role was to be there to support them,” Tillemans says.
To take it a step further, at the event, Hershey announced its new grant program, The Heartwarming Project Action Grants. The micro-grants were created to help teens bring people together in their communities. The program, which just selected its first round of recipients, is supporting local, youth-led action such as:
· Mental health awareness programs to address stigma around seeking help
· Conversations about cultural differences and how teens can find commonality
· Mindfulness classes to help students deal with stress, violence and safety.
“We don’t have all the answers.” Tillemans says. “We believe in our youth and what they can do to make a positive impact. We sponsor these micro grants. But it’s our next generation bringing people together to create a new future for their communities.”
“Making a positive impact feels great but how does it relate to building the business?
In parallel to our social impact investments, our flagship Hershey’s brand launched its heartwarming campaign. Our beloved Hershey’s chocolate helps to melt the distance between people and create connection,” Tillemans says, “It’s emblematic of our purpose — to make more moments of goodness.”
For a recent spot, the sweets company brought in a big wooden box with Hershey’s brand logo stamped on the outside to a New Orleans community. The commercial depicts community members — both young and old — coming together to investigate. They opened the box to reveal a portable fire and S’more fixings. The goal: demonstrate how Hershey’s brand helps bring people together in moments big and small.
“It brought people together. They got to know their neighbors. It broke down stereotypes and barriers,” Tillemans explains. “We’re starting to tell stories about the role our product plays in people’s lives.”
Storytelling is not only limited to consumer-facing communications. Hershey also shares stories from within the organization. During the week of Milton’s 125th birthday celebration, employees had the opportunity to attend forums where team members shared stories about moments of goodness with our brands they have been part of making in the lives of friends, families and communities.
“People connect with our founder’s story. They want to be a force for good. The purpose part is an important glue. It’s such a motivator for our employees. It goes beyond just having a job,” Tillemans shares.
By demonstrating how the Hershey brand and products help people live meaningful lives, the company builds goodwill, word-of-mouth advertising and loyalty.
“Another thing we started doing is looking at changing the mechanics of buy one, share one,” Tillemans said. “We closed our headquarters for a morning and had employees go out and share Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars. We intentionally said, ‘give two to an individual. One is for them to enjoy. And the other is to pay it forward and put a smile on someone’s face. Instantly you see them thinking, whose face am I going to put a smile on?”
In this way, Hershey is connecting its products with cultural conversations. It’s rebuilding connections with people at a time where digital technology, social isolation and even xenophobia are pulling people apart.
Tillemans says that as he looks to the future, Hershey is focusing on bottom-up brand growth. It’s inspiring people to share those moments of goodness, one heart-warming act and one candy bar at a time.