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Anthropy 2022 and the power of ‘say and do’

By Fenella Grey, Managing Director

Porter Novelli


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November 21, 2022 | 8 min read

Following the inaugural Anthropy conference about Britain’s future, Fenella Grey of Porter Novelli (a key partner of the event) reflects on its message and case for change.

Palm leaves

Did Anthropy 2022 develop marketers’ understandings of the ‘say-do gap’? / meganleeming via Unsplash

John O’Brien founded Anthropy to create a new vision for Britain, originally out of the challenges and opportunities caused by Covid-19. The event was postponed due to ongoing social distancing restrictions and a tsunami of other crises; ‘permacrisis’ has now earned its way into the Collins dictionary.

Fast forward to the start of November and Anthropy, the largest recent gathering of leaders in the UK, took place in the style of a ‘Glastonbury for Good.’ It was the culmination of 18 months of work and resulted in the development of the largest ever co-created, cross-sector agenda bringing diverse experiences and perspectives together at the wholly appropriate Eden Project in Cornwall.

When Sadiq Khan closed out the gathering, we were left not just with new (and inspiring) connections, but with what feels like collection upon collection of genuinely progressive partnership ideas and the raw tenets of a new vision for Britain: a systems approach to creating a better world step-by-step. These tenets aren’t just going to sit in our notebooks, phones or socials, but are actually going to drive change, top-down and bottom-up.

Utopian? Idealistic? Overoptimistic? Yes, possibly, but as leaders we must believe that we can effect change; ultimately, it’s not about us, but the next generation who we must not further fail. If we can’t believe in effecting change as a collection of leaders and experts across business, politics, culture, media, technology, NGOs and the creative industry, then we have no hope. We have to do it together. A simple word with big implications.

I had the privilege of interviewing special guest Rory Stewart on stage. He gave it straight-up with a heavy dose of rightful realism given the challenges we face: “There are no easy choices or answer and no silver bullets to the current crisis Britain faces... and we all need to feel the pain.”

So how to marry hope and optimism with the realism of now? I work in comms, and comms can bring division, but above all, it can bring togetherness. It’s comms that can help us out, assuming we take an actions-focused approach first and foremost. We’ve built our business Porter Novelli entirely around helping brands and organizations close the say-do gap (or rather do-say gap, given many of the clients we represent).

That’s why we chose to run a series of ‘closing the say-do gap’ sessions at Anthropy. Think about the power of aligning ‘say’ and ‘do’ during Covid and super-powering that alignment with effective comms. As a female leader, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that countries and businesses run by women during Covid have come through more successfully. My gut instinct tells me that female leadership focused on active listening, empathy (intentional ‘do’) and the ability to get stuff done with honesty and authentic ‘say’ leads to positive outcomes.

Three lessons

Here’s what I learned in our ‘closing the say-do’ sessions. First, ‘how to do business better’ with Sarah Webster from Britvic, David Bentley from Porter Novelli, Afua Basoah from Rapp and Chris Baker from Serious Tissues. We must define ‘better’; embed or operationalize it; measure what we treasure; and take baby steps.

Second, ‘how to live out a new brand of leadership’ with Josh Bayly from PepsiCo, Sarah Ellis from Amazing If, Liana Fricker from Inspiration Space and Sarah Shilling from Porter Novelli. We have to know what we’re un-learning and re-learning; build ‘squiggly’ careers; establish ‘dream academies’; divide project leaders from team leaders; and remember that change follows action

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Finally, ‘how to close the political say-do gap’ with journalist and radio presenter Carole Walker and Harriet Lamb of Ashden. We must move toward a more participatory democracy with devolution to local communities as it’s “the power of community that will create the change.” Plus a reminder that although the Iraq war is his legacy, Tony Blair’s government did match his say and do.

Active listening

None of this is possible if comms is a poor afterthought. Without effective comms; no action is inspired; no support is galvanized; no audiences are engaged; things unravel and head the wrong way. I don’t need to use the obvious political examples over the last few weeks and months to demonstrate the point.

As Kamal Ahmed so beautifully said, “all great storytelling starts with listening to what audiences want as opposed to ‘professors of news’ saying who are goodies and baddies and polarizing opinion.” The time is ripe for new offers to support today’s audiences, but it starts with active listening.

Anthropy has started the active listening, systems change approach, and it will deliver as its founder is the very model of say-do. We need to follow Julie Brown of Burberry’s guidance, the responsibility of which will remain ringing in my ears: “Leaders are enablers of making change happen.” Sprinkle in Richard Walker of Iceland’s advice to do it “authentically and stay true to your values.” Simple...

If you’re interested in building a new vision around the four pillars of Anthropy’s conversation (people, place, prosperity and global perspective), I encourage you to lean in to Anthropy 2023. The first tangible step this year is to take a manifesto to the House of Lords in March. I lay rest to my case of the power of say and do.

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Porter Novelli is the strategic communications company built on purpose to do business better. The way we bring this to life in EMEA is by closing the say-do gap...

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