Nick O'Hara


Though the journey is long

October 3, 2022

By Nick O'Hara

What drives you to get out of bed in the morning? What’s the first thing you tend to think of to start your day?

For me, it’s coffee. The first thing I do is make a cafetiere of very strong, French roast filter coffee. That’s right– from my first waking moments I am European to my core!

Dosed up on my morning caffeine fix, I then set about making my own small contribution to advancing efforts to create a fairer, more just and sustainable world.

Sounds grandiose, doesn’t it? But it’s true– coffee aside, that’s what gets me to my feet in the morning.

Of course, I’m realistic about the fact that I won’t fundamentally achieve these things; I’m not the Dalai Lama. But I can make a contribution, to some degree at least. I can work alongside others with similar motivations and help them make their contribution.  

Because if I’m not seeking to play my own small part in trying to ensure that future generations may inherit viable societies in a liveable planet, then what am I doing? Striving to increase market share? Fudge that!  

Renovata means renewal, something my co-founder and I are acutely aware of. It guides us in our daily work on the above goals I mention, marrying them to business strategy, ensuring our offerings and capabilities are matched to the needs of our market: our clients and partners. But for us, without purpose, the market is meaningless.

Allow me to share a story with you. It started long ago, but we won’t start at the beginning. Instead, let’s pick March of this year as our starting point.

Finding purpose through pain

“Through her pain, she found purpose,” he said, mid-way through his first State of The Union address to Congress earlier this year and ‘doing’ empathy like only Joe Biden can. He was referring to the widow of a US soldier who lost his life to cancer, likely caused by breathing in toxic smoke from “burn pits” whilst stationed near Baghdad.

Biden conveys compassion better than any contemporary politician because he is authentic and genuine, having faced personal tragedy of the hardest kind.

As a young husband and father, Biden lost his first wife and one-year-old daughter in a car crash in the run up to Christmas– just a couple of weeks after Delaware voters had elected him to the Senate in 1972. More recently, in 2015, Biden lost his son Beau–himself a survivor of that tragic car crash–to brain cancer.

Irrespective of whether we support his politics or not, Biden’s personal narrative of enduring and overcoming heart-breaking loss, the example he sets and the empathy he demonstrates toward others, is what makes him so compelling. Biden offers us value – he is a memoir which will help the reader if we turn his pages.

And many Americans know this. They know Joe, and have done over many decades now. They don’t think he’s perfect, but they trust him as a good and genuine soul.

It’s what won him ‘Super Tuesday’ in the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination for President, sweeping the board and winning states he hadn’t even set foot in, let alone barely spending a single dollar on campaign ads. Up to that point in the primary contest, Biden had been trailing behind Bernie Sanders in early voting states. He had been out-performed by Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and even taken a pasting from Kamala Harris in key moments during the televised debates. But voters know Joe, and on 3rd March 2020 they walked into their polling stations and marked their ballot for him. It propelled him on a course to the White House, eventually securing more votes than any candidate in US presidential election history.

That loyalty and sense of connection takes time to build, and will only stick if you have true purpose. It cannot be gained instantly from a cutely-timed virtue signal or publicity event. You cannot ‘newsjack’ your way to purpose.

Your purpose is your north star

Biden’s “purpose through pain” remark in his address to Congress is a theme he has touched on before; it’s at the core of his personal narrative. It resonates with me, following a long battle I continue to endure, fighting to have a relationship with my infant child.

Like Biden, I refuse to be overwhelmed by my anguish or the obstacles put in front of me. Instead I choose to fight on and, in time, will devote my efforts to helping other fathers unjustly excluded from their children's lives. I choose purpose.

This experience led me to co-found Renovata as a global strategic communications and thought leadership consultancy. We wanted to help visionary leaders define and deliver on their purpose, whether they are individuals of influence, businesses, or non-profits. We knew there were others out there who, like us, are driven to empower visionaries to make the world more equitable and sustainable so future generations can thrive. 

At the core of Renovata’s offering, which is quite distinct from the standard PR agency, is to work with others to help find and cultivate their own purpose.

Because to cut it in today’s world, brands and senior leaders need to be associated with a cause. The question to ask ourselves is this: if my business disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice? Would anyone care? The answer from our customers and stakeholders is more likely to be “yes” if we have a clear purpose, and even more so if our values align with theirs.

But the association needs to be genuine and credible. Consumers see straight through corporations jumping on the latest bandwagon– just as they won't trust a politician who isn't authentic.

Be in it for the long term

Remember the global Black Lives Matter protests two summers ago, just a couple of months after Biden’s ‘Super Tuesday’ triumph?

Remember your social media feed exploding with corporations wanting to be associated with BLM’s objectives and messaging? Remember brands wanting to be seen to be taking racial equality and justice seriously?

… well, where are they now?

The answer to that is a mixed picture. The point is that brands raising their heads above the parapet in 2020 ought to have stayed the course and made ending racial inequality part of their DNA by now. They ought to have built a track record.

For those that have done so, two years on, we are now more likely to view them as genuinely caring about the cause of racial justice. We are more likely to believe that it is truly part of their purpose, and not just a flash in the pan 2020 virtue signal.

We are more likely to know them, in the way American voters know Joe.

Whatever the month or the year, make sure that when your organisation associates itself with a cause, you do so authentically and with true purpose. Make sure you are consistent and in it for the long haul.

Your stakeholders and customers are savvy. They sniff out inauthenticity, and ignore brands whose motives they suspect are disingenuous.

So, to use the contemporary vernacular– be real.

Instead of looking at a cause and figuring out how your messages can fit into it, we need to work the other way around. What are your organisation’s values? What’s in your DNA? By understanding this, we can form an authentic voice and develop a clear sense of purpose which is shared with others.

Your stakeholders will then care about you, engage with you, and want to stay connected to you. 

The journey can and should be long, but your purpose will guide you.