PRs, spin doctors and publicists might be best known for their portrayals in Absolutely Fabulous, Mad Men and House of Cards. But the real story is different.

Far from the TV characters, the UK public relations industry has taken steps to measure its social impact.

The first ever analysis of the social impact of PR and communications agencies has revealed that 80% of practitioners have helped meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through their work.

Of the 17 UN SDGs, four stood out as the most popular.

Over 35% said their work was helping to achieve gender equality. Similar numbers reported they helped ensure healthy lives, promote sustainable economic growth and build resilient communities.

The survey of PR professionals has revealed that a third of respondents had declined to engage in green washing and astroturfing campaigns.

In addition to helping to meet the UN SDGs, the definition highlights further ways PR and communications can have a positive social impact. Three quarters of respondents have encouraged workplace diversity through positive employment practices. Two thirds had encouraged philanthropy and giving. Similar numbers are involved in genuine corporate social responsibility programmes. 

Francis Ingham MPRCA, Director General, of the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), said:

The social impact of PR is hugely important, but hardly talked about. From the impact of campaigns on target audiences and helping to deliver genuine corporate social responsibility programmes and encouraging workforce diversity, the communications industry can have a hugely positive role to play in the world.

All communicators should take an interest in this definition as proving social impact will be vital not just in recruiting new talent and in brand campaigns, but also in organisations procurement systems.”

However, just 17% had used social enterprises in their supply chain. Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK said:

It is fantastic to see that the PR industry is playing its part in helping meet the SDGs. If we’re to achieve these ambitious targets, then all businesses need to be actively considering and addressing their social and environmental impact.

One easy way to do this is to buy from social enterprises, businesses which trade to meet a social purpose. Whether its stationary supporting female entrepreneurs in the Global South or coffee creating jobs for the homeless, switching to social enterprises suppliers will enable you to use your everyday business spend to change lives and make the vision behind the SDGs a reality.