The Bell Let’s Talk hashtag on social media is raising awareness for mental health, but it’s also raising questions about whether the company is using the campaign to better its image within the corporate world.
“I don’t think it would be accurate to say they’re exploiting the image (of mental illness),” said Bruce Anderson, a professor at the University of Regina, who teaches business strategy. “I think Bell truly had a noble reason why they got behind mental health.”
According to Anderson, Bell got behind mental health initiatives to better its image and compete with one of its rivals, Telus, which was supporting breast cancer awareness. Bell’s chief executive officer may have also had a personal reason for developing the campaign.
“So the previous CO, a gentleman by the name of George Cope, what I recall is that his mother had experienced some form of or incidences of mental illness at some point in time,” said Anderson.
Anderson also points out that Cope felt mental illness wasn’t being discussed enough or funded well. So once he got the organization on board, according to Anderson, Bell donated close to $50 million to mental health initiatives.
Anderson feels that having a single day for “Let’s Talk” is perfect and feels the campaign would be less effective if it lasted for a week or a month.
“Well, it’s true, you could always do something else,” Anderson said. “One of the concerns would be if they do a lot more on this, A, they have other concerns in their organization and other things that they should support and, B, if they further do it into a week or a month or whatever, do they get feedback from that public that says all they’re doing is capitalizing on their brand on this, they’re not actually doing any value to it.
“So I think they’ve looked at it as an initiative they can support as a short duration. It can be really powerful if it’s done in a focused approach and lots of organizations have public days once a year that they claim as their day or something like that. And so this is an example of that.”
Anderson points out that despite Bell being a champion of mental health initiatives, the company is having to train and educate its own employees on how to deal with mental illness because Bell runs a competitive business in a cut-throat industry.
“So it’s almost contrary”, Anderson said. “The culture is one of being sales focused and driven to do that and yet sort of accommodating and adjusting to people that mental illness or issues related to mental health almost make it seem like the person is weak in that respect.
“That’s a challenge for that organization. This is a culture that has to change in Bell and it has to change in any organization over time.”
Rob Vanstone, the sports editor for the Regina Leader-Post, has been dealing with mental illness on and off since 2001, after his dog passed away. The symptoms didn’t become serious until 2010, when he suffered a panic attack while covering the Olympics in Whistler, B.C.
Vanstone realizes that Bell’s “Let’s Talk” is about more than mental health.
“I realize there is a corporate component and one that is promotional in nature,” Vanstone said. “But in situations such as this it is wise to weigh the benefits to society in comparison to the manner in which the corporate entity benefits.
“In this case, the scale tilts quite dramatically to the good.”
Vanstone points out that while the Bell name is attached to all the hashtags and the retweets, such an initiative would be impossible without such a large company putting money and resources behind it.