Pictured: PRWeek-Investis Digital panel discussion. From left: Edward Craig (PRWeek moderator); Kirsten Doddy, Julia Giannini, Al Loehnis, David Irish (on-screen)
Following last week’s PRWeek-Investis Digital panel discussion on how to build a sustainable future through the power of comms, we quizzed the panellists for their top golden rules.
Golden rule #1: Be transparent
“Transparency is the foundation of trust; without trust there is no credibility.” Al Loehnis, director of strategic business development at Investis Digital, believes that all stakeholders understand that sustainability is a journey, and every company would like to be further down the path.
“You should communicate transparently about the most material issues you face, your plans to address them, and your performance against the targets you set,” he advises. “And you should do so continuously via your website, not just annually in your reporting.”
Golden rule #2: Be honest
A close relation to transparency, “honesty is the best policy”, says Kirsten Doddy, global head of marketing & communications at Anthesis. “It’s okay to admit what you haven’t done but you should explain how you plan to rectify it.” Getting exposed will cause fundamental damage to corporate reputation through greenwashing claims and potential litigation. It is routinely accepted that much of this is new, so organisations won’t have a mature approach to every area.
David Irish, investor relations & ESG senior manager at Vodafone, says: “Targets are missed, mistakes are made and priorities change. Address these challenges head on and provide the context. Your stakeholders will thank you for it.”
Golden rule #3: Keep it live
Every day, your business is actively delivering against your sustainability agenda – testing out new innovations, launching new programmes, or fundamentally transforming the business.
“Don’t wait for your annual report and accounts or sustainability report to communicate this – get your stories out there in real time and share your learnings,” enthuses Julia Giannini, head of environment and climate action at Bupa.
Golden rule #4: Embrace connectivity
Your sustainability goals can only be achieved when the strategic approach is a fully integrated part of your wider business strategy. And it can only be achieved through working with others within a company’s stakeholder ecosystem.
“Demonstrating how you are building those connections and integrating your approach are key to successful communications,” says Loehnis.
Golden rule #5: Lead by example and with purpose
A compelling sustainability narrative needs leadership from the top and leadership by example. “Your website and wider digital presence provide the platform for amplifying the voices of your leaders and bringing to life the initiatives that are driving sustainable change in your organisation,” says Loehnis.
“Have clarity on your ambitions”, adds Doddy. “Understand how you’re contributing to the wider story. ESG and purpose are very much in vogue, so make sure your ESG ambitions are authentic.”
Golden rule #6: Understand your audiences
Monitoring audience feedback, reviewing any current data and analytics, conducting surveys and experimenting with content are just some of the ways you can find out what your audience wants.
“It is really important to know, and not just assume, what your audience wants to know and how they want to consume that information,” says Irish. “Do everything you can to meet their needs.”
And ESG comms reaches beyond colleagues, customers, clients and the usual sustainability audiences – it also includes investors. “This audience is laser-focused on detail and data so expect to be challenged,” adds Doddy.
Golden rule #7: Think like an accountant
We all know that non-financial information is being put under the microscope and being subject to increased scrutiny.
“Just like financial reporting, ESG reporting needs to be evidence-based, consistent, comparable and material,” says Irish.
Golden rule #8: Keep it relevant
How often do you see ESG comms being represented by hands cupping planets, leaves and trees? How exactly is that relevant to your business and your ESG strategy?
“Sustainability is about innovation, technology, transformation and, crucially, people. Ditch the green leaf and bring humans into the story,” advises Giannini
Golden rule #9: Use the power of your brand
Use the tools in your brand toolbox to communicate your sustainability message, and stay true to your brand’s identity and tone of voice.
Giannini concludes: “Make sure your people and customers recognise you in these communications – it doesn’t need to be serious or complex!”
For more advice about sustainability and ESG communications contact Investis Digital here.