Over the last decade, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) has gone from a side issue to one of the issues, with climate change, carbon reduction, mobility, and representation, all recognised as critical societal challenges. There is widespread acknowledgement that the brightest minds in business, government, and the public sector must work together to deliver impactful change in areas that consumers and the general public expect.
The media is hungry for great ESG stories
Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, have widely embraced ESG issues, with many considering these when deciding which companies to work for, invest in, and show brand loyalty to. As a result, ESG topics have been pushed to the top of news agendas, with almost all major UK news outlets employing at least one full time environmental correspondent.
The media is hungry for great ESG stories; in 2021, ESG releases were the third most visited subject in PA Media’s network, trailing only technology and health. And in terms of engagement per release, stories about environmental issues came out on top.
With that being said, as companies cotton on to this trend, ESG and CSR content is becoming a crowded space. Writers covering ESG have inboxes jam-packed with releases – there is a great deal of noise to cut through. They’re also naturally sceptical of being sold a dummy and will apply a rigorous sniff test to any release they think might make for an interesting or exciting story.
There are many companies that have been accused of “greenwashing”, which is the practice of trying to market themselves as being environmentally conscious when there is very little substance behind the headlines.
The media and consumers recognise insincerity when they see it, meaning businesses trying to deceptively benefit from a ‘green sheen’ are likely to find themselves getting coverage for all the wrong reasons. Those kinds of headlines are potentially disastrous from a reputational, recruitment, and retention point of view.
So, what makes for an effective ESG campaign? PA Media recently livestreamed a debate on this very subject and what came through very clearly was that businesses that have wholly aligned their comms strategies with their ESG goals have the best chance of making an impact.
“For any ESG initiatives or programmes to be successful, they must be worked on, understood and embraced by an entire business”
Those organisations succeeding with their ESG messaging are the ones that have built their ESG approach and beliefs into their day-to-day operations and allowed those principles to define their comms strategy. For any ESG initiatives or programmes to be successful, they must be worked on, understood and embraced by an entire business.
Too often, we see ESG stories being developed and driven by comms teams. But ESG is a critical business issue and must be treated as such. Ensure your executive teams are engaged, that your HR departments really understand its importance, and that ESG conversations are a two-way process.
It’s essential to have those difficult conversations at the beginning of any initiative or business commitment. If your teams cannot articulate what you’re trying to achieve or the purpose of an ESG programme, return to the drawing board and strip everything back. Speak to stakeholders across the business and define your ESG goals and commitments, why you’re doing them, and long-term and short-term aims. Once they’ve been established, you can begin to build a comms strategy that will stand up to scrutiny.
ESG is an incredibly broad topic that should be considered comprehensively. The good news is that there is an ever-growing pool of resources to tap into. More than 90% of the S&P companies publish ESG reports, as do all major consultancy firms. The ESG space is constantly evolving. Listening to a rich variety of voices from inside and outside your organisation will help ensure your goals and comms strategy reflect the issues that matter.
ESG is a global issue
The same is true of your company’s worldview. The communities around you are an obvious place to run ESG initiatives and undoubtedly important. But ESG is a global issue, and organisations with a large footprint must consider the impact of all of their operations. Smaller businesses might not have feet on the ground elsewhere, but all it takes is a link in the supply chain to call all of your ESG commitments into question.
That might all seem like a lot, but as a talented songwriter once observed, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. From a fringe issue just a decade ago, ESG is very much a business imperative that demands widespread buy-in, especially from the C-suite, and an alignment of business goals and comms strategy.
Journalists and PRs face a similar set of challenges covering ESG, so should look at one another as partners on the issue
Journalists and PRs share a few things in common, but top of this list is a pressure on time and a need to cover a vast array of topics and subject matters. Within this context it can be tempting to assume that speed is the most important resource at hand, but in ESG where the stakes are so high and a misconception on how a story will be perceived can cause lasting damage, there is another imperative at play.
Close connections and understanding between the people creating stories is one way to overcome the ever-changing ESG agenda. PRs should tap into networks to share knowledge, to understand what is current in the news cycle, and to gain editorial insight that will give the clear context to any ESG campaign or story that consumers are looking for.
Get your ESG approach right, and you can expect to attract and retain top industry talent, a loyal customer base and valuable media coverage. But the inverse is also true, so ensure your ESG approach is authentic, joined-up and regularly evolving – anything else just won’t wash.
Watch the webinar ‘How to ensure your comms strategy and ESG goals are in alignment’ on-demand here.
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Environmental, Social, Governance
The new PA Mediapoint ESG content channel brings together news coverage, analysis and thought-provoking insights to keep you on top of the agenda and shape your organisation's viewpoint on today's most critical debates.