- Sara Burnett, VP of food beliefs, sustainability and PR, Panera Bread
- Daphne Dickerson, VP, social impact and people-led communications, UPS
- Carmen San Segundo Gamez, global comms director, CSR and sustainability, IBM
- Sylvie Harton, SVP, global head of strategy, PR and investor relations solutions, Notified
A recent Notified/PRWeek survey reveals that more than three quarters (78%) of in-house and agency communications leaders work on matters related to ESG, DE&I and purpose more than they did two years ago. These new responsibilities, however, present complex challenges for PR pros to ensure their efforts are effective and positively impact business goals.
Answers were in abundance during the recent webcast, How DEI, ESG and Purpose Will Impact 2023 PR Planning, presented by Notified in partnership with PRWeek. That counsel comes from a quartet of industry leaders who underscore how PR’s purview over matters of purpose present an opportunity to have a greater impact than ever on all the audiences brands care about most.
“We are in a perfect storm of catalysts that are slowly changing the way organizations engage with their stakeholders,” observes Notified’s Sylvie Harton. “As a result, PR professionals are now tasked with building strategy and content that helps business leaders articulate their corporate purpose, including ESG and DEI efforts, and to make sure that it's resonating across all channels to every audience.”
The key for communicators is to “find a balance between the corporate and business priorities and the demands that society is having,” adds IBM’s Carmen San Segundo Gamez. Her advice: Look at ESG as an opportunity to better position the company, get ahead of upcoming regulations, address relevant societal concerns and gain a competitive advantage.
At UPS, for example, Daphne Dickerson works across all departments to see “how sustainability and ESG fits within the context of all of our messaging. [The key is] not boiling the ocean, but being laser-focused on what we can impact.”
Her brand’s motto of “doing good and delivering good,” she shares, starts with “mobilizing our people to help them really understand strategically what are those imperatives for us as a company and how ESG fits within that framework.”
ESG has become increasingly important to investors, associates and customers, who want to know “what impact we're having in our communities, in the world and for our people,” notes Panera’s Sara Burnett. She recommends companies create a policy on where to take action and also tap into subject-matter experts to “understand what impact truly is and how we can communicate it effectively without greenwashing.”
Featured webcast speakers (clockwise from top left): Burnett, Dickerson, Harton and Segundo.
Impact on talent
Increasingly, employees want to work for organizations that care about more than their bottom lines. Burnett has seen this firsthand, as press releases about Panera’s impact typically result in a spike in applications.
The impact agenda “helps us build more diverse organizations, not just in terms of ethnicity or race, but also in terms of experience, thought and people who are very passionate about the work they do,” she says.
“If you don't showcase your ESG and practice your values,” Segundo adds, “you're not going to retain employees, nor will you engage this new generation that is really interested in connecting with the company’s values.”
“The world we live in right now is moving so quickly and the workforce is a critical component of that,” suggests Dickerson. As UPS focuses on increasing women and diversity in management, “having diversity at the top also helps us build the strategies and, again, hold ourselves accountable to what happens throughout the organization.”
The impact of communications focused on DEI, ESG and purpose can be linked to “employee loyalty, customer retention, brand reputation, and even increased sales,” counsels Harton, who also champions the importance of measuring all efforts related to purpose. She suggests the following questions be asked to better focus those metrics:
- Does our audience understand our purpose?
- Do our stakeholders believe in our mission?
- How has this impacted the sentiment for our brand?
- What is the impact of the earned media coverage that has focused on purpose?
- Can we demonstrate consistency in our messaging?
Protection from greenwashing
Technical and subject-matter experts are critical in protecting a brand against greenwashing. Panera, for example, worked with several NGOs and university groups before releasing its clean food commitment in order “to be able to say this with confidence and full integrity,” Burnett emphasizes. Having “strong in-house or outside counsel who can give you some great advice, especially because the FTC is very focused on ESG claims,” is also important.
UPS taps into engineering, automotive, technology and healthcare experts to “stay true to the message,” says Dickerson. Part of that is “acknowledging that some of the things we are doing are contributing to some of the problems and holding ourselves accountable to everything we do from an ESG standpoint.”
Trust and honesty are at the heart of ESG. “Don't say something that isn’t true,” Segundo stresses. However, “if you don't communicate, people don't know what you are doing and then it affects your reputation.” Her advice: Back up your messaging with efforts and create a roadmap for target goals.
“It's really important to share the roadmap and your milestones,” Harton concludes. “Work with marketing in a way that ensures your messaging around ESG is consistent, impact- and outcome-driven, and infused across the board.”
Click here to watch the entire webcast.