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Five questions to ask when communicating around ESG standards

picture of river with ESG written over it

Forget CSR, say the experts. The future of business communications is all about ESG. Investor relations professionals, private equity investors and fund managers are judging companies as much on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards as they are on financial performance.

And what starts in investor relations inevitably draws in SMEs. In part that’s because SMEs are part of the wider corporate supply chain. But it’s also because institutional investors aren’t the only ones pushing for better ESG performance – your employees, customers, regulators are too.

A new report from PR software provider Vuelio points out the role that public relations plays in helping companies navigate this alien territory. Everyone in business has heard complaints about greenwashing and wokewashing. With good reason. It’s easy to put a spin on whatever story you want to tell to make it seem less commercial and more caring.

But that is not public relations in an age of ESG.

It is no longer enough to boost goodwill by showing off your good works. Increasingly, a wide range of stakeholders demanding the firms they support have a coherent sense of social purpose, a clear and substantiated commitment to social and environmental wellbeing. In the jargon of the day, it’s the creation of ‘sustainable value’.

At 360 integrated PR, we have long championed this approach. We called it ‘crafting the stories that help sustainable businesses grow’.

The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of this approach. Social inequalities between different groups – in terms of health, financial resilience, and life expectancy – have been brought into sharp relief. So has our interdependence, borne out of the simple phrase ‘no one is safe until we are all safe’.

Five ESG questions

Not surprisingly, many companies want to stake a claim to ESG objectives and performance. If that is you, here are five questions you should be asking yourself.

  1. How well does your senior management team make decisions regarding social questions?
  2. Does your organisation have a blindspot about the needs of stakeholders beyond your investors and customers?
  3. Are you aware of what those stakeholders are thinking about you, your sector, your supply chains, your very reason to exist?
  4. Can you measure the impact you have on the environment and the people who rely on you?
  5. Could you, hand on heart, withstand a hostile attack on your reputation from inside or outside the company?

360 integrated PR helps businesses answer those question and gives you a robust framework to make better business decisions.

It boils down to what you expect from public relations.

Let’s be clear. Public relations is not just telling your story. It is about knowing what people think about you and your industry and influencing their understanding of why the world needs your business.

Dr Jon White, who co-authored the report with Stephen Waddington, writes:

“Public relations, quite apart from drawing on communication as central to practice, has developed expertise in scanning, monitoring and understanding developments in organisations’ wide social environments.”

Owner managers and boards of SMEs are normally pretty adept at dealing with what’s in front of them. They may it more difficult to see what’s over the horizon. It’s important to check the broader cultural environment and take note of any potential challenges and opportunities.

What a PR consultant provides

A good PR consultant is aware of changes in society and can help clients adapt. In other words, while you and your colleagues deal with today’s challenges, a public relations professional will be anticipating what is around the corner. We have tools to identify what your stakeholder groups are concerned about and also watch what might be just about come out of a side turning right in front of you. Black Lives Matter, the MeToo movement – in one sense they blossomed very quickly, but the clues were around for some time if one had taken a step back to look.

Firms that anticipate which way society is moving have a much better chance to get their house in order, do their risk management, eliminate the bad stuff and position themselves to thrive from opportunities that arise therefrom.

360 integrated PR can help you assess these risks and opportunities. Bring us your challenge now and we will help you chart a course to a better tomorrow – for people, planet and your profit.

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