In a recent Notified/PRWeek survey of in-house and agency public relations and communications leaders, 78% of respondents said they work on matters related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and purpose more than they did two years ago. These areas are a bigger part of PR pros’ jobs than ever before.
To help plan for 2023 and beyond, we hosted a special webinar where leaders from IBM, UPS, Panera Bread and Notified discussed the survey results and how to ensure these efforts are more effective and measurable.
Our conversation covered how to:
- Elevate your standing with the C-suite and become a business partner beyond crisis counsel and messaging.
- Positively impact hiring, retention and morale within your organization.
- Start to measure the performance of DEI, ESG and purpose-driven content to improve future brand communications.
Keep reading to learn some of the main takeaways from this important discussion!
The Past Few Years Have Increased These Areas of Focus
Interest by consumers and stakeholders in brand purpose and ESG practices have been rising for a while, but it was really propelled forward by the trends and tailwinds of the last few years.
For example, both professional and retail investors now believe that a company’s ESG performance impacts investment decisions – and both groups are using social media, traditional media outlets and even online forums as sources of company information.
Employees and customers are also much more loyal to businesses that they care about, that do the right thing, make the world a better place and are aligned with their own personal values and beliefs.
“We are in a perfect storm of catalysts that are slowly changing the way organizations engage with their stakeholders,” said Sylvie Harton, SVP Strategy and Global Head of PR and IR Solutions at Notified. “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.”
“Communicators must find a balance between the corporate and business priorities and the demands that society is having,” said Carmen San Segundo Gamez, Global Communications Director, CSR and Sustainability at IBM. “You must 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.”
PR Pros Must Recognize the Impact on Hiring and Retention
It was clear from our recent survey and panelist feedback that employees want to work for organizations that care about more than just their bottom lines.
Sara Burnett, VP of Food Beliefs, Sustainability and PR at Panera Bread, has seen this firsthand, as press releases about Panera’s impact typically result in a spike in applications.
“This 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 said.
“The world we live in right now is moving so quickly and the workforce is a critical component of that,” said Daphne Dickerson, VP, Social Impact and People-Led Communications at UPS. “For example, 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 also be linked to employee loyalty, customer retention, brand reputation and even increased sales,” said Harton.
How These Trends Are Affecting Content Creation
When it comes to brand storytelling, on top of the content companies create themselves, there is also an opportunity to harness user-generated content to create a voice that speaks about shared values.
But when it comes to measuring the performance of that content, it’s still a bit more nuanced.
“When it comes to measuring purpose-focused content, we’re still in the early innings,” said Harton. “At its core, you’re measuring for impact and should be asking questions like: Does our audience understand our purpose? Do our stakeholders believe in our mission, vision and values? How has this impacted sentiment for our brand, our products and executives? What is the impact of earned media coverage that has focused on purpose? Can we demonstrate consistency in our messaging over time?”
Can PR Pros Help Companies Stay Authentic?
Our recent survey also revealed that greenwashing is still a major issue. Measurement and data can certainly help when it comes to avoiding greenwashing, and PR pros can play a major role in this.
For example, Burnett described how Panera Bread worked with several NGOs and university groups before releasing its clean food commitment in order to make the claim with full confidence and integrity. “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,” she said.
At UPS, the company taps into engineering, automotive, technology and healthcare experts to stay true to the message, said 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,” she said.
“It's really important to share your roadmap and your milestones,” said Harton. “For example, you can work with marketing in a way that ensures your messaging around ESG is consistent, impact- and outcome-driven and is infused across the board.”
How DEI, ESG and Purpose Will Impact 2023 PR Planning
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