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The importance of ESG in communications strategy: how tech companies can become gentle giants

By With Global Alliance members.

It is no secret that Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) has been gaining incredible momentum in the world of business and, consequently, in how businesses communicate. That’s very much aligned with what the members of the With Global Alliance have witnessed in their home markets and view as a growing trend in 2022.

The increased focus on ESG across industries stems from several factors. The emergence of global social movements, such as Black Lives Matter and MeToo, puts in the spotlight a demand for a more equal society. The worsening of the climate crisis has made us acutely aware of the risks we are facing. Last but not least, the pandemic has created a moment of reflection for many, leading to a reconsideration of their personal and professional priorities. As a result, issues like diversity, gender equality and environmental sustainability are now at the top of the agenda of business leaders worldwide. This trend is particularly relevant to tech companies thanks in no small part to historical gender imbalances, the hotter than ever war over talent (on the back of the Great Resignation) and the impact of increased data usage on the environment. But how should tech companies approach communications around ESG?

Ingraining ESG from the start

Promising tech startups are often tempted to focus their communications on the investments they are raising, looking at ESG as a mere complementary element. A different approach they should consider consists in centring their corporate narrative on ESG. For instance, sharing how they are acting as a force of good for society and how they mitigate the impact their growth is having on the environment, their employees’ lives or other stakeholders. Embedding ESG in the DNA of a company is vital to building a reputation that will stand the test of time.

Aligning Communications, Core values and ESG initiatives 

An effective ESG strategy must be aligned with the company’s values and mission. A great example of such an approach was showcased after the first round of the 2021 Roland Garros French open tennis tournament. Naomi Osaka decided not to attend the post-game press conference because of mental health issues and was fined by the tournament committee for not fulfilling her contractual obligations. Calm, the mental health app, stepped in and volunteered to pay the fine inflicted on her as well as fines for any other athlete who would decide to pull out of an event to safeguard their mental health. This powerful move from Calm was in line with the company’s vision and was thus perceived as truly authentic.

This example makes clear that an effective ESG strategy must be proactive. ESG initiatives should not be used as a last resort to regain popularity and trust among consumers or investors after a company has become entangled in controversies that would cause reputational damage. On the contrary, delivering ESG initiatives aligned with corporate values is a powerful means to show how businesses can play a meaningful role in the establishment of a fairer society. This, in turn, may drive economic growth, as consumers are increasingly relying on companies with a strong sense of purpose. In other words, ESG does not come at the expense of profitability.

Great Expectations 

A comprehensive ESG-focussed communications strategy must also wrap in internal communications. In the post-pandemic world of work, with its multiple working modes (hybrid, fully remote or fully in-person), building meaningful human connections has never been more important. The relationship between employer and employees has radically changed, leading to a new form of leadership, one that places particular emphasis on values such as empathy and collaboration. It should not be surprising that the CEO of Better.com, a US mortgage company, faced severe criticism after firing 900 employees over a Zoom call last December. Several commentators pointed out that he displayed a total lack of empathy.

We should also bear in mind that the pandemic has led to the ‘Great Reflection’, meaning that employees bring a greater level of personal awareness in their work life. Employees now have ‘great expectations’ of their leaders and expect a work environment that resonates with their personal values more than ever. Deploying the same use of insight, creativity and multi-channel thinking usually reserved for external communications, PR agencies can support employers in developing and communicating the company culture their employees deserve.

The age of the gentler corporation

The world of tech business is undergoing a substantial transformation. We are witnessing the dawn of a new age marked by the rise of the ‘gentler corporation’, an age in which companies are more attentive to their social and environmental impact as well as to the wellbeing and personal values of their employees. Tech businesses should leverage PR agencies’ expertise to deliver PR programmes focusing on these elements. Business leaders and PR professionals can work together to create a new model of working relationship, which starts from a deeper and more empathic connection rather than a purely commercial brief.

The With Global Alliance is an agile and effective network of agencies specialising in tech PR and marketing.  

With contributions from Sandra Fathi – Chief Strategist Officer at Gregory FCA; Valentina Humar – Managing Director, GJComunicaciones; Debbie Zaman – CEO, With; Andrea Buzzi – CEO, Frau Wenk; Minal D’Rozario – Co-founder, Ideosphere


Image by Igor Borisenko on iStock

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