ESG reporting is emerging as the most effective way for companies to build a positive reputation. This potentially means that PR and comms professionals are now being asked to become experts in environmental policy and other fields.
While this may sound like a huge challenge, it actually opens up a wealth of new opportunities for PR and comms pros in smaller businesses.
I haven’t worked in the corporate world for some time, so I wanted to find out more on this topic, particularly how it relates to diversity and inclusion, not just the external factors that a company’s operations may entail.
So today, I explore what this new lens through which reputations are being managed and judged means for PRs and reputation management and help PRs and comms pros in smaller businesses be aware of how this could affect day to day campaign planning.
Let’s dive in!
Links mentioned in this episode: Grab my ‘No tissues’ reputation issues management guide
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Full transcript (Unedited/raw)
Environmental, social, and governance reporting has evolved into the new reputation management strategy for PR professionals. ESG reporting—the act of sharing news about a company’scompany’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment and society—is becoming the most effective way for companies to build a positive reputation.
However, managing issues before they become a crisis is not new. It’sIt’s just become more prevalent as society as demanded it to be so. Calling out big forms for inequality and environmental impact has increased ten-fold. Quite rightly led by a more informed and outspoken public.
In the past, reputation management has focused almost exclusively on media relations and crisis management. Well if you are in a crisis you already lost. Issues amangement is where you can be effective, one youre in crisis mod youre already fightin the fire.
Today, ESG reporting is emerging as the most effective way for companies to build a positive reputation. This means that PR professionals are now being asked to become experts in environmental policy and other fields. While this may sound like a huge challenge, it actually opens up a wealth of new opportunities for PR pros in smaller businesses.
I haven’thaven’t worked in the corporate world for some time, so I wanted to find out more on this topic, particularly how it relates to diversity and inclusion, not just the external factors that a company’s operations may entail. I also have a special interest in issues management and managing issues before they become a crisis.
So today I explore how this new lens through which reputations are being managed and judged means for PRs and reputation management. How can PRs in smaller businesses be aware of how this affects day-to-day campaign planning?
First things first. What is ESG?
ESG refers to environmental, social, and governance reporting. This means sharing news about a company’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment and society. This is becoming the most effective way for companies to build a positive reputation. In this sense, ESG reporting is the latest evolution of reputation management, which has traditionally focused on crisis management and media relations.
This can include everything from reducing emissions to providing paid sick leave to employees, equal pay and diversity and inclusion. ESG reporting first became mainstream in the financial industry, and is a key component for investors looking to invest in sustainable companies, but is now being adopted by a growing number of other sectors.
It refers to the ways in which a company’s operations affect the environment, its community, employees and the larger society. This impact, for example, may take the form of air and water pollution, the use of child and slave labour, or the destruction of natural habitats, so-called ”green” credentials, but also inequality in the workplace through lack of diversity and inclusion, for example. ESG issues are often complex and difficult to measure, but they are important to address.
New rules in the UK, expected to come into force in 2022, will make ESG reporting mandatory for all private UK companies and limited liability partnerships with more than 500 employees and turnover greater than £500m, along with all publicly quoted UK companies, the professional services firm added.
This is classic ”issues management” territory for the modern PR and an area that I love to talk about and work within. It presents a huge opportunity to help shape a reputation of a business by managing potential issues.
How does it affect me, especially if I am not in a corporate environment?
Issues management has long been a discipline of PR but not always taken as seriously as say, the risk register. But now society has demanded that these issues affecting them, and employees for that matter, are monitored, reported on a measured for potential impact.
So this is not just for corporates.
Previously, smaller businesses could afford to neglect the importance of their reputations. With the growth of social media, however, companies of all sizes are under increased scrutiny. Today, even a small business with a limited marketing budget can gain a large following on social media and may have a lot of thier business or suppley chain online or involving overseas companies, for example.
This makes it increasingly important for small businesses to develop a strong social media presence, for ecample, but that also means being prepared to answer an array of questions more promptly and more openly than ever before.
We saw some backlash on International Women’s Day for example, where some poarge and well-known organisations were called out for celebrating IWD when they had a poor track record of equal pay, there was a bot tracking liste companis and then retweeing them with thei inequalities laid out for all to see.
Where to start?
Firstly, I would always advocate having an issues management process as well as a crisis plan – ideally, you don’t ever need the crisis plan.
I have some simple steps you can follow to do this. There is a link in the show notes today to a short guide I have pulled together for you too.
As with anything new, it is important to be aware of the issues that are being raised and how they might affect your company or sector.
Step one is you need to be able to spot the problem.
So that means taking a bit of time to look for the signals in your business. Just spending even 10 minutes every month thinking about where those issues are will help. Maybe there is a monthly meeting you can join where big items are discussed, such as operational issues, or maybe you can locate the minutes of that meeting if you cannot attend, or maybe if you are the business owner you have a risk register you can look over. Or maybe you just need to sit and reflect on what they could be if you’re just starting out. So think about what those issues are and start to list them out.
Starting with your companies policies is a good place to start Environmental policies – Social responsibility policies – Suppliers policies – Community relations policies – Sustainability policies – Ethics policies – Governance policies – Human rights policies – Social media policies – Privacy policies – International policy – CSR policies – Corporate social responsibility policies – Customer complaints policies – Customer service policies – Corporate social responsibility policies – Corporate responsibility
Step two is all about getting under the skin of a potential issue.
So if that’s a Diversity and Inclusion issue, or if it’s a green credentials issue with a supplier, you need to talk to someone in your supply chain. Understand what the issue is. You really need to get under the skin of what that issue is and potentially everything about it and what you might need to do to mitigate it.
Step three is about the prioritisation of that list.
You need to think about, “”Well, what’s the one I need to get right? What’sWhat’s that most important task?”” There’s some that are going to need immediate attention. And there’s some that will require a watching brief, I guess, which is just keeping an eye on them and checking in.
For example, you may discover that you in a couple of years, you need to change your manufacturing systems due to the environmental impact of an element of them, or you may discover that the supplier you are working with isnt” aligning wih your own welfare goas if you are in manufacturing, Think about what do you need to be planning to change that so you can maintain your customer contact effectively? How urgent is this issue today and, importantly, how is it managed and mitigated?
This leads us to step 4, which is about writing down an answer to the question; what is the issue and why is it a problem for us, and how are we handling it?
This is a short statement, and it’sit’s something you can use if you need to explain to people, but it gets your mind in that place of, okay, how would I talk to somebody? How would I talk to my customer? How am I going to deal with that? What does that look like? And how am I going to answer those questions I’mI’m going to get?
This is all about planning. So when the heat is already on, trying to think about what to say, but you can also summarise this information or whoever needs it – even if you are not formally reporting on it.
Step five is all about implementation.
Do you need to step into action? What do you need to do now to mitigate the impact of that issue? What are the actual steps you need to take now?
And step six, the final step, is about monitoring.
This is something you could do in a Google sheet. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You have your list, you have prioritisation, and you have your column for each of these steps, and you monitor it every month, every couple of weeks, depending on where your issues are and what you need to do with them. It’sIt’s something you just need to revisit.
In terms of reputation management, having an issues log and a way of monitoring issues means you’ve got those answers ready, you’ve got a robust answer for if you need to talk to people, if that happens sooner than you would like, or if it’s forced on you, for example. And, in terms of mitigation and avoiding a reputation impact, you or your business is working towards solving the issues and how.
I hope you enjoyed this short episode today, you can download my free ”no tissues issues management” guide to hit the ground running, leaving you free to get on with your day job knowing that this is in hand and your reputation management is in check.
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