Everyone wants to be involved in exciting and relevant conversations. Think back a time to when you’ve been with a group of friends, and they’re excitedly discussing a TV show you haven’t seen. You likely felt excluded, perhaps even compelled to watch the show just to take part in the conversation. As those in PR know well, companies are no different. Everyone wants their company to be in the limelight, so naturally, they gravitate towards getting involved with newsworthy topics of the moment.

While it can be tempting to throw your company’s name in the hat in the hope of getting the right attention and visibility, it’s important to remember that there is a danger in being involved in conversations you really shouldn’t be. While in the short-term, gaining mainstream news coverage or likes and shares on social is exciting, it’s important to consider the long-term reputational risks of straying too far from your company’s original messaging.

The allure of the headlines

Over the past year, the predominant talking point for tech companies and beyond has undoubtedly been AI. As a topic, AI is broadly covered in the news, from specific stories about regional regulations to wider discussions surrounding the technology’s ethics. While your company will likely have something to say about AI, it’s less likely that every AI story is relevant for you.

For instance, a learning and development company utilising AI in their software may be able to comment on the technology’s impact on workforce productivity but will likely want to avoid the topic of AI job displacement. It’s vital to consider the wider story implications – and how a company would be perceived in the broader context, and not just from their own perspective.

While ‘AI Washing’ specifically concerns misrepresenting a company’s use of AI technology, it also serves as an important reminder of the dangers of positioning a company as something they’re not. The same holds true from a PR perspective – the further you stray from your company’s services to focus on the latest trends, the more likely you’ll be misrepresented. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding if that conversation is right for you:

  • Do we already have a perspective? – While new talking points will always crop up, if a story is relevant to you, there will likely be pre-existing content that informs your perspective. If you have to start from scratch to form a POV, it’s more likely that this is outside your company’s remit.
  • Is this a negative story? – There is a time and place for controversy, and it should probably be avoided when the story has high a degree of sensitivity. Even if a spokesperson believes they could share a POV, remember that the company as a whole will be represented – and impacted by the attention. Negative stories are unavoidable, but they should be managed with care.
  • Is this something we’re going to continue discussing? –  Establishing a company’s expertise and profile takes substantial time and in a constant state of change. Not every comment or thought leadership content is successfully picked up, but they all contribute to positioning your company as an important voice in your particular space. However, if you begin venturing into every topic that arises, you’re likely to nullify your efforts to establish your company as a thought leader. By directing efforts to topics your company will continuously refer to, you have a better chance of establishing yourself as a reliable voice.

Every company has a perspective and expertise to share, but it’s vital they are directed into the right areas. A valued PR partner can help your company discern when – and if – they should be part of a conversation. Rather than chasing ’what’s hot right now’, time would be better spent establishing a well-defined perspective and understanding where your company can offer valued insights to the press. With a clearer understanding of what your company can’t discuss, you can be more effective in the conversations you do belong in.

A reputation can be described as the intangible essence of your organisation, shaped by the perceptions of everyone from employees to shareholders, customers to prospects. But what exactly does that mean in practical terms?

I’m just about to embark on my first cruise, so it got me thinking: is there an analogy to be drawn between reputation and the art of sailing?

Well, in the vast and often turbulent waters of the business world, organisations must navigate through ever-changing currents, unpredictable storms, and shifting tides. Just as a ship relies on its rudder, captain and team to steer a steady course, organisations depend on their reputation to guide them through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Let’s delve deeper into the analogy.

Navigating Through Turbulence

Much like a ship’s rudder helps it navigate through rough seas and adverse weather conditions, a strong reputation provides stability and resilience in the face of challenges. Whether it’s economic downturns, industry disruptions, or public controversies, a positive reputation serves as a guiding force, helping organisations stay on course and weather the storm.

Charting a Course   

A sailor meticulously plans their route before setting sail. So too should organisations carefully craft their messaging and actions to shape the desired perception. Mapping out a clear trajectory involves understanding the currents of public opinion, identifying key stakeholders, and charting a course that aligns with organisational values and objectives.

Ultimately, the reputation of an organisation plays a pivotal role in influencing its trajectory. A strong reputation attracts opportunities, talent, and investment, driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage. Conversely, a damaged reputation can lead to missed opportunities, talent attrition, and diminished market share.

Leveraging Anchors of Trust

A positive reputation builds trust, credibility, and loyalty, while a negative reputation breeds scepticism and distrust. Anchors provide stability and security for a sailing vessel, much like trust anchors perception in the minds of stakeholders. Organisations can cultivate trust through consistently delivering on promises, transparency in communication, and a commitment to ethical practices.

Course Correction

Just as a captain would adjust the ship’s rudder to stay on course, leaders must continuously monitor and manage their reputation to ensure they’re heading in the right direction. Proactively addressing issues, responding to feedback, and adapting to market dynamics are critical aspects of reputation management.

Leaders have the greatest power in a company, and when we think about the biggest companies on the planet – Apple, Meta, Tesla and Microsoft, for example – their leaders are inextricably tied to their company reputations, good or bad. By staying attuned to shifts in reputation, leaders can make timely adjustments to stay agile and resilient in a rapidly changing environment.

In the ever-changing seas of business, shaping a solid reputation requires skill, strategy, and foresight. Drawing parallels to the art of sailing offers valuable insights into the dynamics of perception management. By charting a clear course, adjusting to the winds of change, and leveraging anchors of trust, organisations can navigate the waters of perception with confidence, ultimately reaching their desired destination of reputational success and prosperity.

Happy Sailing!

The recent strikes by the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, but their impact extends far beyond Hollywood.

The strikes began on 14 July 2023 as the actors’ union and AMPTP (the representative body for film and television studios) could not settle on a new contract. This strike also coincided with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, and so Hollywood was at a standstill until a deal was finalised on 9 November. The actors were fighting for multiple changes throughout the industry, with a key issue being consent over artificial intelligence and increased residuals. AI was also a key sticking point in the WGA strike negotiations, with the eventual deal stating that it cannot be used to rewrite scripts.

But the influence of the strikes extends far beyond bigger pay checks for actors. The strikes, driven by concerns over fair compensation and working conditions, have highlighted broader issues surrounding the relationship between technology (AI in particular) and labour.

Companies across various sectors have been exploring AI applications for efficiency, cost savings, and innovation. However there’s a growing awareness of how the use of AI might be influenced by the evolving dynamics between workers and employers. Fear of job displacement and concerns over worker welfare have created a complex narrative across all industries.

The strikes, and the subsequent deal between all parties, highlight a crucial perspective: the role of AI should be collaborative, working in tandem with human capabilities rather than replacing them. Companies may find it necessary to invest in programmes that equip employees with the skills to collaborate with AI systems, ensuring that technology enhances their productivity. Different industries should use this moment to foster cross-sector collaboration. Sharing insights and best practices on AI adoption, ethical considerations, and workforce integration can lead to a more harmonious and responsible approach to technological advancement.

The ethical use of AI is a growing concern for both the public and industry leaders. These strikes further stress the importance of aligning AI adoption with social responsibility. Companies may now be more inclined to evaluate the impact of AI on their employees and society at large, taking steps to mitigate negative consequences.

The SAG-AFTRA strikes, while rooted in the entertainment industry, reverberate across sectors and countries as a reminder of the complex relationship between technology, labour, and societal values.

“Potato!”

Ah, right, my two-year old wants that mash potato she didn’t finish earlier, I better go get it.

“No, potato”, she says again but pointing at her craft box.

“Oooh, you’re asking for your Play-Doh.”

I wasn’t listening intently enough, and instead heard what I wanted to hear – her wanting more of the wonderful meal I prepared, of course!

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are part and parcel of life. They happen often, and if corrected in good time, no big deal. But what happens when there’s a communication breakdown that is left unaddressed? The relationship breaks down too.

At the end of last year, I read a WSJ article based on a report from McKinsey that revealed nine out of 10 CEOs feel that marketing has a clearly defined role at their companies, yet only 22% of marketing leaders agree. And it’s down from 31% in 2019.

This gap is significant and is likely largely down to assumptions and misaligned expectations. And why the widening of this gap? It’s been a tough economic climate and when there’s pressure, there’s more scope for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

An analysis in the report also found that “C-suite leaders, with scant to no experience in marketing, reach out to the department hoping to find growth drivers in a very mixed economy.” This sentiment is backed by the fact that only 10% of CEOs at Fortune 250 companies have worked in marketing.

The ‘understanding gap’

C-Suite leaders don’t actually need first-hand experience or an in-depth understanding of marketing operations, but the CMO does need to understand exactly what the CEO requires. And then deliver it. This ‘understanding gap’ worsens when expectations are not made clear.

An ‘understanding gap’ can also turn into an ‘appreciation gap’, and this is where frustration festers which doesn’t bode well for anyone, or the wider organisation. If a relationship isn’t based on mutual respect, then it’s not a functional relationship.

Getting on the same page

1. Listening, and I mean really listening

I will never forget delivering training on ‘active listening’ to a team member, who then said, “this is a bit basic”. Yes, it is basic, but active listening is actually harder than you think. You may believe you’re doing it by listening, staying quiet, nodding your head and maybe even repeating back what you heard. But have you done it with self-awareness and empathy, making sure to pick up on other subtle cues to ensure the speaker feels truly listened to?

You can hear, or you can actively listen. I heard potato, I responded. Had I actively listened – listening attentively to my daughter, really looking to understand what she was saying, paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues – maybe I would’ve given her what she was asking for.

Of course, that’s not a high stakes scenario. But when the consequences are major, active listening becomes so incredibly important, not only so a situation is crystal clear in your mind, but also for trust and respect.

2. Clarifying/Replaying

Clarification is part of active listening and is the best way to proactively ensure everyone is on the same page. It’s not just about repeating back a point either, it’s about rephrasing it or re-contextualising it, or even asking further questions around it, to be certain that what’s being said is clear and understood.

And be mindful, the person you’re clarifying with may not be actively listening, so how do you navigate that? You clarify and replay in multiple ways to catch misunderstandings early. For example, in the moment or maybe after the meeting in written form.

3. Atmosphere of collaboration

Good collaboration starts with judgement-free exchanges of ideas and insights. In fast-paced environments, pausing and having moments of reflection can be hard to squeeze in, but they become an important part of staying aligned and fostering strong collaboration.

Defining clear roles and responsibilities enables fast progress in-between these moments of pause, particularly when it comes to streamlining decision-making processes. By leveraging respective areas of expertise, CEOs and CMOs combine their super-powers to drive growth, enhance brand reputation, and capitalise on market opportunities.

Effective communication is not just a matter of exchanging words; it’s about truly understanding and aligning with one another. My “potato” incident illustrates how easily miscommunication can occur even in seemingly simple interactions. However, when miscommunication happens in professional settings, the consequences can be far-reaching, leading to strained relationships and hindered organisational growth.

The worrying widening gap between CEOs’ perception of marketing’s role and marketing leaders’ perspectives highlights the importance of actively working to bridge understanding and appreciation gaps within organisations. The market is still a little volatile and now more than ever we should be investing in relationships which are critical for our organisation’s success.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wanted to explain something, but the right words just wouldn’t come out? It can be difficult articulating something technical for many reasons. It also depends on who you’re speaking to and their understanding of the technology and terminology.

It’s our job as communicators in technology to find ways to tell stories, with the right words, with the right people. But it’s always a balance. Sometimes we need to use clever analogies to help explain something more complex, and other times we must be mindful not to oversimplify the content as our audience may have a clear understanding of the basics.

Breaking down technology jargon

Beginning my journey in tech PR, I was flooded with jargon that I had to decipher. There were words and phrases I had never come across, yet the technology itself was part and parcel of my life. But I just don’t refer to it in this way. Take cloud computing, for instance. Some people are familiar with the technical term, while others aren’t, yet everyone uses cloud computing technology. Cloud computing involves delivering computing services, such as servers, software, and storage over the web. If you use Google Drive, that’s an example of cloud computing, if you share files via Dropbox, that’s another example. It wasn’t a term I used before, but it’s certainly one I use and am familiar with now!

Multi-level messaging

Multi-level messaging is an effective way for organisations to communicate complex technical information. By providing three versions of the same message, those with no technical background, some technical background and a lot of technical background can all gain something from it. This approach ensures that everyone is communicated to taking into account their level of understanding. However, organisations must be careful not to assume someone’s comprehension of technology – some CEOs have great technical understanding, some rely on their great team to break it down for them. It’s common to start at mid-level messaging and gauging understanding then taking it from there after reading the room.

Real technology stories

When I began my career in PR, a go to source to level-up my understanding for the companies we work with was their case studies. Reading how a company has implemented and used a certain technology really helped me connect the dots, as well as understand the impact of that specific technology on the wider industry. Customer storytelling or case studies form an integral part of any PR programme, there’s huge power in how it helps in articulating the use and benefits of a specific technology.

The world of tech comms may bring its share of communication challenges, like causing us to become tangled in the jargon. However, once you’re able to crack what I like to call the ‘communication code,’ you’re able to grasp how rich language is. Nowadays, progression is rooted in communication and it’s up to us to ensure that we’re adopting the right approach in delivering strong, relatable and easily digestible content.

This summer has been plastic fantastic as Barbie-mania swept the world. The self-titled film has grossed over $1bn, cementing director Greta Gerwig as the only woman in history to have directed a billion-dollar film and inspiring the portmanteau ‘Barbillion’. Of course, this iconic doll has never needed an introduction – her reputation has always preceded her.

Barbie is a cultural phenomenon, but her public image hasn’t always been favourable – historically, she has been criticised for promoting unrealistic beauty standards. With her legacy spanning over sixty years, reshaping Barbie’s reputation was no easy or small feat. Yet, the film didn’t just manage to achieve this; it completely upended the public’s perception of what she represents. By boldly acknowledging the past, and renewing her powerhouse brand with new messaging, Barbie’s reputation as we knew it was transformed.

A Barbie-licious Trojan horse

Strong brand imagery speaks for itself, and as the film’s promotion began, Barbie’s image seemed to be as bubblegum pink as ever. Plastering her brand everywhere – and generating those associated feelings of childhood nostalgia – was the hook to begin reshaping her reputation; nothing was pink without purpose. A real-life Malibu Dreamhouse and a Pink Burger were two of the endless collaborations that sparked Barbie fever. It was even reported that the amount of pink paint used in the film’s set designs caused a worldwide shortage.

With the public’s attention captured, trailers and clips were phased in teasing surprisingly feminist messaging as Barbie journeyed from the matriarchal Barbieland to the patriarchal “real world”. In interviews, cast members highlighted how Barbie was originally made to inspire girls into pursuing careers and financial independence, making her a feminist role model.

Breadcrumbing this messaging was a reminder that Barbie was created as a force for good; maybe the public had been too harsh on her. But a reputation cannot be reshaped by simply sweeping criticism under the carpet. For Barbie’s reputational revamp to be a success, the brand needed to acknowledge its less-than-perfect past.

Addressing the pink elephant in the room

The Barbie trailer featured a surprising message: “If you love Barbie, this film is for you. If you hate Barbie, this film is for you”. When the film finally released, the public flocked to the cinema in their pinkest finery – I, of course, was one of them. The anticipation had reached a fever high, and audiences sat with bated breath.

The trailer’s trace of self-awareness at Barbie’s past reputation unfolded into a full-blown acknowledgement tinged with shock tactics. As she ventures into the “real world”, she believes she has made a positive impact on women’s lives. Instead, she harshly learns of her poor reputation, with teenage character Sasha even calling her a “fascist”.

To spotlight Barbie’s past in such a direct manner was shockingly bold, but like everything else, it wasn’t without purpose. Yes, public perception vilified Barbie – but it wasn’t unjustified. Barbie was created to inspire girls, but she’d missed the mark and her reputation had paid the price. As audiences were wondering how on earth maker Mattel allowed this scene to play out, the film moved into its final phase of her reputational overhaul.

Bringing Barbie to life (literally)

When reshaping a reputation as infamous as Barbie’s, authenticity is non-negotiable. It implies honesty and integrity, and a determination to not have her future impact replicate her past.

Barbie’s emotionally charged pièce de resistance came at the very end: the doll holds creator Ruth Handler’s hands and takes her first breaths, interspersed with a montage of real women and girls. In this moment, Barbie – a plastic and inherently inauthentic doll – is humanised. Suddenly, she is no longer an unreachable idea of perfection; she is just like every other girl and woman. And she is for everyone.

To highlight Barbie’s past reputation without actually doing anything about it would’ve been in poor taste – audiences would’ve been left with the shock factor, but no substance. Instead, the blend of heritage brand imagery and powerful message reverberated through cinemagoers. Barbie had entered a new era.

There’s no doubt that Barbie, and its promotional rollout, were engineered to reshape the doll’s image. The film was somehow everything and nothing like I expected it to be, but it’s no surprise that this gargantuan reputational overhaul was a success. Whilst its long-term impact is yet to be determined, this summer affirmed that, love her or hate her, it really is Barbie’s world – we’re all just living in it.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

It has always been essential for businesses to maintain a solid reputation. However, this has taken on another level of importance in the modern context. Social media, 24-hour news cycles and the ubiquity of information have put reputational issues at the forefront of any organisation’s strategy.

Efforts must be made in terms of public relations, brand management and leadership reputation, but it cannot stop there. To build a truly robust reputation, those who represent your company in day-to-day interactions should fully understand the values you wish to project.

Those who are responsible for sales, by definition, have a huge impact on any business’s success. However, this goes beyond revenue generation. They are also a significant driver of your wider reputational efforts due to their countless interactions with the outside world, including current or prospective customers, partners, sponsors and beyond.

If your firm has a poor sales reputation, this will impact the overall image you portray and may even go against other efforts by your leaders or marketing. As a result, it is critical that your sales teams are kept updated on reputational matters—and are well-versed in your firm’s values and are able to communicate them effectively.

Building A Strong Sales Reputation

A lingering and often unfair perception of sales teams is that their approach can be too “pushy” and not focused on building trust or those long-term relationships that are so important to creating sustainable success. Highlighting the importance of honesty and transparency in negotiations is something that the majority of businesses will already be doing, so what other efforts can be made?

Fundamentally, all your employees must buy into your company’s ethos and what it is trying to achieve. We have all been in an organisation or dealt with a representative of a company who couldn’t care less about how they or the company are perceived. As much as we may try not to let them, these sorts of interactions can have a strong influence on our opinion of the company, and if many others have the same experience, this can cause significant reputational damage.

Therefore, it is important for your company’s leadership to maintain a two-way dialogue with its people. To a large extent, reputation will be top-down—the heritage, culture and personalities of those who founded or run the company will have a significant impact on how it approaches sales and the reputation it wants to build. However, it is important to not be out of touch and to make sure to listen to the wishes and outlook of the people you have throughout your organisation.

There is a wide societal focus on authenticity, and we have seen many examples of companies being called out, even canceled, for not living up to the high moral standards that consumers and workers have these days. For example, many companies have been accused of greenwashing, being misleading in their advertising or having sales practices deemed out of sync with their values. Clearly, this will have a big impact on the reputation of the firm more broadly, but also on sales teams. A team should be comfortable promoting a product or service, not worried about having to make any moral compromises. This can make them more effective in driving revenue and helping build a more positive reputation.

Measuring A Strong Sales Reputation

Revenue is a good measurement of many business outcomes, and reputation is no exception. If your revenue figures are strong, it is likely that a strong reputation has helped make that happen. However, it is a mistake to not look beyond revenue and seek different indications as to how your reputation is doing. The use of customer success teams can be a great way to keep in touch with customers throughout the lifecycle, getting constant and useful feedback to measure how your company is doing and the way it is perceived by your customers. Similarly, engagement programmes between stakeholders and your senior team can also fulfill a critical role and ensure that strong bonds are created and trust is shared.

Other established ways of measuring satisfaction beyond simply revenue include the Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a score that organisations are given that measures how likely a customer is to recommend or promote that company to someone else. This can help give a good indication as to how your brand is viewed—for example, if you have strong revenue figures but a poor NPS, trouble may be down the road.

However, due to NPS’ simplicity, it has its limitations regarding the insight it can give you into customer sentiment and behavior. This is why it is important to review all of the different metrics out there and use the one you think would be most relevant to your business. It may even mean combining a few different ones to try to fully understand your reputation and the lasting impressions that your sales team leaves on customers. As a result, a concerted focus on not only revenue and outcomes but on the process to get there should be factored into all strategic decisions and subsequent training of your workforce.

In business, what you say matters, but what you do is crucial—the reputation you’re building is only legitimate if those in your company back it up with their actions. This is why building a positive reputation and putting wider reputational efforts at the core of your business, prioritising them alongside other key business goals such as revenue or costs, is key to future success.

In the world today, talk travels quickly, and there are countless examples in recent times of business outcomes being inextricably linked to the perception a company has in the public forum. Ensuring that you approach sales with integrity, transparency and honesty is more important today than it ever has been. Creating the right culture within your company can lead to the right reputation being presented outward.

This month, Eurovision exploded back onto our screens in all its campy, zany, extravagant glory. Broadcast from my hometown of Liverpool, millions of people across the globe danced and sang along to some predictably cheesy music – in my eyes, Finland were the clear winners. This celebration of diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and culture was a clear reminder that the human influence is invaluable for businesses – particularly as AI creeps further into our lives.

There’s an overall mix of curiosity around how AI can help companies, fears about it negatively impacting jobs, and pressure to regulate it as it grows more knowledgeable. It can perfectly replicate human voices, churn out content in seconds, and explain advanced astrophysics to a five-year-old. It can’t, however, replicate or replace the human touch, particularly when it comes to reputation shaping.

AI isn’t going anywhere. There are around 5,855 tools that have the potential to be used in PR currently available online, and that number will only continue to rise. But a reputation is curated through the business’ relationship with the public, and relationships are the foundation of the human experience. By working solely off data, AI tools lack the emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and interpersonal skills that are so imperative in PR. If a business experiences a reputational setback, wants to improve media relations, or is looking for a creative new way to boost visibility, there is a need for soft skills that only us humans can bring to the table.

Eurovision is a perfect example of how the human influence shapes reputation. The longest-running annual international televised music competition, its reputation reflects its core value of uniting people and nations by showcasing musical diversity and cultural nuances. It is powered by human creativity and an understanding of culture, attracting audiences of over 180 million people across the world who share a wonderfully wacky and meaningful experience. Love it or loathe it, Eurovision’s reputation has an undeniably and overwhelmingly positive impact on visibility, cultural influence, and tourism.

When considering how AI can discern a brand’s reputation, the tools may be able to use their vast amounts of knowledge to gauge popularity, identify cultural differences, and calculate the positive financial impact Eurovision brings, but this information is gathered and collated through human input. Because AI lacks the aforementioned soft skills, its inability to think critically or creatively generates concerns surrounding ethics.

Firstly, if the human input is not neutral then the AI-based decisions are susceptible to bias or inaccuracies. This is especially concerning if a company is experiencing a reputational crisis, and neutrality and nuance are needed. One well-known example of this is the bubbling undercurrent of political tensions that surround Eurovision each year. Despite these, the event remains fiercely politically neutral, and makes every effort to bar highly politicised performances and promote peaceful relations, in order to avoid reputational damage.

Secondly, AI is inherently inauthentic, meaning that any creative ideas it suggests stem from human creativity. This also means that AI-generated content or ideas are more likely to result in plagiarism accusations, a serious reputational setback.

Thirdly, there are the ever-present fears around increased surveillance. Once an AI tool is fed a piece of information, it can never be retrieved and wiped from the database. If sensitive information is inputted, the tool has no understanding that it should not be outputted – and if that occurs, it makes for navigating some seriously tricky waters.

So, is AI the future of PR? It can certainly augment, but there’s no doubt that the human influence will continue to drive the industry forward. And with the countdown on until the next Eurovision in Sweden, ask yourself – would this be nearly as much fun with a glittery, AI powered, humanoid robot on the stage? Personally, I’d prefer to see another rendition of the classic Ukrainian entry circa 2007, “Dancing Lasha tumbai”. The contestants may be dressed like robots, but they are hilariously and undeniably human.

ESG is big on the comms agenda but it’s a complex subject. It’s not just about addressing a company’s ‘environmental’ impact.

ESG is short for Environmental, Social, Governance, so there are a host of wrap around components, like skills development, workforce reform or equality and social impact on communities. An ESG programme ultimately serves as a framework for measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of a company’s operations. Due to its complexity, breaking ESG down for your audience is vital, whether that be clients, prospects, employees or investors.

Seeing as April is Earth Month, let’s unpack the E in ESG – environment – and the comms challenges that surround that element.

Greenwashing

Companies are increasingly being called out for greenwashing when their ESG comms lacks substance or is seemingly a PR stunt. What should be communicated is proper progress, plans and even challenges.

A report recently published by the IPCC reinforces the urgency of taking more ambitious action around decarbonisation. According to the report, to keep within the 1.5°C global warming limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 and at least 60% by 2035. Granted, we have a long way to go but every effort contributes to the overall impact and there are a number of steps companies can take to break down the barriers to decarbonisation.

Instead of trying to be all things to everyone and painting a picture of a perfect organisation with a faultless ESG programme, openness is the best policy. Rather zone in on the one or two things that you as an organisation are doing well and communicate this effectively, acknowledging there is always more to be done and that you have a roadmap. Sharing your journey will resonate with others in your position and they will be appreciative of the advice and learnings.

Green hushing on the rise

On the flip side, green hushing is on the rise due to companies fearing scrutiny of their stated targets and facing accusations, or even lawsuits around greenwashing. A Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole surveyed over 1,200 self-professed “heavy-emitting” companies across 12 countries, and their report revealed that 25% of respondents were “keeping quiet” about their science-based climate goals. These companies have mostly set themselves net-zero targets but just aren’t publicising them.

We get it – organisations are opting to withhold information on their climate strategy for fear that releasing it will bring some form of reputational risk to their company, but radio silence may not be the way to go.

By not divulging any information, companies may be perceived as hiding something or already greenwashing which could also pose reputational risk and put them at odds with their stakeholders.

ESG influencing employee decisions  

No doubt, there is pressure to address the climate crisis, with personal views on sustainability and environmental impact now being carried through into the workplace and influencing employee decisions. In a recent Yale survey, 51% of 2,000 business students said that they would accept a lower salary to work for a more environmentally responsible organisation. Employees are now more willing to leave their jobs, otherwise known as conscious quitting, if they feel an organisation’s ESG commitments are lacking.

Interestingly, research by Cornerstone, revealed that employee demand for corporate responsibility and workplace sustainability learning content increased by 100% from 2021 to 2022 – indicating a gap between company sustainability policies and employees’ understanding of how to support those policies. Companies should create a common language and understanding within their organisation, and the first step in achieving that is through communication. Who better to be your environmental advocates than your employees.

Keep it real!

ESG should be more than good intentions, which should be reflected in a company’s communications plan. It’s about communicating a tangible, practical plan that is achieving real results. ‘Fake it until you make it’ should certainly not form part of your ESG comms plan. Our advice? Have a voice, be consistent and be authentic!

Since its big reveal in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has dominated headlines all across the world. It is being touted as a technology with the potential to change our lives – for better, or worse. Across the internet, we’ve seen examples of how the AI-powered language model can complete tasks faster, and in some cases better, than humans. Tasks ranged from writing emails, to composing song lyrics, drafting academic essays and everything in between. 

AI that can create new content, also known as generative AI, has faced its share of ethical concerns over the past months. If a chatbot can write articles and generate images in a matter of seconds, what will that mean for the humans who rely on these skills to earn a living? However, it needn’t be all doom and gloom. This technology holds the potentially to enable people to do their jobs better, faster and with greater ease.

In the B2B tech PR and communications industry, there are several ways that generative AI could revolutionise how we work. As an experiment, I asked ChatGPT: ‘’What are the top four ways that generative AI will change the PR and communications industry for the better?’’ This is what it said:

1. Media monitoring and outreach

One key area ChatGPT said it could help comms professionals is in monitoring and analysing media coverage more efficiently. It answered, ‘’Generative AI can quickly scan and categorise articles, tweets, and other social media posts, enabling PR teams to stay on top of the news and respond to emerging trends and issues.’’

The chatbot identified media outreach as another way to support PR teams, assisting them in ‘’identifying relevant journalists and influencers, quickly scanning databases of journalists and their previous articles, enabling PR teams to tailor their pitches to specific reporters and outlets.’’

2. Reputation management

Reputation management is another area of specialisation for PR professionals, which ChatGPT said it could enable them to do with greater ease. It stated, ‘’Generative AI can help PR teams manage their clients’ online reputation by monitoring social media and other online channels for mentions of the brand or key executives. This technology can quickly flag negative comments or reviews and provide insights into sentiment and key topics.’’

3. Crisis management

In a similar vein to the points above, ChatGPT said that its ability to quickly scan and monitor media trends can support comms professionals with managing a crisis. ’By monitoring social media and news sources, generative AI can assist PR teams in identifying emerging issues and responding proactively to mitigate damage to the brand’s reputation,’’ it wrote.

4. Content creation

Generative AI also has the ability to support with content creation by ‘’quickly generating press releases, blog posts, and social media updates, freeing up PR teams to focus on higher-level strategy and relationship-building activities.’’

Interestingly, ChatGPT revealed that, on its own, generative AI cannot replace the valuable time and effort communications professionals spend on strategy, planning, pitching and relationship building.  Additionally, while it can create content quickly, the content is not necessarily better in quality than what would be produced by an experienced comms professional.

This technology has the potential to enable teams to do their jobs faster and more effectively by drawing on data that already exists to help reduce manual processes. It’s clear that there is still much more on the horizon for generative AI and how it will change daily operations. For now, it appears that it will be an innovative way to help teams go above and beyond for clients, allowing them to focus the majority of their time on the aspects of our jobs that are most valuable – devising new and creative campaigns, as well as producing original, thought-provoking content that makes an impact.   

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