Author: Marketing

Bringing Data to Life

By Matt Walpole, Head of Design

Having worked through the age of Big Data, I’ve seen the impact this explosion of information has had on both B2B and B2C brands. With such a wealth of customer and industry data in our hands and at a deeper level than ever before, one common challenge our clients face is, “I’ve collected all this information, but I don’t know how to show it off…Please help.” We’ve all sat through bland presentations with repetitive graphs that become meaningless as your eyes begin to gloss over, we know using this data in an engaging way is not as simple as exporting bloated spreadsheets.

What we look to do at Aspectus is embrace this world of data and ensure its brought to life in a way that is useful for clients and engaging for their audience. As I mentioned before, we aren’t in the world of just taking clients’ data, applying some brand colors and then spitting out generic bar charts. There are some core methodology processes that we look to implement to ensure we’re showing the right information in the best way possible.

Breaking Down the Science


We’ve all become accustomed how supermarkets stack their shelves; we know they place the items they want us to purchase at eye level as that is what ‘eye-tracking’ systems have told them. Well, the same techniques apply to data visualization. When creating data graphics, we ensure that there are minimal eye movements required. Sounds simple but can often be overlooked. It’s common to see keys and legends sitting far away from the output data that relies on your audience having to consistently scan across layouts to understand the information. We look to minimize the effect of negative eye-tracking in order help absorb data effectively and without fatigue.

Cognitive load

This really embraces the ability of your audience to extrapolate insights from your data visuals. Once we have established what the most important piece of information is, we look to use our brand tools such as color, type and scale to aid the reader, ensuring they don’t suffer from cognitive overload. Even if a graphic shows multiple data insights, it should still be visually easy to understand and draw out the data’s conclusions.  

Audience anticipation

We are looking to engross audiences with our data in both a visual and informative way. But that shouldn’t mean we are trying to challenge the reader’s ability to digest data. We look to balance intrigue with understanding ‘audience anticipation’, i.e. what are they expecting to look at and takeaway. We can usually think about this as a ‘journey’ through data, what is the most logical steps someone might take through looking at a data graphic. This methodology really comes into effect when considering visuals that contain multiple points of data and how we create visual hierarchy that works with audience preconceptions.

There is always a creative balance when bringing data to life. Sometimes it calls for beautiful visuals to entice the audience in, other times it’s about restrained graphics that leave no room for doubt on what the information should be telling you. We always look to take critical thinking to your data to see it become more than numbers in a spreadsheet, we analyze where the information will be seen, and what the audience expects in different channels. So, no matter if it’s a LinkedIn campaign or a hefty annual report we ensure your data is actually brought to life.

If you feel like you’re a bit stuck when it comes to visualizing your data then why not contact us and we can explore how to best bring it to life for you and your audience.

Key takeaways

1. What is essential for effective data visualization?

Effective data visualization requires thoughtful design. Instead of merely applying brand colors to bar charts, the design process should ensure that the data is presented in an engaging and useful manner for the audience. This involves a methodological approach to data visualization rather than just exporting and displaying information from the source material.

2. How can eye-tracking principles be applied to data visualization?

Eye-tracking principles can be applied to data visualization by minimizing the need for excessive eye movements. This helps viewers absorb data effectively without fatigue. Strategic placement of supportive information is important to avoid constant scanning across layouts.

3. What role does managing cognitive load play in data visualization?

Managing cognitive load is crucial in data visualization. The design should aid the audience in easily extrapolating insights without suffering from cognitive overload. By using brand tools such as color, type, and scale, data visualizations can highlight the most important information while remaining visually intuitive, even when presenting multiple data points.

4. How does understanding audience anticipation enhance data visualization?

Understanding audience anticipation enhances data visualization by creating a logical journey through the data. By considering what the audience expects and balancing intrigue with comprehension, visual hierarchy can be established. This ensures that data is both visually appealing and easy to digest, whether it’s for a LinkedIn campaign or an annual report, catering to the specific channel and audience expectations.

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The importance of crisis communications in a general election

By Victoria Chilton, Energy & Industrials

Crisis communications are crucial in general elections, involving swift responses that  maintain public trust, control narratives, leverage digital platforms, and learn from past crises. Effective strategies in these areas can significantly impact a campaign’s success. 

In the high-stakes arena of a general election, crisis communications play a pivotal role in shaping public perception and maintaining voter confidence. The ability to swiftly and effectively manage a crisis can determine a campaign’s success or failure. A well-executed strategy can mean the difference between a campaign that falters and one that prevails, particularly in the digital age where information and misinformation spreads rapidly.  

Campaigns must be prepared to address issues ranging from candidate missteps to external events that could impact voter sentiment. By anticipating potential crises and crafting clear, consistent messages, campaigns can navigate challenges, protect their reputations, and maintain the trust of the electorate. 

Swift responses to emerging issues

In a general election, crises can emerge suddenly and from unexpected quarters. These might range from personal scandals involving candidates to policy gaffes, security threats, or external events such as natural disasters. The ability to respond swiftly and effectively is crucial. An immediate and measured response helps to control the narrative, preventing opponents from capitalising on the situation and mitigating damage to the campaign’s image. 

For instance, when a candidate faces allegations of misconduct, such as in the case of Dominic Raab who was found to have intimidated civil servants after an inquiry into bullying allegations, the response must be prompt and transparent. Denial without evidence or delays in addressing the issue can lead to a loss of credibility. A well-prepared crisis communications team can quickly gather facts, craft a coherent response, and disseminate it across multiple channels to ensure the public receives accurate information promptly. 

Maintaining public trust

Trust is a foundational element of any political campaign. Once broken, it is incredibly challenging to restore. Effective crisis communications aim to maintain and even build trust during turbulent times by addressing the immediate crisis  and demonstrating accountability, transparency, and empathy. 

The expense scandal of 2009 was a significant crisis that shook public trust in UK politicians. Many MPs were found to have claimed excessive or inappropriate expenses. The response involved full transparency, with detailed expense reports being published and several MPs facing legal consequences. The swift actions, including resignations and repayments, were critical in beginning the process of rebuilding public trust. 

Acknowledging concerns and showing a willingness to listen and adapt can turn a potential crisis into an opportunity for positive engagement. This approach helps to reinforce the candidate’s commitment to serving the public and addressing their needs. 

Controlling the narrative

In an election, controlling the narrative is essential. The media and public opinion can be swayed by how well a campaign manages its communications during a crisis. By providing clear, consistent, and accurate information, a campaign can shape the story rather than being overwhelmed by it. Demonstrated in the 2016 Brexit referendum with the Leave campaign who controlled the narrative by focusing on the message of “Take Back Control“, which resonated strongly with voters. Despite numerous challenges, their consistent and clear messaging helped sway public opinion in their favour. 

Effective crisis communications also involve anticipating potential issues and preparing responses in advance. This proactive approach allows campaigns to act quickly and decisively, reducing the likelihood of being caught off guard. Pre-prepared statements, media training for key spokespersons, and a clear chain of command for decision-making are all vital components of this strategy. 

Leveraging digital platforms

The rise of social media and digital news platforms has transformed the landscape of crisis communications. Information spreads rapidly, and public opinion can shift in an instant. Campaigns must be adept at using these platforms to their advantage, engaging directly with voters, and countering misinformation swiftly.  

In the 2017 general election, the Labour Party effectively used digital platforms to engage with younger voters. Their campaign leveraged social media to disseminate their message, counter negative press, and mobilise supporters. This digital strategy contributed to a significant surge in support, particularly among young people, leading to a much stronger performance than initially anticipated. 

During a crisis, social media can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows for immediate communication with the electorate. On the other, it can amplify negative news and misinformation. A robust digital strategy involves monitoring social media trends, engaging with followers in real-time, and using data analytics to gauge public sentiment and adjust strategies accordingly. 

Learning from past crises

Finally, learning from past crises is an invaluable aspect of crisis communications. Every election cycle provides lessons on what works and what doesn’t. Campaigns that analyse past crises, whether their own or those of others, can develop better strategies and avoid repeating mistakes. 

For instance, analysing how previous campaigns handled data breaches, negative press, or candidate health issues can provide valuable insights. Incorporating these lessons into crisis management plans ensures that a campaign is better prepared for any eventuality. 

The importance of communication

Crisis communications are a vital component of any campaign. Swift response, maintaining public trust, controlling the narrative, leveraging digital platforms, and learning from past crises are all essential strategies. As elections continue to evolve in the digital age, the importance of effective crisis communications will only grow, making it a critical area of focus for any campaign aiming for success. 

Navigating the complex world of communications requires expertise and experience. To learn how Aspectus can support your organisation in developing robust communication strategies, contact our team here

Key Takeaways:

Q1: Why is a swift response important in crisis communications during a general election? 
A1: Swift responses help control the narrative, prevent opponents from capitalising on the situation, and mitigate damage to the campaign’s image. 

Q2: How can a campaign maintain public trust during a crisis? 
A2: By being transparent, accountable, and empathetic, and by addressing the crisis promptly and effectively, a campaign can maintain and even build public trust. 

Q3: What role do digital platforms play in crisis communications for political campaigns? 
A3: Digital platforms allow immediate communication with the electorate, enable real-time engagement, and help counter misinformation swiftly, though they can also amplify negative news. 

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Six key takeaways from EBAday 2024

By Arthur Instone, Financial Services

When will we have a digital euro – if ever? How is AI impacting capital markets? Are banks ready for instant payments? And are fintechs out to replace banks, or work alongside them? These are all questions that attendees grappled with at this year’s EBAday in Lisbon, the Euro Banking Association’s annual summit for leading payments and transaction banking executives.

This year’s theme, ‘Orchestrating the dialogue on payments’, was chosen specifically to reflect the fact that now is the time to turn plans into practices that reflect the new payments era. Here are six of my key takeaways from the conference:

1. Collaboration is increasingly critical

Banks share the same pain points, and with so many new or updated regulations coming into force in the next 3-5 years, panelists were keen to emphasise that joining forces with other industry players can help them navigate this uncertain landscape.

Combatting fraud was one area that was identified where collaboration will be especially important. Simone Löfgen, global head of payment platforms and managing director at Commerzbank, said, “It is absolutely crucial that we are connected, and that we’ve defined common ways of combating this industry challenge, so there shouldn’t be any competition on fraud because it’s a joint attack that we’re all facing.”

This ‘joint attack’ approach is particularly important, since fraudsters are always finding new and increasingly sophisticated ways to extract funds. Cross-company, and critically, cross-industry collaboration will help banks detect these patterns and be more agile in their approach to fraud.

2. AI: a question of what, not how

Panelists highlighted that AI is no longer just a shiny buzzword but is very much a technology of the here and now, having a real impact on banking operations.

 It was interesting to see the range of applications for which AI is being used. In an audience poll during a session on ‘AI in capital markets and payments’, 31% responded that streamlining operations is the main use case, 29% voted for improving customer service, and 25% voted for enhanced risk assessment and fraud management.

There’s no doubt that AI is having a transformative impact on banking operations, but the challenge facing banks is how to adopt AI at scale rather than for individual use-cases. The question they’re grappling with is: should we build our own in-house solution or buy a ready-made model? Christian Sarafidis, chief executive EMEA financial services at Microsoft, argued the latter is more suitable.

This is because the technology is evolving so rapidly, and banks are unlikely to have the in-house skills, resources and expertise to create a solution that is better than what is available in the market, where solutions have already been designed to meet specific needs of the banking sector.

3. Divergence on CBDCs

CBDCs – a solution looking for a problem or a genuine monetary innovation? In a session on ‘The future of payments’, moderator Joy Macknight put the question to the audience, asking Do we need a digital euro, whether wholesale or retail? Interestingly, a majority of 62% said no, compared to 38% who voted yes.

Panelists were quick to point out, however, that the question was slightly misleading by grouping the wholesale and retail use-case together. They agreed that the wholesale CBDC development is at a far more advanced stage of development than retail, a hypothesis supported by the Bank of International Settlement (BIS). A survey by the BIS in late 2023 found that the likelihood that central banks will issue a wholesale CBDC within the next six years now exceeds the likelihood that they will issue a retail CBDC.

There was positivity about the role of blockchain in capital markets more broadly. Michael Reinwald, Head of Sales for JP Morgan Germany and Austria, was “convinced” that tokenisation will be central to driving capital market innovation, helping to increase market liquidity, reduce the risk of fraud, lower transaction fees and improve transparency and visibility across the trading cycle.

4. The road to instant payments is easier said than done

Instant payments are a massive priority for banks, especially given that SEPA Instant – set to apply from January 2025 onwards – will require Eurozone banks to offer instant credit transfers at any time of day and year. In an audience poll during a session on ‘The Instant Payments Revolution’, the overwhelming majority (75%) put instant payments regulation as their number one priority, followed by ISO 20022 migration at 58%.

Enabling instant payments is the aspiration for all banks, but it was clear that achieving this won’t happen overnight and there are still barriers that the industry needs to overcome, none bigger than fraud prevention. In a second audience poll, attendees cited Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti Money Laundering (AML) as the single most overwhelming challenge in instant payment adoption. Although reimbursement schemes can compensate victims, faster payments mean there is less time to stop fraudulent transactions from being processed and settled.

Panelists also spoke about how the success of instant payments depend on more than  having the right technology infrastructure in place. Simon Eacott, Head of Payments at Natwest, said, “It’s not just about the technology, it’s about the whole end to end user experience.” Consumers value security, trust, speed and convenience, and having these building blocks in place will be key to instant payment adoption.

5. Fintechs and Banks… the special relationship

Banks and fintechs have a unique relationship. Once viewed as a disruptive force aiming to upend traditional banking, bank-fintech partnerships have become increasingly common and highly effective.

In a panel discussion on ‘Prioritising innovation in embedded finance’, panelists agreed that while fintechs can’t solve all the long-standing challenges that banks face, they can provide specific, targeted solutions to pain-points. For banks, this has made partnering with fintechs increasingly appealing.

Pietro Fragnito, senior innovation strategy and market outlook at Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo, explained how they partnered with a fintech to simplify transfer paperwork. He said, “We made a partnership with the fintech that solves compliance problems for our customers. They do a lot of work when moving from one utility provider to another. We integrated their services in a seamless way in our application and our customer can complete the journey without going out to switch context and then come back.”

These partnerships are seen as a win-win. Banks, with their established customer bases and regulatory expertise, provide a foundation for fintechs to apply their offerings at scale. On the other hand, fintechs can help banks stay competitive through their agility and customer-centric approach to financial services.

6. Women in Banking: building on progress

As the payments industry becomes more and more specialised, further opportunities for women are opening up in various areas such as technology, Open Banking, ESG or regulation.

In a lunchtime roundtable on ‘Women in banking and payments’, Katja Lehr, Managing Director of the EMEA Payments and Commerce Solutions Team at JP Morgan said, “I see lots of great women in the room today… ten or fifteen years ago it would have a different picture.” Over the past two decades, there was agreement that there has been a positive improvement in the representation of women in the sector.

However, it is still much harder for women to ascend the career ladder than men. McKinsey’s 2022 report on women in the workplace show fairly equal numbers of men and women at entry level, but far fewer women than men at the higher echelons of the banking hierarchy. Despite some hard-fought gains, women’s representation still lags behind at the manager and director levels.

Panelists agreed that cross-industry and cross-company support for women is needed to bridge this gap at all levels of the hierarchy and keep women in top positions.

Adeus Lisbon, bonjour Paris

The overwhelming feeling was one of resilience. After a global pandemic, high inflation and geopolitical uncertainty, global payments revenue grew by double digits in 2023 while the industry continues to attract top talent and skills. Regulatory reform will put banks under more compliance pressure, but this also presents an opportunity to innovate.

Wolfgang Ehrmann, chairman of the board at the Euro Banking Association, concluded the event with a fitting football analogy: “There is a golden rule from German football: After the game is before the game. So, after EBAday is before EBAday.” As we look ahead to next year’s event in Paris, we can be optimistic about the future of transaction banking.

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How to write a research report

By Alex Knight, Financial Services

This blog outlines a 12-step guide to writing an effective research report, focusing on survey-based methodologies. It covers three core phases that take you from concept to launch, providing practical tips and insights to help businesses produce reports that will boost brand awareness and support lead generation.

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you have an explosive stunt in your back pocket, it requires a clever and consistent communications programme across years.

However, there is a way to give your brand a perfect platform for success: a research-based report. Not only does a report provide you with original data and insights that can fuel marketing activity for months, but they’re usually more meaningful than that.

Reports take a deep dive into a topic that a business wants to be associated with and will often draw attention to the very challenges that a business is trying to solve. As such, the launch of a report is usually a major milestone – and one which shapes the future of the brand.

There are many ways to do research and I would encourage you to explore what options might work best for what you have in mind, whether it’s digging into publicly available data sets, aggregating recent news and case studies, examining existing literature – or better yet – using data from your own business. That said, the default for many is a survey, which is a fast and reliable way to gather some useful data.

Whichever methodology you decide to go with, creating a research report can be a large and intimidating project. Fortunately, this article breaks down the process into 12 key steps (specific to a survey-based report) that will take you from idea to launch, with some top tips along the way.  

Phase one: Ideation

Step 1: Establish a clear concept

You probably already have some rough ideas, but it’s important to start by working out the story you want to tell and the topics you want to investigate. Ideally, what do you want the research to uncover? Who do you want to read it? Are you looking for a punchy 1,000 words or something more in-depth at 10,000? Key things to think about here are budgets, word count, and scope for the survey, including job titles, sectors, and regions.

Step 2: Put a plan (and timeline) in place

From experience, we know that reports require tight project management and a clear step-by-step process. Before beginning, you should assign a project manager and develop a timeline with clear ownership of actions and deadlines. The length of the project will depend on the research, but a shorter report will take a couple of months whereas a longer piece of research can take six months or more.

Step 3: Finalise research methodology and scope

Here you need to balance budget with credibility. For B2B research, you need a minimum of 100 respondents whereas it’s 1,000 for consumers for the research to be seen as credible – and therefore newsworthy in the eyes of the media. However, the higher the number of respondents, the more credible. It is possible to run the survey yourself through the likes of SurveyMonkey, but it can be a real challenge to gain a decent number of responses.

When it comes to research agencies, as tempting as it is to simply go for cheapest option, they all have pros and cons, with some providing much less consultancy throughout the process. As part of those conversations, don’t forget to ask how the data will be presented back to you. Is it on Excel or do you get access to an interactive platform?

Step 4: Gather inspiration and ideas

At this point, you should build on the initial ideas by doing extensive desk research into the areas you are investigating. What does your audience care about? What are the biggest news stories? It’s important to do some digging to see if there is any rival research out there, both for inspiration and to avoid creating something similar. This all informs the direction of the research.

If possible, it is well worth speaking to a few journalists to ask what research they would like to see. That usually gives a good steer. After that, you should have calls with your subject matter experts to catch their thoughts on what you have found and to hear what they think is missing.

Phase two: Development

Step 5: Create an exceptional survey

This is arguably the most important step. The questions can really make or break the report, and require careful thought to provide you with data people will care about. It can be helpful to work backwards by thinking about some of the headlines you want and writing the question to deliver that outcome.

Try not to overcomplicate questions. Simple and short questions will provide clearer cut data. In addition, it’s important to make the most out of screening questions – think beyond the standard gender, age, job role, sector, and region. What else could be useful to find out that is specific to your sector? On a similar note, you can extract extra value by adding some questions at the end of the survey that can help inform your brand or business strategy – have they heard of you? What does your audience want from suppliers like you?

Step 6: Wait patiently for your data

This will usually take a few days but can take over a week depending on the panel. Use this time to put a plan in place for when the data is due back. Who’s doing the analysis? Can they block out a couple of days to dive into it? It’s also worth being very clear with the research agency how you want the data presented.

Step 7: Examine the results

This is where you take a deep dive into the data, plucking out key stats and looking at how the different demographics compare to each other. There’s bound to be a heap of exciting stories in there so don’t just scratch the surface here. The best stories are often buried a little.

Throughout this process, use the research agency to help you to come up new stats by working out averages, creating net totals, or combining responses that can be grouped together. That will help create some eye-catching statistics. It can also work well to create a framework / structure of the report at this point.

Step 8: Chat with your experts

While the data is the foundation, the best research reports have insights and commentary alongside the data so this is the time to have some longer discussions with your spokespeople to hear their thoughts on the findings. What is surprising? How do they explain it?

If possible, try to have a mix of voices and pull in spokespeople from relevant companies or organisations. Industry bodies and trade associations are perfect if you can bring them in.

Ahead of all interviews, you should circulate a document containing what you’re looking to discuss (and mock questions). That said, you don’t want the spokesperson to be over-prepared as it tends to be more robotic. You’re looking to have a relatively free-flowing conversation as this tends to generate the best insights and lead to some more personal quotes and anecdotes.

Phase three: Creation

Step 9: Write the report

This is where you finally pull all this information together. Start by creating a structure, with all the key points and data in an order that makes most sense. It’s important to consider the narrative carefully. Try not to just write up the data question by question. Think about how the findings can be grouped together thematically.

It may sound obvious, but do not pepper the report with sales messages. It acts as a turn off for the reader and undermines trust in what you have written because it suggests your interpretation is skewed. Instead, try to give an honest and impartial read on the data. After all, the quality of the report is what will create engagement and support lead generation, not sales messages.

The length of the write up will vary, but it should include different sections as well as a foreword, a methodology, and an executive summary, which is best done in bullet points. Then, be strict with yourself on editing and cutting. Remember that the report is not the only way for you to use interesting data!

Step 10: Manage editing and sign off

Once you have a first draft, you’ll need to go through edits and approvals, which often involves different stakeholders. This phase requires really tight management and communication to make sure everyone is aligned and sticking to timelines. Be clear on who is reviewing what and when the deadline is. It can be matter of ‘too many cooks’ when it comes to long form content, so be selective with who feeds in at this point to avoid excessive rounds of edits. And beware of version control, especially when working with external parties.  

Step 11: Design the report

Fairly self-explanatory, but the design will have a massive impact on how people engage with the report. A well-designed report with the right visual signposting will bring the data to life and make certain messages pop, making it is easier to read and more likely to capture the attention of the reader. The graphs need careful thought – some data is best presented as a pie chart whereas some will work best as a bar chart.

In addition, it can work well to include ‘pop-out’ quotes and stats that really stand out. Infographics and graphs can also be used for promotional activity and can be included in other assets, such as videos.

Step 12: Give it a final, thorough proof

Before launching, give the report a final proof. Be thorough here. For example, I’d recommend checking that every single statistic is accurate. Beyond that, you should check all the copy matches the final version, that all the graphs look right, and that the formatting and grammar is consistent throughout e.g. “%” vs “percent”.

Shaping your brand

While each report is unique, these twelve steps will help to guide you through the process. Major pieces of content like this (such as those we have written for Ayming Group) act as a stake in the ground for a company, establishing authority and building recognition in a particular field. In that way, they embody the essence of a company and shape the identity of its brand and it’s therefore absolutely critical that the reader – which is often a potential customer – is impressed by what they read.

At Aspectus, we specialise in creating award-winning research reports and are always happy to have a conversation on how we might be able to help.

Part two with tips for launching a report to follow…

About the author

Alex is an award-winning content and creative strategist. In his 7 years at Aspectus, he has written and managed dozens of research reports and is an expert at using data to create news stories that will capture the attention of journalists.

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Aspectus Group expands into Middle East with Dubai office opening

Appointment comes as the agency expands its global professional services offering.

Dubai, UAE, 4th June 2024: Aspectus Group, a global brand, marketing and communications agency, has announced its latest expansion, opening its first office in the Middle East, appointing Astrid French to lead.

Located in Dubai, UAE, the move affirms the agency’s global growth plans and long-term commitment to the region, having supported clients in the market for over a decade. The UAE office will drive activity across strategic locations in the Middle East, for local firms seeking global support and global firms pursuing local impact. Aspectus will continue its focus on specialist B2B expertise in energy, marine and industrials; technology; financial and professional services; and capital markets.

Astrid French, who joined Aspectus in 2021 following tenure at Weber Shandwick and Edelman, and who has since led the Energy & Industrials Practice, is expanding her role, appointed as Head of Middle East. Astrid commented: “The opportunity in this region cannot be overstated. Attractive business conditions and an appetite for innovation and investment is fueling economic growth in a way we simply aren’t seeing in other markets.

“It’s particularly evident in our core sectors, with initiatives like the $500M UAE AI & emerging tech R&D programme, consistent double-digit growth in DIFC company registrations, and new CCUS and green hydrogen projects on the horizon.

“This creates opportunities for both established heritage brands and vibrant emerging start-ups. But, it also significantly raises competition on the local and global stage. Storytelling always matters – but in this context, and in sectors where messaging must be handled with care, having a voice that is heard, remembered and advocated for, for the right reasons, becomes a non-negotiable.”

Astrid will be responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of Aspectus’ activity in the Middle East across brand strategy, digital and media relations, as well as retaining her current lead role on a number of flagship global clients. The news follows Aspectus’ highly successful office opening in Singapore in January 2023, which has experienced impressive growth since launch.

Alastair Turner, Global CEO of Aspectus Group, continued, “As an agency, we have lived by a commitment to unparalleled service for our clients; where they need us, that’s where we go. For a long time, we have supported in this region, but it has become increasingly clear the need to pivot from executional to strategic on-the-ground leadership. It will elevate our work not only in the Middle East, but across the world as we grow our network of offices that form a nexus of global support for our clients. We couldn’t have a better person representing the agency in Astrid. She is brilliant with clients from both a strategic and tactical point of view as well as being a fearless new business operator. She is endearingly geeky about our specialist sectors and passionate about people development. We are lucky to have her driving the business forward in the region.”

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What global markets can learn from Asia’s unique ESG approach

By Maddy Thirsk, Capital Markets

This blog examines Asia’s distinct approach to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing practices, contrasting it with strategies across Europe and the US. Highlighting cultural impacts and regulatory differences, it offers insights into how global markets can learn from Asian perspectives on ESG.

When confronted with a challenge, we often have two choices: brush it under the rug or tackle it with a new approach, if possible, drawing inspiration from others that have surpassed the challenge. When it comes to ESG, it is essential that global market economies opt for the latter.

Today, we are seeing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles, once regarded as the holy grail by many companies, forcing these same firms into a corner. What started as a retreat from these principles in the US is now gathering momentum in Europe[i], where doubts are surfacing over the prioritization of ESG investment principles.

Financial giants like BlackRock are leading this trend, strategically distancing themselves from the term by quietly scrubbing ESG from their marketing strategies. This shift, echoed by outflows from sustainable funds[ii], has garnered enough attention to earn itself a name: ‘greenhushing’[iii]. Driven in part by stricter ESG regulations, this trend could mark a significant turning point in the journey towards more responsible investing, with the concept increasingly drawn into the political sphere as the US presidential election approaches.

But against this fast-evolving backdrop, one region’s commitment to ESG remains as steadfast as ever. With its unique regulatory approach, emphasis on qualitative criteria, and cultural prioritization of corporate responsibility, Asia offers invaluable lessons for navigating the complexities of responsible investing.

During my trip to Aspectus’ recently launched Singapore office[iv] last month, I saw firsthand the region’s bustling sustainable finance scene, buzzing with energy and fresh perspectives. It got me thinking: what can global markets learn from Asia’s unique take on ESG?

Culture and politics: The age-old debate

During my time in Singapore, I witnessed a clear demonstration of both the government’s support for its people and citizens’ unwavering sense of commitment and responsibility. Take the daunting prospect of buying a house in London, for instance. I found myself discussing Singapore’s generous housing grants with a colleague, and it soon became apparent why Asia’s ESG narrative is one characterized by a cultural emphasis on corporate responsibility, rather than politicization.

In Asia, the notion of corporate responsibility is deeply ingrained in cultural values and societal norms. Businesses are expected to act as stewards[i] of the communities in which they operate, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability, ethical conduct, and social welfare. This cultural ethos fosters an environment where ESG principles are embraced not as political agendas, but as integral components of corporate governance and business ethics.

This cultural importance also came through in extensive primary research we conducted for an upcoming ESG whitepaper, where not even a fifth of APAC-based marketers said they do not care about ESG factors. More insights to come on this topic towards the end of May in our ESG whitepaper[ii].

In the US, on the other hand, investor interest in ESG is declining, possibly due to the way the term has been weaponised and used as a pawn in the never-ending game of political chess waged in Washington. Shareholder support for ESG proposals is decreasing amid rising divisiveness as we draw closer to this year’s presidential election. Investors are withdrawing from sustainable funds and managers are launching fewer ESG-focused products[iii], indicating a shift in the American investment landscape.

Asia’s Goldilocks Approach to ESG Regulation

Increased regulatory scrutiny is a steadfast fixture in today’s financial landscape, but the approaches taken by different regions are telling. We are seeing divergence between the EU and US approaches to ESG regulation, with Europe imposing stricter requirements while the US rolls back planned regulations amid political opposition. Both strategies could conceivably lead to a notable increase in greenhushing. Meanwhile, Asia is taking a more nuanced approach, focusing on qualitative definitions rather than rigid classifications.

Across Europe, asset managers are struggling to adhere to demanding regulations[i] such as the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). Here, the regulatory focus is on classification[ii], with funds falling into distinct categories like Article 8 and 9 based on their emphasis on environmental or social characteristics. Meanwhile, Asian regulators prioritize defining ESG funds themselves, taking a different path.

On top of this, ESG now faces a regulatory pushback[iii] of its own, with the EU’s recent Green Claims directive cracking down on sustainability claims made by companies. To some minds, Europe has over scrutinized and overcomplicated the sustainable investment process and the way in which funds market themselves, which in turn could prompt firms to resort to greenhushing.

Therefore, it is worth considering that perhaps Asia has the right idea by focusing on qualitative criteria, offering a nuanced understanding that quantitative metrics often miss. This way, companies can convey their ESG efforts, sidestepping the pitfalls of mere quantitative metrics and evading the temptation of greenhushing.

Should firms across Europe and the US be given the benefit of the doubt, allowing more room for dialogue rather than continuing to crack down on classifications?

The US, caught in a political tug-of-war over ESG, isn’t offering much clarity. And Europe’s unwavering regulatory grip seems unlikely to loosen soon. But a peek at Asia’s playbook provides may offer valuable lessons. While we cannot presume an imminent change in the US’ politicization of ESG or Europe’s steadfast regulatory stance, it is still important to explore how other regions approach ESG if we are to successfully tackle greenhushing, rather than merely brush it under the rug.

About the author

Maddy is a senior account executive in the Capital Markets team and joined Aspectus after completing a master’s in international management at King’s College London and bachelor’s degree in international relations at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Maddy is fluent in Italian and proficient in German.​

Maddy’s role involves being a day-to-day contact for clients, providing focused advice on media relations across the UK and APAC regions. She recently visited Aspectus’ Singapore office to strengthen media relationships in the region, gaining valuable insights that fuel this blog post. Since starting the role, Maddy has become ever more curious about the ways in which regulatory trends will shape the financial sphere and is excited to continue learning more about the capital markets.​

Key takeaways

Q: What is greenhushing, and how is it affecting ESG investing?
A: Greenhushing refers to firms downplaying or omitting their ESG initiatives to avoid regulatory scrutiny. This trend is growing, particularly in the US and Europe, as firms face increasing regulatory demands and political pressure.

Q: How does Asia’s approach to ESG differ from the US and Europe?
A: Asia emphasizes cultural responsibility and qualitative definitions of ESG regulation, avoiding the rigid classifications and political battles seen in the US and Europe.

Q: What lessons can global markets learn from Asia’s ESG strategies?
A: Global markets can benefit from looking at Asia’s nuanced regulatory approach, emphasizing cultural responsibility and qualitative measures, which provide a more transparent approach to ESG.

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A perfect partnership: My love affair with AI

By Alastair Turner, Global CEO

Exploring the transformative partnership between AI and humans, this blog highlights how AI enhances creativity and business innovation. It underscores the importance of ethical collaboration and envisions AI’s role in future achievements.

Eighteen years into a marriage that still sparks joy, laughter and the occasional electric touch, I’ve come to a realization: Partnerships, in their myriad forms, are the bedrock of human achievement. Whether it’s the love that binds my wife and me, or the amazing partnership that we cheer on the sports pitch, dance to at festivals and laugh with en masse at gigs, the essence of collaboration is unmistakable. But there is a new partnership in town and it’s unlike any other: my burgeoning romance with generative artificial intelligence (AI), aka ChatGPT.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill dalliance. No, this is the kind of transformative union that could only be rivaled by the legendary synergies of yesteryear — think Edwards and John lighting up the rugby field, Torvill and Dean gliding to Olympic glory, or Jordan and Pippen dominating the hardwood. Each duo, in their respective arenas, while not always friends or even getting on, showcased the exponential power of collaboration. I have not a smidgen of their talents, but my relationship with AI is certainly helping me be better at my job and it doesn’t seem to mind if I steal the limelight.

AI and humans: A symphony of differences

The beauty of human partnerships often lies in the harmonious interplay of contrasts. Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting genius, the comedic timing of Laurel and Hardy, the strategic masterminds of Montana and Rice when the 49ers won Super Bowls — each partnership thrived on the unique contributions of its members. In the realm of AI, however, the dynamic shifts. Here, the partnership is inherently asymmetrical, with the scales tipped decidedly in my favor. AI doesn’t vie for the spotlight or seek recognition. Not yet anyway. There are no artistic differences and it’s never passive aggressive (not a refence to my wife!). Instead, it amplifies my capabilities, quietly transforming me into, I like to think, a more effective, innovative leader.

The unseen muse: How AI Enhances Human Creativity and Innovation

In the creative industries, the quest for the next “aha!” moment is relentless. AI, with its ability to sift through data and identify patterns invisible to the human eye, has become an indispensable ally. It’s not about replacing the human touch but enriching it, offering a palette of possibilities that were previously unimaginable. This isn’t just about making processes more efficient; it’s about elevating creativity to new heights, guiding us toward ideas that resonate more deeply and connect more authentically. Check out this Harvard Business Review piece for more fascinating insights into how generative AI boosts human creativity.

Building bridges, not replacing them

In the business of marketing and communications, relationships are currency. While AI excels at decoding trends and managing data, it’s the human element — our ability to empathize, to share a laugh, to forge connections — that turns these insights into meaningful strategies. This partnership doesn’t dilute the personal touch; it sets the stage for more impactful human interactions, ensuring that every handshake or shared joke is as potent as it can be.

A dance of complexity and ethics

Facing the labyrinth of modern challenges, the alliance between human ingenuity and AI’s computational prowess is our best bet. Together, we navigate the unpredictable, blending AI’s efficiency with human adaptability and ethical judgment. This is not about relegating AI to the role of a sidekick; it’s about recognizing it as a force multiplier, a catalyst that propels us toward a future we’re only beginning to imagine.

I find it compelling how many of our clients are flirting with AI, using generative AI tools, developing their own GPTs, or speculating about AI’s future in their thought leadership in the media. We hear our clients across our sectors discuss it, from financial services and capital markets to energy, industrials, and technology. Recently our client, a cloud solutions tech provider called Searce, posited that generative AI tools are going to change compliance functions. Fintech provider Clearwater Analytics predicted the proliferation of generative AI use cases in investment accounting and the broader financial services sector. And, global commodities intelligence provider ICIS launched its own generative AI commodities assistant called Ask ICIS.

To infinity and beyond

So, as I reflect on my love affair with AI, I’m reminded of the fictional dynamic duo of Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story. AI is not merely a dependable friend like Woody or a simple gadget on Buzz’s utility belt. It’s far more transformative. Imagine AI as Buzz Lightyear’s wings — it doesn’t just add to our capabilities; it propels us to new realms of possibility.

This partnership with AI is about embarking on a journey to uncharted territories, reaching for ‘infinity and beyond’. It’s not merely about solving problems or enhancing the way we do things; it’s a catalyst that launches us into a future brimming with unexplored potential.

In this perfect partnership, AI doesn’t just add wings to our aspirations — it fuels our flight toward a future ripe with possibilities, ensuring that together, we soar higher, reach further, and dream bigger… It must be love.

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