Category: Capital Markets

Executive communications & an investment bank’s CEO side hustle

By Madalena Thirsk, Capital Markets, Aspectus Group  

In the world of institutional finance, where numbers rule the roost and quarterly profits wield immense influence, the CEO of one of the largest investment banks moonlighting as a DJ might seem like an incongruous subplot. In case you missed it, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs has been periodically appearing as a DJ at clubs and resorts for the past few years, sometimes at high-profile events like Lollapalooza. The recent revelation that Solomon has decided to step back from his side gig as a DJ has sparked much debate over whether this move was an overly cautious response to shareholder concerns, or a prudent measure in the face of declining profits and thousands of layoffs. These kind of off-campus behaviours by high profile CEOs can pose vexing executive and crisis communications challenges for the companies’ corporate comms leaders and their PR agency partners. 

CEO behaviour: a symphony of success or discordant shareholder distraction? 

On the one hand, Goldman Sachs’ curt response that “David hasn’t publicly DJed an event in well over a year” response might appear as a knee-jerk reaction to quell shareholder unease. In an era of minute-by-minute scrutiny in capital markets, investors often demand unwavering focus from their leaders. With Goldman Sachs reporting a substantial decline in earnings, this development has raised serious questions about whether the CEO’s extracurricular activities might have been perceived as a distraction. From a shareholder perspective, it’s undoubtedly a valid concern. However, Goldman Sachs’ spokesperson offers a reasonable counterpoint. The notion that Solomon’s hobby had a direct impact on the bank’s financial performance might be a stretch. If music was indeed a personal passion that didn’t interfere with his professional duties, the media attention around it could arguably be more distracting than the hobby itself. 

Goldman’s defensive PR response 

In our post from 2022, we discussed how the personality of CEOs can become a brand in and of itself that individuals, who may not have heard of the brand before, will now know through the CEO. But becoming a “chief celebrity officer” is a whole other level of challenge for public companies. In the grand scheme of things, whether Solomon DJs or not might seem trivial. That said, the timing of the CEO’s decision to publicly distance himself from his DJing pursuits raises questions. In the context of a two-thirds drop in profits, it’s natural for shareholders to scrutinise any aspect of leadership that might potentially divert focus from restoring financial health. The internal communications concerns within the bank also must be considered. Declining profits can trigger a sense of urgency and scrutiny at any institution. If internal worries prompted this defensive response, it could signal that Goldman Sachs recognises the gravity of the situation and is willing to take corrective actions.  

Yet, this episode serves as a reminder of the executive communications tightrope that CEOs of publicly listed companies walk. They must manage not only the performance of their organisations but also the perceptions of their stakeholders. In this case, Goldman Sachs’ reaction can be seen as proactive, a signal of attentiveness to shareholder concerns. However, it also raises questions about the underlying conditions that led to this highly defensive “music was not a distraction from David’s work. The media attention became a distraction” communications response in the first place. 

Executive communications intersects with investor relations 

Ultimately, David Solomon’s DJing hobby needs to be considered from a shareholder communications perspective. Sure, it’s all fun when things are going smoothly, but what if we hit rough patch and earnings take a dip? That’s when the communications and investor relations teams need to really weigh the pros and cons of these stunts. Imagine you’re a major shareholder in Goldman Sachs, watching the stock price slide. Would you feel reassured seeing the CEO spinning tracks at gigs instead of steering the ship? 

In the age of social media, it’s all about perception and you’ve got to be on your toes, making sure the right image is being broadcast. It’s not about avoiding these media outlets; it’s about taking charge of the narrative. Solomon’s DJ career is a chance for a killer media strategy, turning this into a positive executive branding and boosting visibility on social platforms. In today’s world, those platforms are just as crucial as the traditional news outlets, and the approach needs to be just as savvy. 

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Lehman Brothers 15 years on: why communication is king

By Madalena Thirsk, Account Executive, Capital Markets, Aspectus

September 1844, a Bavarian man and his two brothers arrived in New York full of hope and aspirations for a new life in the land of opportunity. September 2008, 164 years later, their legacy – Lehman Brothers – would collapse into bankruptcy, triggering the biggest financial crisis the world had ever seen.

The collapse was largely due to the firm’s involvement in trading complex derivatives, such as mortgage-backed securities, and the subsequent exposure to the subprime mortgage market. When the market turned sour, the value of these securities plummeted. The credit default swaps (CDS) contracts linked to these securities then amplified the losses, leading to the firm’s collapse.

The crisis highlighted the importance of clear and transparent communication as a crucial tool for maintaining financial stability and managing market expectations. One and a half decades later, there have been notable improvements in the way central banks and regulators communicate risks surrounding derivative instruments. Take the issue of forward guidance as a prime case in point. Central banks, including the Bank of England and the Fed, have increasingly used forward guidance as a key communications tool. This involves providing guidance to financial markets and the public around the likely future path of monetary policy – helping to manage expectations and provide greater clarity on the central bank’s intentions.

Central banks have also become more transparent about their policy frameworks, objectives, and decision-making processes. They often publish detailed policy statements, meeting minutes, and economic forecasts to provide insights into their thinking. In fact, the vast majority of major central banks now hold regular press conferences following policy meetings to explain their decisions and answer questions from journalists. This practice allows for real-time communication with the public and the media.

Then there is the social media factor, which has grown in importance considerably since 2008. Central banks and regulators have largely embraced social media platforms as a medium through which to disseminate information and engage with the public. Platforms like X are now used to communicate policy decisions and provide updates on economic conditions. Meanwhile, sites such as LinkedIn play a vital role in sharing information to address global financial stability concerns that emerge in international forums.

These advancements in communication are intended to enhance transparency, build credibility, and manage expectations in financial markets and the broader economy. Clear, timely and effective communication helps reduce uncertainty, foster trust, and allow central banks and regulators to better achieve their policy objectives.

The US regional banking crisis earlier this year (which had a slight whiff of Lehman about it) should reinforce why central banks and watchdogs must maintain their commitment to public communication. And today’s anniversary is a timely reminder. The importance of providing clear guidance on policies, actions, and intentions concerning derivatives cannot be understated.

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Poor comms strategy? You’re fired: how the candidates should have played their cards in this year’s ‘The Apprentice’

By Laura Morrison, Senior Account Executive

So, you’ve come up with your own sparkling idea to make it big: a business plan with a comprehensive profit and loss (P&L), projection of sales, and marketing strategy. Trouble is, you fall short of a £250k investment to bring it into existence and catapult yourself towards becoming a gazillionaire.  

Your options for securing this funding? A bank loan, crowd funding, an angel investor, a knock on the door of the bank of Mum and Dad? Or you could’ve decided that your best option for raising capital is to throw yourself in a pool with 17 other budding candidates on national TV, and gamble that you’ll survive 12 gruelling weeks of tasks and boardrooms to come out on top. You’d think a bright young ex-Barclays employee would opt for one of the more traditional paths before throwing himself to the mercy of ruthless grillings from a Lord of the realm. Alas, Avi Sharma has become one of the latest victims of Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice, back on screens for its 17th series.  

Calculated risk aside, why embark on this treacherous interview process to fight it out for Lord Sugar’s funding and 50 years’ worth of business experience? In a show where bold players can win big, quite often your best bet for fame and success seems to be shortlisting yourself for soundbite of the year (who can forget, ‘there’s no ‘I’ in team, but there’s three in millionaire’).  

The reason to sign up is clear: exposure, publicity, and 16 weeks’ worth of free comms and TV advertising which would otherwise cost you upwards of six figures. It is not the easiest route to get your brand out there, but in a world where personal brand can outweigh the product an influencer sells, it makes three months’ worth of boardrooms seem ever more appealing.  

Of course, this is assuming you can run its course, failing at the first hurdle gets you about as much airtime as a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ clip without the £250. Although, if you’re lucky and play your cards right haggling salmon down from market price at a stall in Brighton, you stand a chance of being remembered, and might even win. 

With the industry’s talent crisis hitting the headlines every day, you can’t blame Lord Sugar for wanting to vet the options over a painstakingly long decision process with the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ on an employee providing invaluable insight pre investment. Besides being a creative and a sales-orientated contestant, it is obvious that sugar-coating Lord Amstrad is not going to win you his buy-in, but more so the honesty and integrity of each candidate which will convince him of the potential return on investment (ROI).  

This is where an effective comms strategy is something money can’t buy, whether it be the ability to sell your makeshift products to unknowing audience, communicating with your incapable project manager, or selling your business plan to a room full of industry professionals. Despite the gimmicks of the shows, the ability to effectively communicate a business plan to an investor should be top of the list when it comes to preparation for the candidates in lieu of brainstorming slogans to sell the likes of bao buns and tourist tours to Antigua.  

Although proving you can beg your way through boardroom bustles to avoid the dreaded ‘you’re fired’ isn’t exactly written on Goldman’s job specification, in order to stand a chance of being successful as you subject yourself to this process and beyond, how to ‘PR’ yourself (and your brand) should be top of the list. PR is known as ‘the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behavior’. There is no doubt that the brave souls who apply – and they do in their thousands we are told – are clear on the need to gather support and sway the Lord (not that one) and his trusty lieutenants on the merits of their business plan – even though they run the risk of ruining what is likely to become their most important business asset, their reputation.  

So, before you start spending your hard-earned savings on boardroom suits, hair extensions, and perfect grooming, try the traditional investment routes and build your business and reputation (why not have a look at our website for our own tips?), without the risk of ever being known for a one liner you will undoubtedly come to regret. “I have the energy of a Duracell bunny, the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit, and a brain like Einstein”, so said a fallen candidate of series 9 – name omitted to protect the remainder of reputation!  

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From the Tiger’s Unrest to the Rabbit’s Respite: How 2023 Promises Calm and Confidence in Capital Markets

Madalena Thirsk, Associate Account Executive, Capital Markets

For centuries, since the 24th century B.C. to be exact, people have relied on the Chinese lunar calendar to predict their fortune for the year ahead.

Whether or not you believe in such predictions, following a chaotic and volatile year for capital markets, many will be relieved that the year of the rabbit promises the calm after the storm.

The Tiger’s disruptions:

2022, the year of the tiger, anticipated rapid changes and sudden disruptions. From a markets perspective, this prediction of volatility presented itself through inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and geopolitical tensions. The year saw inflation rise to its highest rate since the early 1980’s, reaching 8.8%.

Need more proof? The return of volatility in the FX markets last year, driven by the Russian-Ukraine conflict, acts as prime example. For the first time in over a decade, almost all major currencies sharply depreciated against the US dollar.

As another case in point, crypto took the beginning of 2022 by storm, rapidly changing the global market as we knew it. And just as the year of the tiger foresaw rapid changes it also predicted sudden disruptions – FTX’s collapse in November 2022 rattled the crypto market, which lost billions at the time, falling below a $1 trillion valuation.

The collapse of FTX and the volatility endured by the FX market are representative of 2022’s disruptive nature. And with such disruption, comes change – this change taking the form of greater regulatory oversight. So instead of looking back at last year with a wince, we should see it as a catalyst for change, a shock to the system.

Hopping into a new year:

Surely everyone is familiar with the cautionary tale of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race. Steadiness and security being especially important – and guaranteed by greater regulatory oversight. The year of the rabbit is associated with calmness and stability – and we can expect capital markets to follow suit.

2023 capital markets have already seen a surge in steadying regulatory initiatives. Across the FX market, the trend towards a more electronically traded landscape, promises increased oversight.

In the wake of the FTX collapse, there has also been a step-up in crypto regulation. The cogs have already been set in motion by the FCA, SEC, and other regulatory bodies. On the European side of things, MiCA is set to enter into force soon establishing an aligned set of crypto rules across the union.

Evidently, the crypto industry has entered the new year holding regulation’s hand. And many investors, both individual and institutional, feel more assured, protected and confident by the growing regulatory oversight of the crypto sector.

For those attracted to the crypto market’s decentralized nature and separation from formal financial institutions, greater focus on governance and regulatory standards, may not come as great news.

But a lot must be said for the already cooling levels of inflation, expected to fall to 6.6% in 2023, and growing market confidence providing optimism for a slowing monetary tightening, bringing more investors back to assets like digital currencies. The new year has also already seen the price of most cryptos stabilising as the market attempts to rebound from the collapse of FTX. The increase is slow but steady – and already, the global crypto market has recovered, yet again reaching a market valuation of $1 trillion valuation.

All in all, 2023 has been deemed crypto’s “recovery year”, with the year of the rabbit set to bring hope and prosperity.

The year of the rabbit has gifted us a much-needed stillness, presenting a unique opportunity for businesses to amplify their voice and effectively convey their message. To seize this moment, it is crucial for firms to prioritize effective communication and public relations. While the year of the rabbit has provided this window of opportunity, it remains uncertain whether the upcoming year of the dragon in 2024 will do the same. So really, it’s now or never, it is in best interest of firms worldwide to consolidate messaging and build traction through communications and PR.

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From the Government’s big mini-budget to Labour’s big lead

The current government turns from its record, and the markets take a dramtic turn for the worse

The old cliché is that a week is a long time in politics. Just a week ago, Liz Truss’s new Government presented its ‘Growth Plan 2022’. Despite being dubbed a ‘mini-budget’, there was nothing mini about it: this very big fiscal giveaway contained £45bn worth of tax cuts – the biggest such package in about 50 years.

Business groups initially welcomed the cuts to Corporation Tax and National Insurance, which had been promised throughout Liz Truss’s leadership campaign. But it was the announcement of additional tax cuts, like the (quickly reversed) abolition of the 45p top rate of tax, that really surprised the markets, and upset MPs and voters.

criticised the package in an extraordinary warning to a G7 country.

All of these tax cuts appear to be funded through additional borrowing. Without the normal oversight provided by the Office of Budget Responsibility, there is little clarity into the long-term impacts on government finances. Sound money or fiscal responsibility is at the core of the Conservative brand, but suddenly Liz Truss’s new government appeared to be acting recklessly with the country’s finances.

The pound’s value tumbled, and within days a run on government bonds became a fire sale that nearly toppled a number of pension funds, the Bank of England has had to buy up unlimited amounts of government debt, and banks pulled hundreds of mortgages from the market in anticipation of soaring interest rates, as analysts warned of precipitous falls in housing prices.

“Cutting taxes first, and pushing through supply-side reforms to areas like the planning system, business regulations, immigration and digital infrastructure later – will create growth, and get the UK on course for a new 2.5% annual growth target”

Kwasi Kwarteng

A stark change of direction

While the pound appears to have rallied since the Bank of England’s intervention, this does not bode at all well for a government that is less than a month old. But since the Brexit referendum in 2016, UK politics has become increasingly unstable: the UK has now had four Prime Ministers in a little over six years.

The new Truss government is determined to distance itself from its predecessors, with very little policy continuity between them. Both of Boris Johnson’s main post-Brexit agendas have been shelved: ‘Levelling up’ – the mission to use infrastructure investment and devolution to spread prosperity more equitably around the country – has been more or less forgotten (though it lives on as a slogan). And the future of the green agenda is now in doubt after the appointment of several climate sceptics to the Government front bench.

A headlong pursuit of economic growth

What has taken the place of these agendas is a headlong pursuit of economic growth: a review of the Net Zero strategy has been ordered by the new climate-sceptic Business Secretary. And growth is no longer a vehicle for levelling up: the new Chancellor has said plainly that his sole priority is growing the economy, not worrying about how the gains are shared. Now the Government defines itself in contrast to its predecessors, reversing most of the fiscal policy of the last government, and criticising the last decade as a ’vicious cycle of stagnation’.

The Chancellor believes that his approach – of cutting taxes first, and pushing through supply-side reforms to areas like the planning system, business regulations, childcare, immigration and digital infrastructure later – will create growth, and get the UK on course for a new 2.5% annual growth target. But observers inside and outside the Conservative party are sceptical.

Financial markets are not the only ones to take fright at the Government’s fiscal package

Conservative MPs really don’t like it either. They mainly backed Liz Truss’s leadership rival, Rishi Sunak, who accurately predicted the response of the markets to Truss’s tax-cutting pledges. Now there are all kinds of nuclear options under discussion amongst Tory MPs: there are reports that letters calling for a no-confidence vote in Liz Truss have already started to go in, with other MPs reportedly in secret talks with Labour about how to defeat the Government’s must-pass Finance Bill. Losing such a vote would be the death knell for the Government, and it could lead to a General Election. Readers should take all of this with a pinch of salt, however – despite the extraordinary anger on Conservative benches, MPs are unlikely to vote for their imminent unemployment, given the likely outcome of such an election.

Ultimately the most critical constituency for the Government – voters – seems to have moved decisively against the Government too. Polling in the days since the mini-budget has shown the Conservatives losing their usual lead on economic policy – normally their strong suit – along with nearly every other issue, and losing ground to Labour in voting intention. Labour has now built up a solid lead from every polling company, which if repeated at a General Election, would likely produce a majority Labour Government. With two years to the next election, at most, the Government has limited time to prove that its radical free-market policies can work.

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3 reasons why an apprenticeship is the perfect steppingstone for a career in PR and digital marketing

By Emilio Koumis, Apprentice

What to do after you leave school is a question that many students consider. Is university the right decision for them? Or is getting hands on experience in the form of an apprenticeship the way forward? Below are three key benefits of why an apprenticeship could be for you.

1) Hands on experience

Hands on experience in a real-world setting is important in any industry you go in to, and an apprenticeship can provide just that! It is invaluable for understanding the fundamentals of PR and developing the skills necessary to succeed within the sector. You are given the opportunity to work alongside experienced professionals, learning how to craft effective press releases, pitch stories to media outlets and communicate efficiently. Similarly, an apprenticeship in digital marketing would provide you with the chance to learn about SEO, PPC, and social media advertising.

Learning happens when you’re doing. Actively performing these tasks will allow you to get an idea on the things you are confident in and enjoy but more importantly, the things you struggle with as well. Hands on experience allows you to identify the sectors in which you may not be as familiar with and quickly receive help from the professionals around you.

2) Building connections

Secondly, building connections is crucial in the corporate world. Although important in any career, it is particularly key in an industry as competitive as PR and digital marketing. Having a network in the industry will open doors for future job opportunities, as well as providing a sounding board for your ideas and a source of feedback on your work – things that may be difficult to obtain in a university setting. Building these relationships early on can give you a massive head start and a greater window for success in the future.

Most apprenticeships allow you to attend industry events, connecting you with other PR and marketing professionals as well as potential clients – this is another way to expand your network and gain valuable knowledge in the field.

3) Earn while you learn

Unlike a traditional degree, an apprenticeship allows you to earn while you learn. This helps eliminate the financial burden of a student loan, which according to the UK Parliament website, is forecasted to be around £43,400 on average, once students complete their course in 23/24. So instead of completing university at the cost of a £40,000 debt, you could be completing your apprenticeship with extra cash in the bank!

Additionally, many apprenticeship programmes also provide training and support that can help you pass any industry-specific qualifications such as the Chartered institute of Public Relations (CIPR) diploma or the hundreds of digital marketing courses online.

An apprenticeship Is an excellent choice for anyone looking to build a career in PR and digital marketing. It allows you to gain hands on experience, build a professional network and is a cost-effective way to enter the industry. With the right mindset and willingness to learn, an apprenticeship can be the perfect steppingstone to a successful career in PR and digital marketing.

Find out more about the scheme here and our application form.

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Emerging trends for 2023 in the B2B marketing space (insights from the B2B Marketing Expo)

By Emi Ikemoto, digital marketing account manager, and Hebe Hughes, digital marketing account executive.

Industry events can be a great opportunity to network and learn but, during the pandemic, they were significantly impacted, with many organisations opting for virtual equivalents instead – even long after the easing of restrictions. However, the B2B Marketing Expo was held in London and the bustle of energy was undeniable. Speakers from a vast range of companies shared their knowledge and insights into emerging trends for 2023 in the B2B marketing space. We attended, and below are our key learnings from the day.

B2B buying

A trend seen across businesses is that many are engaging with potential customers too late. Approximately 70% of the buying process is not visible to the supplier, i.e. you.

We’re all familiar with the term ‘buying group’, but how familiar are you with buying group blindness? Most B2B buying decisions are made by groups rather than individuals, and research has shown that buying group size increases as the deal size increases, as does the number of interactions required.

So, what is buying group blindness? It refers to the situation where marketers and sales teams qualify leads on an individual basis, rather than looking at a group level. For example, a single user that downloads ten pieces of content will be qualified as a ‘hot’ lead and be pursued heavily.

However, having multiple people from the same business downloading one piece of content each is more valuable than a single, highly interested individual from another company; downloads from multiple people represent interest from a larger group within one business.

The issue is that in many cases, they may be qualified individually rather than as a group. Taking a group-centric view of leads will ensure that interest from a prospective business will be assessed by the aggregate value of individual employees’ behaviour.

Brand marketing: leveraging the human memory and situational cues

Continuing on the topic of buying, it should be noted that approximately 95% of a B2B company’s target audiences are not in a state to buy at any given time. With that being said, when a potential customer is ready to buy, they typically already have a brand in mind when it comes to creating RFPs and only consider 1.7 alternative suppliers on average.

These statistics highlight the importance of building and maintaining strong brand awareness so that when the time comes, your company is at the forefront of your target buying centre’s minds. How? Leverage human memory and situational cues in the marketing strategy.

Memories are highly situational. Research into context and state-dependent memory reveals that memory recall is improved when external cues present at the time of memory formation are recreated. Therefore, linking your brand messaging to buying situations through impactful campaigns will help trigger a potential customer’s memory of your brand when they encounter a similar situation. When customers think about you is equally as important as what customers think about you.

Finally, on memory and brand awareness, recency trumps frequency when it comes to marketing activity. When memory corrodes, sales fall: a study that looked at sales compared against advertising activity revealed that all brands were impacted by memory corrosion as sales declined year-on-year after advertising was stopped; with the rate of decline greater for smaller brands. Another interesting finding was the cases where companies took a year break from advertising and then began activity again; this restarting did not reverse the trend of decline in many cases, highlighting the negative impact of losing momentum.

As tempting as it may be to take a step back from marketing when purse strings tighten, these findings evidence the importance of advertising to sales and growth, and that it can be more costly to try to regain sales after a pause in advertising as memory in your target audience has corroded, rather than to maintain them.

How to win more sales and customers from organic LinkedIn

With over 800 million users, LinkedIn is a key platform to help B2B businesses win more sales and help gain customers. To do this, following a formatted process can help to increase wins on LinkedIn and reach your company’s goals.

The first step is setting objectives, which are crucial to increase sales and build brand awareness; this will help to set you up for the journey ahead. It can be useful to work backwards when setting these objectives, thinking about what you want to achieve and what steps you are going to take to get there! In this step, working out your priorities is essential to help you move forward and achieve your goals.

Having a clear understanding of the tools you are going to use to reach these targets is the next step. Having a functional tool to enable the specific execution of a task; a valuable tool using specific content and connections; and a resourceful tool through relationships, joining groups, events, and associations.

Your personal profile is the equivalent of an online landing page. It needs to showcase your credibility and authority and is the perfect way to represent yourself in the market you are targeting. Through this, you can connect with the people who are valuable to you and who will help to leverage your business. Seek out the people who you want to engage with and do just that!

Reviewing what works and doesn’t work is the final step to make sure you reach your goals on LinkedIn. This evaluation process ensures that what you are doing is correct and allows you to make any necessary changes in order to reach your objectives more successfully.

Value drives value

An important element for every company should be marketing with purpose and following a purpose-led decision strategy by placing organisational purpose at the core of everything they do. Hearing from the advertising team at Microsoft, they put purpose at the centre of the company and see glowing results. This helps to create a shared meaning between the customer and the brand. With purpose comes trust and loyalty.

Research by Microsoft has found that having trust in a product can increase sales by a substantial amount, a drive long term success. For example, there is a potential increase in sales by 4.7x in the financial service sector, highlighting the importance of trust and loyalty. From loyalty comes growth in responsibility, value and inclusion. These are all essential to any company and should be prioritised to help increase sales and create a positive environment for both the employees and the customer.

Want support with putting these insights into action? Get in touch with us to help you elevate your B2B marketing and achieve a successful 2023.

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ESG communications: don’t try and keep up with the Joneses… but do keep an eye on them

By Chris Bowman, Strategy & Content Director 

ESG communications can seem a tangled knot of paradoxes at times. Case in point: ESG can only succeed through standardization and comparability of data, yet at the same time it must be accurate and sincere – and sincerity requires specificity.  

Don’t try and keep up with the Joneses…

Credible ESG initiatives are necessarily highly specific to a company’s unique circumstances. There is no one-size-fits all way to decarbonise, for example – each company will have its own mix of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions sources and need to cut accordingly. Social and governance contexts are equally idiosyncratic. ESG communications must reflect this specificity, too. 

Therefore, it is a doomed strategy to simply copy the competition. ESG communications can appear new and fraught with pitfalls, and so it can be tempting to wait and see what the other guys are doing and simply copy and paste. You’ll never be a leader that way, you may reason, but equally you’ll never be left behind or risk poking your head above the parapet. However, the reasoning is flawed. If you cleave too closely to competitors’ ESG communications – which are specific to them – the risk is that the same messages and tactics ring hollow and inauthentic in the context of your brand.  

Again: one size does not fit all, and ESG communications should be as bespoke as possible to the individual brand, while respecting common metrics and language. They should incorporate and reflect the company’s overall brand strategy and messaging, speak to the specifics of their ESG initiatives and why the way Company A designed Initiative X respects the unique situation, resources and ambitions of that company. 

…but do keep an eye on them

That said, don’t swing too far the other way. No brand is big and important enough to get away with being utterly introspective and ignoring the wider world.  

In the context of ESG communications, this can be critical. Rightly or wrongly, your ESG efforts will be evaluated against the competition. Investors, customers and other stakeholders must be convinced that you offer an equal or better option than the competition in terms of the ESG factors they care about.  

In simple terms, this can descend to war of numbers. Company A has cut 30% of its emissions versus Company B’s 22%; Company C has a 50/50 board gender ratio while Company D has only 40/60. This is agreeable enough if you’re winning, but simple numbers can hide complex truths.  

If you are in Company B or D’s shoes, you might benefit from telling a more nuanced narrative that adds context to the numbers. Perhaps Company C already had a 45/55 ratio and improvement is slow, whereas D has invested heavily to improve. Perhaps C is in a country where culture and working practices make it easier for women in the workplace versus D’s. Context is critical – which brings us back to specificity.  

But you can’t introduce that narrative if you’re unaware of the framing that is already out there. Has the competition already established the framing? Or is there still white space for your brand to take the initiative?  

You’ll only know if you’re looking at what the competition is doing. So, while you don’t want to try and keep up with the Joneses, you should keep an eye on them. 

Facing ESG communications challenges? Read our whitepaper or contact the team – we can help. 

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Clarity is key: when advertising campaigns go wrong

By Jamee Kirkpatrick, Senior Account Director, Energy and Industrials

As someone who is lives locally to where BrewDog was founded and is still producing beers, I’ve had an eye on their marketing tactics over the years. Agree with them or don’t, but BrewDog has been known to find themselves in the hot seat on more than one occasion.  

Some would argue that their stunts over the years were rarely right (although, I may argue that they got people’s attention, and it helped them become a household brand – whether that’s ‘punk’ or not) but the brewing giant has come under fire again with their latest advertising blunder 

What went wrong for BrewDog?

This time, the issues for BrewDog came following a mailer sent in July 2022 titled ‘Feeling Fruity’ which was advertising its Hazy Jane Guava beer alongside a host of other fruity numbers. What was the issue? BrewDog sent the email with the subject ‘One of your five a day’ 

BrewDog countered the complaints saying that they believed that recipients would understand that alcoholic beverages were not equivalent to portions of fruit or vegetables, emphasising that the subject was not intended to be a factual claim about the beers.  

Understandably, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who is the independent regulator of advertising across all media, agreed that this was misleading and has upheld the complaint stating: “The ASA acknowledged that the subject heading “One of your five a day” might be interpreted by some consumers as a humorous nod to the fruit flavoured beers featured in the body of the email. However, because the claim referred to well-known government advice on health and wellbeing, we considered that, in general, consumers would not expect advertisers to include such claims unless the advertised product was recognised as meeting the requirements of that advice. Further, the claim appeared in the email’s subject heading, which we considered positioned it as a key element of the ad’s message.” You can read the ruling here 

When advertising goes badly

This isn’t the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, that advertising has gone wrong.  

The Netflix docuseries ‘Pepsi, Where’s my Jet’ which was released recently revisits the story of John Leonard, who at 20-years-old attempted to win a fighter jet in a Pepsi sweepstake and he set the stage for a David versus Goliath court battle for the history books against the food and drinks company, all because a lack of clarity – or small print – in the ad. I’m sure we all remember Pepsi’s other marketing blunder which included a Kardashian and some very questionable editorial choices. 

Some of the biggest household brands have been getting caught up in controversy centred around poor editorial decisions which have led customers to question the ethics of said companies as well as focus on issues such as sexism, racism and just downright bad taste in ads.  

In just the last few years beauty brands such as Nivea, supermarkets like Coop, retailers such as H&M and notably recently, fashion house, Balenciaga, have found themselves facing backlash or embroiled in not only complaints to the ASA but full on court battles as a result. 

Why is getting your advertising – or messaging – right so important?

Advertising is everywhere. From tv and magazines, to social media and your online search engine, there is no avoiding it and it’s a powerful tool for businesses. Effective advertising makes people remember your name… but so does bad advertising 

If you don’t work in marketing, you might not know how many stages there are in creating the perfect ad, but let’s just say, it goes through a lot of people from concept to delivery, so when that backlash hits, you know that somewhere there are a lot of people with their head in their hands.  

In some instances, you could argue that the message is subjective. Take BrewDog. They thought they were making a joke, but does that make it okay?  

As we’ve seen, the ASA doesn’t think so. Yes, brands need to have room to express themselves or have personality, but even those harmless ‘jokes’ have come back to have some very serious repercussions on brands.  

Small print exists on television or picture ads for a reason. Managing your messaging and hyper-analysing your social media ad copy or your email subject lines requires a level of scrutiny that some brands may not feel is necessary, but when the brand reputation is on the line, how important is that joke, really?  

Getting it right is crucial. As is working with the right people – or agency – to help you challenge your ‘good ideas’. Sometimes, we all need to be tempered and that’s where a specialist communications agency comes in.  

If you’re looking to up your communications or advertising game next year but don’t want to find yourself embroiled in drama, speak to our integrated team today to find out how we can help you grow your brand presence and generate leads through our results-based approach!    

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