Category: Financial Services

How professional services firms can edge out the competition this Q4 by refreshing communications strategies

By Kirsten Scott, Deputy Head of Financial Services

Rod Stewart famously sang, “It’s late September and I really should be back at school.” The boys (and girls) of summer are indeed gone. If you were lucky enough to have holiday time off in August, you are probably already steeped in an unrelenting race to meet Q3 objectives and end of the year objectives. After a few years of robust revenue and productivity growth, the professional services industries now expect growth to level off considerably under suffocating macroeconomic trends. Both the US and UK economies remain plagued by high interest rates and inflation, and flat growth. Experts project the UK will finish with only 0.4% GDP growth in 2023, while the US will come in around 2%. Further, analysts downgraded their 2024-2025 expectations, noting the interest rates will not drop to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.

Legal, accounting, consulting, and other professional services leaders now return from summer holidays poised to tackle growth-hampering headwinds like shrinking margins, increased competition, talent shortages, and regulatory changes. We talked to some of the professional services sector experts here at Aspectus to glean some insights into how professional services firms can ensure they stand out in the second half of 2023 and how they should ramp up communications approaches for the rest of the year.

Appraise the competition’s media communications footprint

Communications, marketing, and PR leaders spend so much time focused inward, advancing their firms’ media and messaging strategies, that it is easy to lose a handle on what competitor firms are saying in the mediascape. It’s a challenge to break through the noise in the crowded professional services industry, and with firms being impacted by macroeconomic conditions, everyone needs to work that much harder to increase or maintain market share. Just as in other business functions like product development and client service, professional services firms should assess how competitors are talking to their stakeholders and positioning themselves in the media. And when we say assess what they are doing, we don’t just mean taking a quick scan of their website, recent media hits, or asking industry peers their opinions of the competition. We mean really checking under the bonnet.

PR and marketing managers should dig into which communications channels they are using, how frequently they are using them, what topics and themes are they talking about – and then assess which messaging tactics you should mirror, and where there could be whitespace on which to capitalize. Firms should choose a couple of top competitors and generate a landscape analysis, an assessment of competitors’ media exposure in comparison to their own. They can execute a comparative analysis of website, keywords, and SEO performance. If you can figure out what thought leadership conversations firms are having in the media, you can get a grip on how they are positioning themselves in the market. Effectively, it’s a media SWOT analysis (who said they were only for a firm’s overall business position?), and they are a great way to evaluate your position in the market and make necessary communications strategy adjustments to improve or refine your positioning for Q4.

Reassess and refine your brand messaging

Now that you know where your firm stands against the competition in the media, you can make some tactical changes to retool your approach or upgrade your marketing or PR game, wherever it needs to be. PR, marketing, and communications executives will often revisit their brand’s messaging when a firm goes through a big change like a merger/acquisition, a change in value proposition, a rebranding, or brand refresh. However, they should also periodically revisit their brand messaging platform in accordance with changing market conditions or, as noted above, competitor positioning.

A messaging house is a master comms bible document of sorts in which a company formalizes how it communicates with its target audiences and all stakeholders. This document should be a North Star that any public facing department uses to communicate to stakeholders, from prospects and talent to investors and shareholders. All too often reviewing your firm’s messaging is a task that slips to the bottom of the list. But the last couple of years have seen constant disruptions, whether it’s been the pandemic, rapid digitization, or increased ESG expectations, we have seen a massive shift in what clients value and what they want from their advisers. Communications and marketing leaders should devote time to a refined messaging house document to ensure that their messaging platform is continually consistent, aligned with overall PR objectives, and stands up to scrutiny.

Creativity sparks engagement from key audiences

Whilst trust and relationships are of paramount importance to professional services firms, that doesn’t mean there is no room for creativity in marketing and communications. Especially for marketers who feel stuck in a rut in which their digital communications have grown stale and repetitive, a concentrated effort on considered creativity can help stimulate more compelling content. Our own creative director Daniel George coined the term to crystallize how we strive to deliver elevated campaigns and content by combining our right- and left-brain talents.

Considered creativity means we use our bright creative minds not merely to be creative for creativity’s sake, but combining raw creativity with intelligent insights about both the client’s PR and business objectives and the sector’s most relevant, trending issues. The best way to stand out, grab attention, and demand action from prospects is to ignite a spark in their mind that hasn’t been lit before through bold, attention-grabbing content – whether a social post, an op-ed byline, white paper, press release, video, or other. You want to be talked about for all the right reasons, and getting creative is the best way to control the narrative, start conversations, and engage the right target audiences.

Inspire the right target audiences

As an industry that relies on human capital and expertise, its firms put a premium on optimizing how they talk to their key audiences, how they position themselves in the market, and how they communicate their brands to all stakeholders. A 2023 Mavenlink research report revealed that increased competition was the number one challenge for businesses in the professional services sector, followed by managing changing client expectations at number two. Firms can separate themselves from the competition in Q4 by refreshing their strategic marketing and communications strategies to align with tightening economic conditions, changing consumer expectations, and a noisy mediascape. According to Thomson Reuters Institute’s 2023 State of the U.K. Legal Market report, “Firms need to re-consider how they present and deliver value to their clients. The key lies in understanding and meeting client needs…” Clear communication of a firm’s value proposition requires that all internal and external communications are consistent, compelling, and convincing – it’s the only way to drive change and make a sustained impact.

If any of this has got you interested in what you can elevate your marketing strategy this year, get in touch with our team of global experts.

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When green bonds turn brown: Thames Water kicks up a stink

By Chris Bowman, Associate Director

Thames Water has been on the front pages for all the wrong reasons, discharging millions of litres of undiluted sewage into two rivers and earning itself a £3.3m fine – only the latest in a litany of such headlines.

It has also been on the business pages, ostensibly for all the right reasons: it has issued around $2.8 billion of green bonds across four issues since the start of 2022.

It doesn’t take an expert to notice a discrepancy here. And in fact, the some 200 ESG funds that eagerly snapped up the green bonds seem to be suffering some buyers’ remorse, with prices plummeting.

This will be music to the ears of the anti-ESG crowd, who will pounce on any opportunity to decry the whole concept as a woke folly, motivated for all the wrong reasons, and irretrievably flawed.

And you know what – far be it from me to argue with investment experts on what constitutes a good investment. If your focus is on making money and these bonds lose it, then who can argue that poor decisions haven’t been made?

However, it strikes me – as an admittedly lowly comms professional – that if we zoom out a little, this is arguably a prime example of ESG as a concept doing exactly what it’s meant to.

ESG at root is a movement about information and data, not values – at least, not a prescriptive set of values. ESG gives the data to make decisions based on principle, but is in itself principle agnostic.

To wit, ‘ESG’ is not about some vague yet specific set of ‘woke’ principles applied to an investment strategy. It may be the case that there is broad consensus that climate change is bad and civil rights are good, but fundamentally ESG does not require that you agree. If you think the opposite – e.g. that climate change is a hoax and the oil companies that stay the course will rake it in – then you can use the same data, information and analysis to inform your strategy.

ESG is about providing a broader set of information for investors to factor into their decisions. It is about free markets and free choice. Want to apply some specific criteria to your portfolio? Go for it. Don’t care? Equally, no problem – but with increasing ESG data disclosure – such as that mandated by the EU’s SFDR – you can make an informed choice.

So, back to Thames Water. What are we to make of these green bonds turning brown? Is it a searing indictment of the very notion of ESG? No, this is exactly what we want to see – companies putting out ESG related data and instruments and being punished by the market when they turn out to be effluent. Accountability. Proof that greenwashing can’t get all the stains out.

It is a childish idea that every ESG/sustainable/green investment would turn out to be squeaky clean, and I don’t think anyone ever really believed it. It is therefore a strawman to use incidents like this as evidence that the whole concept is bunk. What we have is a movement to provide access to a broader, deeper set of data to inform investment decisions from a new angle, and people changing their decisions when new information comes to light.

ESG has come in for a kicking in the media recently, with the op-ed pendulum seeming to swing behind the naysayers for now. However, there is real value in firms improving their ESG performance and communicating about doing so. It would be a shame if anti-ESG clamour around events like this scared communicators into leaving this value on the table – though care should always be taken.

No doubt ESG will continue to evolve. Maybe the name will even change. But the genie is not going back in the bottle – people accustomed to a greater degree of data and transparency will not happily revert to a less-informed view. That deserves pointing out and defending.

All investments involve risks including possible loss of principal, or your green bonds turning brown. Past green performance does not guarantee future green performance. Discretion is advised.

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Why we care more about bad news… and how spokespeople can cut through

By Alex Newlove, Senior Account Manager

It is a common complaint that journalists tend to focus on the ‘bad’ stories that make us despair about the state of the world. Our clients sometimes worry that journalists’ propensity for covering conflict and mishap will lead to quotes being taken out of context and placed in an overwhelmingly negative story.

Who else subscribes to a news service where the refrain below-the-line is often “I will be cancelling my subscription to this alarmist newspaper, I expected better”?

The insinuation behind these complaints is that journalists go out of their way to irritate and alarm us, just for fun. Sometimes, the follow-up statement from commenters will be something like, “why can’t you report on some good news for a change?”.

The answer to this question is clear: editors have better information than ever about what people are reading, given that the vast majority of news is now clicked on, as opposed to leafed through. I would argue that this makes us all culpable for the quality and tone of the news agenda. You clicked on one too many articles about Kim Kardashian’s bum, and you are now living in the mean and superficial world which you helped to mould. Social media has further fueled an environment that rewards only the most extreme, black-and-white opinions.

But while I have just implied that we all have a degree of responsibility for the negative news cycle, we are also born with brains that fire up for drama and disaster; merely flicker for charming stories with a happy ending; and barely register accounts of where things have gone well or adhered to the status quo – in fact this latter group is barely considered news at all.

Excuse me while my undergraduate psychology course rears its ugly head, but this penchant for bad news makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. The ‘negativity bias’ meant our ancestors were vastly more likely to put their attention towards what could be a snake in the grass, over admiring a glorious blue sky. Ignoring potential bad news (the approaching snake) was vastly riskier than not focusing on neutral or good news. Similar mechanisms are at work when we find it easier to recall insults than compliments, and why you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard a plane had crashed into the twin towers. Your brain registered the perceived shocking threat and helpfully filed the ‘lesson’ for later.

This negativity bias poses a challenge for PR people. Our clients often come to us desperately excited about a new project their team has been working energetically on for many months. We are sometimes in the unenviable position of telling them “sorry, no-one cares”. This will be translated to something along the lines of “What an exciting initiative! Unfortunately, due to the busy news agenda we cannot imagine this will get much traction with the media at this time”.

So how can firms capitalise on a grim news agenda, without coming across as overly pessimistic, or getting drawn into a slanging match with competitors?

Contrarian points of view

Restating the status quo does not get you quoted. The journalist wants colour and opinion – what is your or your company’s attitude towards a topic? Can you critique a prevailing idea or theory, or even your own industry, before covering what your firm is doing to change it? (We recommend against criticising specific competitors.)

Use their angle to your advantage

Ask the journalist if they already have an angle in mind. If you feel it is inaccurate or overly-negative, this gives you a chance to come up with a more positive counter-narrative and will help guide your responses throughout the conversation.

Move the story on

The journalist is always trying to write the next chapter on a given topic, so there is little point in extensively rehashing old ground. Give them something fresh to go on and explain how an issue is moving on. “Now the market is shifting, and our clients have started asking us about Y. This means…”

Be fearless: say what you think

A big frustration for journalists is the extent to which senior people in well-paid positions are afraid to venture an opinion, even where it correlates to their company’s messaging. The world is gasping for thoughtful, frank, discussion. Being passionate and showing personality is good.

Aspectus can help your company navigate a turbulent news agenda. Contact us.

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Singapore: Switzerland’s secret admirer

By Tom Robertson, Senior Account Executive, FS 

There’s nowhere more exciting to be for wealth than Singapore right now.

In 2022, the financial centre attracted $448 billion in net AUM inflows, 15.8 per cent higher than previous years. But why has a presence in this country become so essential for fund managers, family offices and intermediaries? Singapore has long been a beneficiary of wealth from the Chinese mainland, and this ramped up significantly following China’s 2020 encroachment on Hong Kong – previously a free-market competitor to Singapore. And with US-China relations particularly strained, Singapore has become the vessel for (U)HNW individuals to manager their wealth. And with a recession that is not expected to hit the Asian markets in the same way as the West, the landscape has been set for Singapore to reap the rewards. It most definitely has taken its opportunity to become a financial superpower.

The country has set up an attractive tax structure and strong fund regime, alongside an internationally respected financial regulator to go alongside its political stability and neutrality that has earned it the nickname of the Switzerland of Asia. For international family offices, the draw has been too big to turn down. China is responsible for one third of the total global net worth growth since 2000, and isn’t slowing down any time soon. And keen not to miss out on the action, western firms are also moving their APAC headquarters to Singapore.

Without a doubt therefore, it’s an exciting time for players in the APAC private wealth space, but how can businesses capitalise on this rapid influx? For multi-family offices, now is the time to highlight your presence in Singapore, whether you’ve been based here for two months or two years, getting in front of your target market with the right message is essential. The Singapore revolution is more than definitely underway, and if Singapore can continue to hold its attractive pull for wealthy families from across China and further afield, it looks like it’s going to be a stronghold for private capital for many years to come.

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5 tips to break into broadcast across Asia-Pacific

By Thamsia Salam, Account Executive, FS 

If you want reach more of your audience, more quickly, then engaging the broadcast media is crucial. Video consumption across APAC has been growing steadily and the region is now one of the largest pay-TV regions in the world. Over 80 per cent of TV households have one or more connected TV devices, and the average household has up to 4.1 connected TV devices in the region.

The popular quote, “if it was easy, then everyone would do it” comes to mind. And while broadcast opportunities don’t come without their challenges, securing spots on the likes of CNA 938 or CNBC Asia is not impossible, no matter the existing brand recognition. Our top tips below!

Planning makes perfect

Even reactive opportunities guided by breaking news stories need to be planned. Businesses must make sure they know well in advance upcoming events or milestones so that when news does emerge, they are already prepared to pitch to producers. A dedicated news gathering team or department can be created to make this a success.

Right person, right time!

Typically, assistant editors rotate between planning and news gathering, so phoning the news desk and finding out who is on planning that week is crucial. Often, emails sent directly to the news desk are unmanned and therefore become lost opportunities. Make sure you are also pitching to the right people and have built contacts who are either producers, editors, or assistant news editors.

Pitching in a pinch

It’s important that you keep an email pitch as succinct as possible. Don’t bother wasting time in a subject line with news release or comments, instead make it as concise as possible. For example, if it is a pitch around a budget, ‘Budget Day interview with XYZ’ works well. Although all media pitches require conciseness, broadcast pitches need an additional layer of being snappy and succinct. Additionally, it is super useful to link to previous broadcast coverage, even if this is just YouTube videos on your owned channels. It is also key to include as many relevant photos where possible to the story, in order to demonstrate that the story can work well on screen.

Keep it relevant

If your story is relevant to a specific region, then there is no use in pitching it wider to nationals. In that case, a regional programme will be your best bet. Understanding the media landscape means ensuring you are targeting outlets in a nuanced way, rather than with a broad stroke. If you have an emerging story, understanding if it needs to be fully localised or regionalised is key. Of course, what works in Singapore won’t necessarily work in Vietnam.

Pitch perfect!

It can be easy to get caught up in the frenzy of securing a slot for a spokesperson, even if they aren’t the right fit. For broadcast, it is key that the spokesperson is not only an expert in their field but is also adequately media trained.  Anything less and significant damage could be made to your relationship with the producer – or worse – to the reputation of the business.

As we are coming across many technological developments alongside the fast-paced news agenda, broadcast media will continue to remain a powerful tool for building brand presence and real expert credibility. So, if you are keen to make an impact and build your brand presence in Singapore then talk to us at Aspectus.

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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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