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Corporate Comms ESG Integration Vital as Media Fatigue and 'Greenwashing' Risks Rise - GCP Survey

Updated: Jun 10

The integration of Environmental, Social and Governance positioning into corporate communications has become vital for companies, but there are signs of some firms deprioritising ESG strategies and of media fatigue with the corporate narrative on these issues, an international survey of top-tier independent financial communication agencies in the Global Communication Partners (GCP) network concluded. The legal risks of ‘greenwashing’ in corporate communications are also rising.


GCP has 17 member agencies and representation in all the world’s main financial centres across 23 countries with 2,500 professionals and a combined revenue of over USD 200 million. The global ESG communications survey was carried out for GCP by Opinium Research.


ESG-focused work is regularly carried out across GCP agencies but is most embedded in the services of the European firms where over 20% of respondents said they were “always” collaborating with clients specifically on ESG related-messaging or campaigns, compared with around 10% of the global total. Over 30% of those surveyed in European agencies said they were “frequently” engaging with clients on ESG and that it was a core part of their business engagement, compared with about 25% in the North American and Asia-Pacific markets.


How often, if at all, does your agency collaborate with clients specifically on ESG-related messaging or campaigns?


Climate concerns dominate the work of GCP firms in the ESG space, with 90% saying environmental issues were “very” or “extremely” important. While social and governance issues matter in Europe there is a much stronger emphasis on the ‘S,’ whereas in North America and APAC governance concerns matter more in the way agencies actively address ESG in client communications.


How important is it, if at all, that your agency actively addresses the following ESG components in client communications?


When GCP agencies were asked how they anticipated the role of ESG communications evolving over the next two to three years, there was a view that they will face strong competition from audit companies. To counter this challenge, agencies need to educate clients on the role of proactive communication versus the implementation of pure ESG corporate strategies.

 

Some respondents said there were signs of ‘media fatigue’ with the repetitive overload of template corporate ESG ‘claim’ stories and that agencies must educate clients on the difference between ESG Advisory services, PR consulting and reputational management to avoid this pushback from the press and the markets.


Concerns were also voiced over the growing complexity of ESG issues and the potential legal pitfalls for companies perceived as ‘greenwashing’ in their messaging, which presents a big challenge to non-specialist internal corporate comms teams, as well as an opportunity for agencies who are able to advise clients on ways to navigate around this rapidly evolving story.


Respondents noted that the reputational risks on the horizon for financial actors were increasing with NGOs and pressure groups becoming much more vocal and skilled with ESG matters, specifically on environmental issues.


Partly in reaction to this trend, some private sector clients are deprioritising the development of ESG strategies and in the public sector seem to be becoming “very risk adverse,” focusing on risk mitigation rather than seizing the opportunities also presented (by the climate crisis). 



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