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Article • 14/03/2023

Exec Connect UK: ESG, layoffs, and metaverse take center stage

Last week, PR and comms leaders from some of the world’s leading brands gathered in London for the Exec Connect breakfast series. With remarks from Mitch Barltrop, Managing Director at FTI Consultingone of the largest financial consulting firms in the world – the event featured a deep dive into some of the most pressing issues and trends facing communicators and business decision makers today, with a focus on findings from the latest Signal AI 500 report – a reputation ranking of 500 of the world’s most-talked-about companies. Among the report’s key findings:

  • Finance saw the biggest negative mention increase in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Q4, accounting for 20% of all downsizing mentions, second only to tech. 
  • Impact investing is under scrutiny after multiple environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scandals, with net sentiment dropping by 50% compared to the beginning of the year.
  • Crypto companies are visibly suffering, with FTX accounting for 45% of negative chatter in the industry, even though they represented only 19% of the conversation. 

Signal AI posed several thought-provoking questions to the audience, such as why certain industries are more impacted by layoffs than others, and how businesses can prioritize ESG in their reputation strategy and remain authentic while responding to activism and public sentiment.

The discussion that followed yielded many insightful observations. There was a general consensus that sectors outside of finance were hardest hit by negative coverage surrounding corporate downsizing, marking a significant shift from the 2008 financial crisis when banks bore the brunt of the blame. Energy companies, in particular, were viewed more unfavorably due to their profit growth during a period of rising living costs. With the tech and energy sectors taking the brunt of negative coverage, financial services companies seemed to be “flying under the radar.” 

The discussion also touched on earned media being the best way to demonstrate ESG credentials, with some participants suggesting that ESG narratives carry more weight when told through the lens of a journalist. However, major media outlets frequently avoid reporting on ESG initiatives, with storylines around Performance and Innovation generally considered more newsworthy. 

The conversation also explored the distinction between trust and likability. For example, consumers may trust a business to handle their money but not necessarily like it. Conversely, they may like a company but not trust it. This dynamic works in favor of established players in the financial services industry.

Another highlight of the discussion was the potential of the metaverse, and how companies can leverage it to build relationships with their stakeholders. Participants noted that companies need to authentically message how the metaverse supports their stakeholders, rather than merely attaching themselves to the latest trend.

Finally, the discussion emphasized the importance of aligning measurement with business objectives and the need to define and measure success. Attendees highlighted the significance of building reputation frameworks and using data to inform strategy.

Overall, the discussion was a thought-provoking exploration of corporate reputation, ESG priorities, and the importance of data-driven decision-making. By understanding what success looks like and leveraging insights to guide their strategies, businesses can more effectively engage with their stakeholders and drive positive sentiment.

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