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Article • 20/03/2023

Exec Connect US: RTO, ESG storytelling and channel evolution

Signal AI recently held its first-ever Exec Connect breakfast in New York City, bringing together PR and comms leaders from global organizations for a wide-ranging discussion on the latest trends, opportunities and risks facing communicators.

The conversation covered insights from the latest Signal AI 500 report – a reputation ranking of 500 of the world’s most talked-about companies. Among the key points:

  • In ESG, Signal AI data shows that leadership on topics like biodiversity and plastic recycling can meaningfully elevate a corporation’s reputation, while inaction on those issues can be a major liability.
  • The workforce conversation is increasingly shifting beyond RTO to the very nature of collaboration itself.
  • SVB’s stunning collapse underscores the vital importance of prompt and transparent communication.

The abrupt implosion of Silicon Valley bank was understandably top-of-mind for many in attendance. Most agreed that while the crisis was sparked by SVB’s disastrous press release, subsequent communications from regulators and other financial institutions helped contain the panic and stem the fallout. Advanced measurement proved to be a vital tool for tracking the pulse of this rapidly unfolding crisis. Still, many investors remain deeply skeptical, with some cautioning that the worst could still be yet to come. Moving forward, clear reassurances from the financial system will be essential to alleviating concerns.

ESG initiatives were another topic of discussion, with participants highlighting the need for more balanced storytelling. Brands should look to find a middle ground between celebrating the progress they’ve achieved, while being candid about the work that remains to be done. By being transparent in their messaging, brands can avoid unintended blowback, such as accusations of greenwashing. While some investors remain hostile to ESG narratives, participants generally felt this opposition represented a “last gasp” and pointed to European ESG initiatives as being significantly more ambitious. Overall, attendees agreed that most firms today recognize ESG investments can be profitable while generating substantial social benefits like cleaner air and more robust recycling programs.

The future of work was another topic of conversation. Participants observed that discourse was increasingly moving beyond return-to-work plans to broader topics like the future of collaboration, hybrid work solutions, and collective time off. Some attendees noted that their company elected not to issue a formal mandate to return to the office, yet employees came back anyway. Others felt that junior workers who never experienced the value of in-person work were missing out on intangible benefits, such as “learning by osmosis.” Others cited the difficulty of building culture remotely.

Finally, participants discussed the evolving role of various communication channels. Owned channels are becoming increasingly vital, with some participants leveraging newsletters and other owned surfaces for content that doesn’t warrant a press release or LinkedIn post. Many noted how the pandemic dramatically altered readership patterns, with some seeing internal readership plummet while others saw a growing crossover between internal and external audiences.

Overall, the event afforded a lively forum for communicators to discuss the latest challenges and opportunities facing the industry. By better leveraging data and insights to inform comms strategy, brands can begin to chart new reputational whitespaces and ensure their messaging stands out in an increasingly crowded landscape.

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