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Article • 07/07/2022

Impact scores, building teams and communicating on ESG: Takeaways from our second exec connect breakfast

Much like the first event we ran earlier in the year, a key point of today was to meet up with peers and discuss data, measurement and insight with people that understand the challenges and opportunities that this represents to our industry. We spent over an hour and a half (I was almost checking out the lunch menu) discussing topics ranging from data science, impact scores and the impact that ESG will have on Communications in the coming years.

Here are my key takeaways from another fantastic event.

Boards want to see impact and trends

Impact scores are a great way to demonstrate trends in activity. The score should be proprietary in that it should be relevant to a specific use case. For example, we work with some clients where sentiment is not particularly relevant, but the percentage of articles that include a thought leadership topic is. The benefit of an impact score is that it demonstrates trends, direct comparison to peers and it also highlights where the opportunities or weaknesses are. Some metrics to include within an impact score are:

  • Sentiment – This is a great indicator of the perception of the company/brand. 
  • Salience or prominence – How dominant are we in coverage? Are we only getting mentions towards the end of a story instead of in the opening lines?
  • Messaging – Are we getting clear messages about who we are? Are these landing with target media?
  • Spokespeople – Do we have people that our audiences can associate with? How are they being received? 
  • Brand pillars or Reputation dimensions – Are we leading the conversation about the things we care about? How do we compare to others on the same topics?

Combine this into a score up to 100, and you can then weigh each metric determined by the relevance to your own initiatives. This then allows you to compare directly between competitors, markets, divisions and territories. 

Measurement can impact on how teams are built and who we are recruiting

We spoke at length about the difference between proactive and reactive communication through the lens of attempting to get messages across through the noise of reactive issues, and how we ensure measurement doesn’t blur the line between a message landing and general mentions of a company and its operations.

A large firm may get a lot of negative news but how much of this is relevant? And how can the Comms team ensure that positive coverage is getting traction? It reminded me of a project I ran about five years ago for a tech giant. The aim of this project was to determine if there was any point in promoting positive messages during a particularly tricky time for that company, or if it was all drowned out by negative news. 

Thankfully, not all brands face that challenge and it is interesting to see if structuring teams to have a separate focus on reactive news and proactive news makes a difference.

Speed of data is key

We spoke about the importance of data, not just as something that tells us what has happened but that can be used as a planning tool. It can help make the decision on if we should take the lead on an initiative or how a campaign might land with a key audience. It worked for Virgin Media O2 when first they announced that they would not charge people for data abroad and now any time this topic is mentioned there is a positive mention of O2. This moves the Comms team into the role of advisor to the Board and can indicate the reputation cost of slow decision making. Comms now has the opportunity to demonstrate a tangible impact on company performance. 

ESG is worthy but not always newsworthy

This is a trickier one to unpick. Having read with interest the Reuters Institute digital news report I asked our guests the following question:

If, as this report suggests, print engagement is declining, trust in media overall is declining, and that under 30’s are getting all of their news from Tik Tok, how do we, as communicators, ensure that we are targeting the right audience with our ESG initiatives? And how do we ensure that they gain traction given the negative news agenda? 

This sparked a lot of debate and there is no real clear cut answer. ESG can be seen as a hyper local initiative or an employee relations initiative. It is such a complex issue because it’s a topic that covers all audiences, and so no one method works for all. The road ahead is murky at best, but the appetite is there from communicators to improve the situation. 

Media data is an often missed part of the puzzle

I’ve always been told, by mixed marketing models or econometric modelling, that PR has negligible impact. I’ve never believed that. It seems logical to me that we believe companies and brands more through authentic communication than marketing or advertising. The issue before is that PR tried to play the marketing game by measuring itself according to big numbers that had no credibility. We have moved from a world of having no data, to now having too much, and the trick is finding the insight.

An impact score can tell me I need to focus on D&I or that we are losing traction in a specific territory against our competitors. We can then also link this impact score to other data sets that tell the full story of the impact of communications: How have we changed how our employees feel about us or any other stakeholder group for that matter? What impact are we having against new business strategies or making inroads into previously untapped markets? 

It is with this data and insight that communicators can use to be the trusted adviser to the board. Combine this need with the natural skill set of communications – to be able to simplify complex issues and tell great stories – and businesses can begin to navigate the minefield that ESG and other issues present. 

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