All posts by rachel_eaton

Business as a force for good – are we at a tipping point?

Business as a force for good – are we at a tipping point?

On 19 August, the Business Roundtable, a group of leading CEOs of the largest corporations in the USA, agreed a new purpose beyond creating value for shareholders. The ‘Statement on the purpose of a corporation’ was signed by almost 200 members, including Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Tim Cook (Apple). This move signals a significant shift away from the short term thinking fuelled by quarterly reporting in the capital markets. It enables CEOs to balance the interests of all stakeholders with those of shareholders. This means that employees, suppliers, the wider community, the environment and society at large can be factored into board-level decision-making. What’s interesting is that among all of the brands tuned into consumer pressure, the Round Table is currently led by Jamie Dimon, CEO of the financial institution, JPMorgan Chase.

The founders of B Lab penned a response in FastCompany inviting the Roundtable CEOs to become B Corps, pointing out that the movement they founded a decade ago offers CEOs a tried, trusted and practical route to achieving these goals, aligned with the SDGs. In order to be certified as a B Corp, organisations complete the B Impact Assessment (BIA). This free online tool is available to view at www.bimpactassessment.net. It helps build more balanced businesses by asking questions about 5 key areas of operation: Governance, workers, supply chain, community, and the environment, moving beyond certifying products, to certifying the ethics and actions of entire organisations.

These events are playing out against a dramatic backdrop. From 20 -27 September businesses are being encouraged to down tools and take to the streets to protest for the accelerated end of fossil fuels in a Global Climate Strike. The web site features young activist, Greta Thunberg with the line ‘If not you, who, If not now, when?’

Visit the Extinction Rebellion web site and you are greeted with ‘International Rebellion begins Monday 7 October’ In the year since Greta Thunberg stopped going to school to protest against the lack of Government action on the Climate Emergency, different groups have mobilised 1.6 million students across the world to strike for the same cause. #FridaysForFutures has become a globally active movement.

The actions of the Business Roundtable, B Lab’s response, the press coverage it has generated and the many events that are planned (eg. B Inspired in London in October) plus all of the communication about the Global Climate Strike are still just a handful of initiatives among so many that are underway around the world. It really does feel as though we are set for a new order of business. But what does that mean for corporate reputation?

The comments on the Business Roundtable statement and the resulting press coverage have focused on the need for deeds not only words. Anyone who works in corporate communications will understand that for a company and its CEO, signing up to something as significant as the end of shareholder value creation primacy is, in fact, a big deal. Companies know that their stakeholders are listening and will hold them to account. It feels wrong to characterize this move in terms of winners and losers because the stakes are high for everyone. But there is nevertheless a sense of expectation in the air that it is time for companies who want to be out in front to do more than advocate for change.  It’s time for businesses to take action and be the change that the world needs.

INFLUENTIAL VOICES IN UK WASTE MANAGEMENT 2019

INFLUENTIAL VOICES IN UK WASTE MANAGEMENT 2019

With the ‘Attenborough effect’ propelling waste management companies into the public spotlight, it’s never been such a critical time for these companies to shape the direction of policy and commercial discussions.

Gong Communications recently highlighted 12 of our favourite waste management organisations in the UK based on their approaches to communications between 2018 and 2019. Our ‘Influential Voices in Waste Management 2019’ paper is a concise, 7-page analysis of which companies are excelling in their proactive engagement. Taking an outside perspective, focus areas include companies’ commentary on news and key issues, thought-leadership initiatives as well as their on-and-offline presence.

Our checklist also provides some pointers on how companies can turn the growing pressure to demonstrate innovation and adaptation into an opportunity to showcase best practice, build reputational resilience and stimulate supply chain collaboration.

 

Sarah Nicholas

SARAH NICHOLAS

Q&A with Sarah Nicholas who rapidly progressed from an Account Executive to an Account Director in just 4.5 years at Gong. She left to finish her Masters Degree in Environment and Development and now works for DEFRA as a Senior Policy Advisor.

How did we first meet you?

I saw a job ad on my university careers page at Oxford for an Account Executive position, but by the time I’d got in touch, you’d already hired someone. I had a coffee with Frankie (former Head of Ops) and we kept in contact and next time a role came up, she got back in touch to see if I was still interested.

What was it about Gong that appealed?

Before I started working, I interned around the world. I did 3 months in Uganda working on a water and sanitation project and 5 months in Mumbai working with an education charity. I’d also been to Madagascar on a gap year. I came back to London to do a crisis management internship and was hired. That’s where I was almost a year later when you got back in touch. Africa and sustainable development were a big pull. I also liked the fact that although Gong was relatively small, you talked about giving people plenty of responsibility which would stretch me and enable me to prove myself more quickly.

What was your formative experience of Gong?

The global agribusiness, Olam was the most formative account I worked on. It was challenging in terms of ways and speed of working and the big international thorny issues that it deals with related to global food security and sustainability. I also really enjoyed the Economist events, they were good fun to help publicise and exposed me to so many different people and topics in a really short period of time.

What did you bring to the business over and above client service?

I met Sara Leedom when we worked on the Oxford Said Africa conference where she was one of the organisers. After she graduated, she invited us to a launch event for her initiative, The Africa Entrepreneur Collective (which was based in Rwanda). She had a lot of MBA students doing summer placements and volunteer mentors from big 4 accountancy and consultancy backgrounds, but she hadn’t got anyone with communications experience which was relevant for her cohort of entrepreneurs. Sara and I worked on a proposition which I brought back to Gong, that we would send someone out to be a communications advisor as part of our CSR work. And luckily for me, I was the first person to go.

What did you get from that experience?

I arrived in Rwanda when they were in the middle of their first international expansion. I was thrown in the deep end by being flown to Tanzania to train a group of people without any time to prepare. It ended up being a blend of PR 101 and media training. Everyone recorded a short intro on themselves and I taught them how to engage with a camera. It was a confidence building experience to swim, not sink in that situation. 

Where else did you travel for work?

I went back to Madagascar for a client, on what felt like a flying visit and a very different situation. We were expecting to deliver a strategic comms workshop with a new CEO and top team, but when we got there, we realised the real challenge was generating internal buy-in and culture change for the CEO’s new direction. We flipped our approach on the hoof and invited the wider management team in to co-create the new comms strategy and branding. It was challenging because only one person had English as a 1st language, and for the majority, it was their 3rd language and none of them had comms experience.

What skills did you hone at Gong?

I learned to think on my feet, be flexible and change tack if necessary. I also learned about people and cross-cultural collaboration; without shared experiences, you have to engage and get people on board in other ways. My time at Gong helped me develop emotional intelligence (EQ) and resilience. I honestly think it gives me the edge over my civil service background colleagues in what I’m doing now. Also, uncertainty and a constantly changing backdrop is part of being in a small business where things happen quickly. I’m comfortable with change now that I’m working in the context of Brexit where you can’t write a new script fast enough before the political situation has changed again!

Lessons learned?

I need work to feel challenging but I have learned how essential it is to be able to really switch-off regularly. The downside to being a lynchpin in a company where you have wonderful responsibility is that it can be sometimes be hard to focus on other things.

Did working at Gong help crystallize what you wanted to achieve in your career?

I found stuff that I could spend hours getting lost in that would probably feel dense and dull to 95% of people, like food security and the link with water security, REDD+ and agro-forestry.

Career-wise, I had the opportunity to speak to really interesting people and had a reason to be in the room at events that would otherwise have been behind closed doors. I got to see the inner world of business and gained an understanding of the nuances of things that can otherwise seem pretty black and white.

Most unexpected experience?

Sitting in a hot tub at Soho Farmhouse post Christmas dinner with my colleagues! Didn’t expect to be doing that through work!

What’s been your legacy?

Introducing Gong to the B Corp movement and leading the business through certification is still my proudest career achievement. I think it took us 18 months from the first conversation to certify Gong as a B Corp. Every time I see a post on social media I have a smidge of pride that it’s going so well.

Now that I’m working in an enormous organisation, I can see the impact you are able to have in a small, nimble company and the fact that you can actually change things as an individual.

GARDEN CITY

BRANDING AND CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS

GARDEN CITY

The Challenge

Garden City comprises East Africa’s largest retail mall, residential and office space, plans for a hotel and grounds. The Garden City investors and developers wanted a reliable partner for all of their marketing and communications needs to support the property sales teams; position the mall to attract high footfall and manage all aspects of the launch.

The Strategy

The initial part of the brief focused on strengthening the visuals and straplines, through a new website design and setting up social media channels and a digital newsletter to win local buy-in to the project. We event managed the launch, ran the Garden City press office and managed crisis communications (through an unsuccessful terrorist attack).

The Outcome

Gong successfully managed the opening of Garden City in September 2015 organising and managing all aspects of the launch including a gala opening for 500 people. Billboards were sorted, adverts placed and marketing materials redeveloped and distributed. At time of writing in 2019, we are still working with Garden City across its portfolio of assets.

SOLAR AFRICA

POSITIONING A FRESH APPROACH TO RENEWABLE ENERGY

SOLAR AFRICA

The Challenge

Working together with Solar Africa’s UK based team, we set out to publicise a major new client reference site for Solar Africa in East Africa.

The Strategy

Gong advised on initial media relations strategy in Africa and suggested logo and website redesigns.

We wrote case studies, worked on their messaging and prepared relevant press releases.

The Outcome

Gong secured coverage for Solar Africa in target business press such as the Financial Times and the Guardian and local media such as CCTV.

Business leads have resulted from Gong’s networking support and media relations activities.

CONTINENTAL REINSURANCE

LAUNCHING IN NEW MARKETS

CONTINENTAL REINSURANCE

The Challenge

Continental Re (CRe) is a pan-African reinsurance company headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. CRe partnered with leading private equity firm, ECP to fund its pan-Africa expansion.

Gong was tasked with refreshing the entire suite of marketing assets from web site to annual report to make the brand as crisp and cohesive as possible.

From its base in West Africa, CRe wanted to expand its reach into the dynamic East African market by opening an office in Kenya to target insurance companies in Nairobi. This followed a new office opening closer to home in Cote d’Ivoire.

The Strategy 

Gong rolled out the branding to signpost a dynamic new phase of growth. We then set up a series of well attended events, which helped kick start media outreach to generate high profile coverage.

The Outcome

The launch events, each for over 100 guests were well attended by industry influencers and commentators. Follow on PR included coverage of new appointments, interviews in South African, pan African, Francophone and international insurance and business press.

Gong is currently working with CRe on managing and promoting an annual competition for insurance journalism with events across Africa and in London.

ADVISING THE CEO OF A WATER COMPANY

COMMUNICATING THROUGH A NATURAL RESOURCES CRISIS

ADVISING THE CEO OF A WATER COMPANY

Our client managed water production, treatment and distribution for the capital city and 56 other main cities in an African country. The Company is QSE-certified on all areas of its business and ranks as a “mature” company on the ISO 26000 scale.

One September morning, a pipe in its water treatment plant incurred a rupture. The tear caused a severe loss of pressure resulting in water shortages across the capital. The client’s immediate response was to repair the leak by placing a cast around the pipe, to avoid further damage.  Unfortunately, the cast did not hold and collapsed again 7 days later, mainly due to heavy rains.

Working with both the PE investor and the CEO of the water company, Gong developed a crisis communications strategy. The company needed to communicate clearly that it was the old infrastructure that had been underinvested by the government that had failed. The PE investor needed to keep the government on-side. With this nuanced brief, we developed media materials and talking points and encouraged clear regular media engagement to get the message out pro-actively. Following the eye of the crisis storm Gong developed recommendations for a longer-term communications strategy and plan.

AN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION BUSINESS

TURNING AROUND STAKEHOLDER SUPPORT FOR A PE FIRM DEAL

AN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION BUSINESS

Our client, a US headquartered private equity firm, had been working on a deal for 2 years in the higher education sector to acquire a university which was in part owned by a professional services membership body.

In order for the transaction to proceed, the members needed to vote through the resolution. Other stakeholders also needed to be reassured that the new owner would be good news for the future prosperity of the university, its students, staff and professional alumni.

With only weeks until the vote, we created a fully integrated campaign designed to reach each of the different audiences with the same messages to build support where it could positively influence the overall outcome.

We developed content for physical meetings, made videos, worked with the student body to communicate via facebook, ran newspaper ads, wrote and placed editorial opinion pieces in the most read local business newspaper and monitored sentiment throughout.

The vote was in favour and the deal lived on.

A GLOBAL AGRIBUSINESS

CRISIS SUPPORT THROUGH A SHORT SELLER ATTACK

A GLOBAL AGRIBUSINESS

Our client, a listed global agri-business was accused of dubious accounting practices by an infamous US short seller. His previous high profile targets included a company called Sinai Forest, (with high profile investors including the legendary hedge fund manager John Paulson) whose shares lost so much value during the reputation crisis that the company ceased trading, leaving only the short seller with a valuable upside.

The Gong team were first ‘to the scene’ when the story was about to break in London. The Financial Times called us with their story and we sprang into action. Our recommended strategy was to retaliate forcefully to refute the false claims rather than hunker down and try to ‘ride out’ the storm.

After an intensive period of media coverage and speculation and consistent presentation of the facts by the client, it emerged stronger from the crisis with its reputation as a business force for good not only intact, but strengthened by its high profile sustainability ‘next’ practices.