Category Archives: Insight

DOES CULTURE REALLY HAVE TO COME FROM THE TOP?

DOES CULTURE REALLY HAVE TO COME FROM THE TOP?

Narda Shirley, managing director, Gong Communications

In a pressured corporate environment, organisational culture – the purpose, values and behaviours that characterise a business – are widely understood to be a more effective route to decision making with integrity than a rulebook.

From Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why? to Larry Fink’s annual Blackrock CEO letter, we know that we should care about culture to attract and retain the best talent and impress leading investors. A strong culture mitigates reputational risk and adds value.

EY and HBR tell us that culture starts at the top with the Board and good governance and with strong narratives and corporate stories. But not every company can have an activist CEO like Paul Polman or a purposeful founder like Elon Musk to motivate the team and charm the media.

The reality in most organisations is that if the Board isn’t prioritising it, culture isn’t anybody’s actual responsibility. Unless the culture is actively broken (Oxfam, Bell Pottinger, The Weinstein Company) and people are leaving in droves, or the business is on the rocks because of a cultural misdemeanour, it doesn’t usually warrant much pro-active attention. It’s more likely that culture is viewed as ‘just the way things get done around here.’

But external factors like climate change, plastic in the oceans, the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and the sustainable development goals are forcing the issue. Organisations are self-selecting into two camps: those that are heads-up and engaged with the world and others that are head down and pursuing business as usual.

We would argue that taking single use plastic out of the supply chain is a cultural as much as an operational issue. It requires a massive effort to make a change like that in a big organisation. It takes determination to push against the status quo, lobbying various stakeholders around the business to get buy-in and support. And there’s no guarantee of any positive outcome other than the knowledge that as a company you have acted with integrity. The reward will hopefully come in terms of customer loyalty and team motivation but that’s going to be quite hard to quantify in absolute terms.

View the full article here

LOVE CHRISTMAS, HATE FOOD WASTE

LOVE CHRISTMAS, HATE FOOD WASTE

Libby Wyman, account director, Gong Communications

I love Christmas.  I’m obsessed with it. On the 1st of December, like clockwork, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ rings out from every speaker, and along with it, I prepare to gain an extra kilo or two accompanied by a dollop of food guilt. I blame the stream of client and journalist Christmas lunches, festive catch-ups with friends and a massive family meal….all of which probably create tens of kilograms of food waste. And here’s where it gets a bit ‘Grinchy’…

Globally, we waste one third of all food produced.  That’s 1.3 billion tons per year or the equivalent of about 325 million turkeys. The resource needed for this food waste bonanza is staggering. It’s enough to fill the combined land mass of Canada and India and the equivalent of three refills of Lake Geneva. And the cost of this waste?  £1 billion worth of food is binned worldwide each year according to WRAP – much of it accumulated at this time of year.  If that isn’t enough to make your eyes bulge and your pocket hurt, I could move on to the associated deforestation impacts of this never-to-be-eaten food production (roughly 20% of all deforestation), but it’s Christmas so let’s move on to something a bit jollier.

The good news is progress is being made. Earlier this month the East of England Co-op announced it would sell food products past their sell by date for 10p, urging consumers: ‘Don’t be a binner. Eat it for dinner’. It estimates this could save over 50,000 products annually from landfill. While progressive legislation in France has made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food waste since 2016, instead compelling them to donate it to foodbanks and charities. This, alongside other policies to limit consumer waste has resulted in it being lauded as the top performing nation by the most recent Sustainable Food Index, while food-obsessed Italy came out trumps in sustainable agriculture.

In developing countries, where many of our clients’ global supply chains originate, up to 40% of food is lost during harvest, drying and pre-consumption storage and transport. Our client Olam Cocoa is taking a lead in tackling Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains), by supporting farming communities where food waste is at the centre of a knot of complex issues, such as climate change, land degradation and gender disparity.

So, while big businesses are figuring out how to limit waste within their food supply chains, we’re also starting to see a corresponding shift in consumer attitudes – something I personally find encouraging. Whilst taking part in a recent B-Corp hackathon tackling SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption), a straw poll identified that the majority of people would take the sustainability, including waste management, of a restaurant into account when selecting somewhere to eat. However, what’s lacking at the moment is the platform for consumers to find these places to assert this choice.

Tackling food waste is an issue we all have a stake in, whether it’s a company re-thinking its practices or an individual planning their shopping list more consciously. What’s needed now is scalable innovation and a shared commitment to change.

For my part, it’s hugely rewarding to help clients communicate their contribution to sustainable food supply and on a personal level,  bring on those turkey leftovers!

Further food for thought:

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEBSITE

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEBSITE

by Rachel Eaton, lead designer, Gong Communications

You’ve just spent the last six months creating your fantastic looking new website and now it’s finally live, you might think the work’s over. Sorry, but it’s not! Even after launching, to be truly safe and effective platforms, websites need some ongoing TLC.

With technology continually changing, your new website is in constant need of being updated and maintained, otherwise it could suddenly stop working or encounter problems that might disrupt your business.

As we know, prevention is better than the cure, and having a pro-active maintenance plan that includes the elements below, could save you money and time in the long run.

1.MONITORING SECURITY ISSUES

Thousands of websites are hacked each day. Most sites are hacked just for the thrill of knowing it can be done. And it’s not just the big or high-profile businesses that need to be careful, it’s the small ones too. In fact, small business websites are often targeted because they are small and often less likely to be secure.

As part of our maintenance package, we will ensure your website and servers are updated and using the current and correct software to protect your website against any security threats.

2. REGULAR BACK UPS

In most cases, we will be able to protect your website from any security threats. However, in the rare occasion we can’t, our maintenance package will allow regular back ups of your website. This will allow us to restore your website quickly if anything does go wrong.

3. SPEED CHECKS

In a fast-paced world nobody has time to sit and watch a page load. Website speed plays a crucial role in a website users experience and could potentially lose you business if it’s not up to speed.

Many issues can cause your website to slow down, from browser and software capability to your hosting server. As part of our maintenance package we will repeatedly check the speed of your website and fix any issues when needed.

4. PLUG IN AND CMS UPDATES

Updates to browsers and CMS platforms can have a massive impact on your website if you do not carry out the correct updates. WordPress, for example, is constantly adding new features, which could make your site easier to use, faster or more responsive. However, if the updates are not made it can cause parts of your website to break. Plus, without regular updates, your website is prone to security threats.

Within the maintenance package we will perform any updates to your website as and when is needed to ensure security, speed and functionality is not effected.

5. 24/7 MONITORING

It is important that your website is accessible for your users at all times. Users that cannot access your website will often go somewhere else and could lose you business. Our maintenance package offers 24/7 monitoring to ensure any downtime (a site that is down or inaccessible) is reported and acted on immediately.

A common misconception of maintenance contracts is that they are too expensive and not necessary. In reality, it is cheaper and quicker to regularly make small updates than it is to make bigger, time-sensitive amendments when something goes massively wrong.

Contact us for prices and more information on our maintenance packages.

WOMEN LEADERS IN SUSTAINABILITY: NARDA SHIRLEY, GONG COMMUNICATIONS

WOMEN LEADERS IN SUSTAINABILITY: NARDA SHIRLEY, GONG COMMUNICATIONS

Narda Shirley, managing director, Gong Communications

Narda Shirley is the Founder and Managing Director of Gong Communications, a business to business agency with offices in London and Nairobi. Gong is focused on 3 areas; human capital, natural capital and private capital.

She is a serial public relations agency entrepreneur having founded an agency prior to Gong called Gnash, that rode the internet boom (and bust) helping establish some of the enduring brands from that digital decade including lastminute.com and Match.com. She was the founding Chair of the PRCA’s sustainability group and is committed to driving sustainability engagement across the sector today.

1. What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today? (what tips can you share from that experience?)

I think the biggest challenge in getting to where we are today has been figuring out how to become an international business and getting our Nairobi office on its feet. It’s been a stretch for me personally but a welcome opportunity to learn about a new cultural context for doing business after two decades of PR experience in more developed economies. For example, navigating local norms that don’t fit with ours, but it can also mean that culturally people in Africa sometimes don’t want to say ‘no’ which can be tricky to interpret when it comes to getting decisions over the line. But ultimately it’s about respecting the culture that you are operating in and programming in some patience. If you try to make everything go at top speed, you will just buckle under the weight of frustration.

View the full article here

#BTHECHANGE: GONG’S JOURNEY TO B CORP CERTIFICATION

#BTHECHANGE: GONG’S JOURNEY TO B CORP CERTIFICATION

Sara Bonafair, senior account executive, Gong Communications

Up until 2016, I’d never given much thought to toilet paper. That was until I was assigned the task of taking my company through the B Corp certification process. Now I am a stickler for upholding the small changes, like eco-friendly toilet paper, that helped us achieve the highest standard of overall social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability required to become a certified B Corporation.

We set certification as a goal for ourselves in the summer of 2016. I was not familiar with the B Corp movement previously, but what attracted me to Gong in the first place, its mission to help purpose-driven businesses do extraordinary things for people, planet and profit, is exactly what made Gong eligible for certification.

Certified B Corps, which also count Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Etsy among their number, aspire to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. There are more than 2,000 certified B Corporations in over 120 industries and 50 countries with 1 unifying goal – to redefine success in business. To become certified, a company must satisfactorily answer 166 questions covering a company’s business model, governance, workers, community, and environment (that’s where the toilet paper comes in).

The process is rigorous but companies starting the journey may find that they don’t need to change a whole lot. Some small changes for us included switching to recycled printer paper, implementing quarterly company-wide financial performance meetings, and formalising existing practices into company policies, such as client feedback forms, preferred supplier lists, and a diversity and inclusion policy; practices that existed but just needed formalising. Committing ourselves to our values in this way has helped us bake our mission into our DNA.

After about six months of answering questions and making small changes to help us put our best foot forward, we submitted our questionnaire to the reviewers, who would randomly select answers for us to prove. In June of 2017, we finally made it! From beyond the finish line it is easy to see how much the B Corp certification process has helped Gong grow and we now have two non-executive directors to enable us to lead the charge as one of only a handful of marketing and communications B Corps in the UK.

As for me, after diving deep into every detail of how Gong does what it does, and coming out on the other side with an official B Corp certification, I’m impressed with how the team lives out the company values every day, and am proud to have helped create a legacy that will help uphold this commitment for years to come.

CAN PRIVATE EQUITY EMBRACE PURPOSE POWERED BUSINESS?

CAN PRIVATE EQUITY EMBRACE PURPOSE POWERED BUSINESS?

Narda Shirley, managing director, Gong Communications

The subject of purpose powered business and the issues that inspire CEOs and entrepreneurs alike have been keeping us occupied for a while here at Gong as we’ve worked on the Purpose Powered Business book for John O’Brien and Andy Cave and joined the B Corps community. Our other big focus is private equity, so it felt natural to think hard about the appeal and challenges of one to the other. Chatting to experts in leadership search and assessment helped crystallise an insight that purpose in business is really a people issue. Read our article here on why we think talent will be the reason that private equity allows purpose to sit alongside profit as one of its key objectives.

MORE TO REPUTATION THAN A SHARE PRICE

MORE TO REPUTATION THAN A SHARE PRICE

Nikki Francis-Jones, associate director, Gong Communications

For decades to come, events on United Airlines Flight 3411 on Sunday 9th April and the aftermath will go down in the annals as a ‘how not to’ manage a PR crisis in the digital age.

But before students can get their hands on it Nikki Francis-Jones looks at the lessons that can be learned and what the full scale of the reputational damage might be.

View the full article here

MORE TO REPUTATION THAN A SHARE PRICE

MORE TO REPUTATION THAN A SHARE PRICE

Nikki Francis-Jones, associate director, Gong Communications

For decades to come, events on United Airlines Flight 3411 on Sunday 9th April and the aftermath will go down in the annals as a ‘how not to’ manage a PR crisis in the digital age.

But before students can get their hands on it Nikki Francis-Jones looks at the lessons that can be learned and what the full scale of the reputational damage might be.

View the full article here

UK plc: Fit for Purpose?

UK PLC: FIT FOR PURPOSE?

 

Sarah Nicholas, account director, Gong Communications

 

Will ‘business as a force for good’ become part of UK company law?
 
“Companies should state precisely their purpose – their role in the world from which profit results – in their articles of association and regularly report on the delivery of that purpose.” This is the first recommendation to promote purposeful companies put forward by The Purposeful Company Task Force, a consortium of FTSE companies, investment houses, business schools, business consultancy firms and policy makers at The Big Innovation Centre.
 
Listening to the report’s authors debate with an audience at the London School of Economics last month (podcast of the event here), corporate law was firmly under the spotlight. How likely is this change? And will it really deliver the coveted sustainable long term value for stakeholders that it is pursuing?
 
At Gong Communications, we are firm believers in the power of purpose and how communicating this effectively can help companies to gain a competitive edge. Some question whether mandating businesses to declare their purpose undermines some of its potency. But whether it is written in law or – even better – engrained in company culture, having clarity of purpose can propel a business forward and bring many benefits beyond simply profit, although it has been shown to help with that too.
 
Will Hutton, the co-chair of the Purposeful Company Task Force, said: “The evidence is clear, companies with a declared purpose, adhered to by their leaders and understood by their employees, perform far better over time than their less purposeful peers.”
 
Going through the process of B Corporation certification ourselves, we had the fabulous Scott Drummond of B Lab UK join the Gong London team for a learning lunch and share the story of their successful efforts to define a new type of for-profit entity in the US. A Benefit Corporation, now legislated in 30 States, is a company that has a positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profit as legally defined goals.
 
Other countries, such as Italy and Australia are following suit. And with May’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee looking into how modern companies can better serve their shareholders, employees and wider society, it is not hard to imagine the UK being next in line.
 
Bring it on.
 
Look out for a follow-up blog on how stakeholder communications and employee engagement are vital to fully realise the potential of purpose in the private sector.

WHY SLOW BURNS CAN BE THE BRIGHTEST

WHY SLOW BURNS CAN BE THE BRIGHTEST

Amanda Lyons, associate director, Gong Communications

Much as I dislike most of the caricatures about PR folk, the image of the time-poor, plate-spinning, device-juggling communications professional isn’t much of an exaggeration. Whether agency or in-house, the demands of a permanently ‘on’ 24/7 media environment and satisfying the competing needs of multiple stakeholders mean that we constantly run in the fast lane.

 
Although brand building requires quick thinking and speedy delivery, it’s important to take the time to slow down for a moment and appreciate that not all great things happen in a flash. At Gong we’ve been reminded of this over the last few months. Some of our biggest and best ideas have literally taken years to come to fruition. For example, creating an anthology of perspectives from global leaders and a ground-breaking symposium to convene great minds to tackle some of the most challenging food security issues for one client. Both of these were a slow burn to progress from concept to reality – but the results were more than worth the wait.

 
Achieving industry change or engaging high profile thought leaders in a meaningful conversation is a different model to opportunistic activations to generate a quick win. For us, getting big ideas off the ground is a mastery of helping clients to secure buy-in from internal supporters and budget holders, securing the right people to participate, timing any outreach with the broader corporate strategy, as well as making sure the stars align with what’s going on in clients’ industries and the wider world.

 
We’re also reminded of this in business development. As with our personal lives, timing plays a great part in whether a relationship is going to get off the ground and grow into something beautiful. In January we supported The END Fund to communicate its inspiring agenda at Davos – a client that we started initial conversations with nearly three years ago and hope to work with for a long time to come.

 
So to everyone out there, whether you’re working in a corporate communications agency or building brands and reputations in-house, let’s remind ourselves that there’re more to results than short-term success. When we experience barriers to getting projects over the line or converting an opportunity into an outcome, we need to keep sight of the big vision. Let’s have faith that we’ll achieve it because patience (and determination) isn’t just virtuous, it’s valuable.