Category Archives: Insight

From foundations to futures – what building an orphanage in Ghana taught me about stakeholder relationships

 

FROM FOUNDATIONS TO FUTURES

WHAT BUILDING AN ORPHANAGE IN GHANA TAUGHT ME ABOUT STAKEHOLDER RELATIONSHIPS

James Deacon, senior account manager, Gong Communications

There’s a lake in Ghana called Lake Volta, it’s the largest man-made lake in the world. It lies along the Greenwich meridian just six degrees above the equator. Completed in 1965, it displaced 75,000 people and flooded some of Ghana’s largest forests. Nowadays, its hydroelectricity powers most of Ghana, Togo and Benin, whilst its shores play host to makeshift huts and markets servicing the largest fishing trade in the country. It’s a beautiful scene to witness surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty, but sadly also reflects a life of limited opportunity for the most vulnerable of children.

Fishing can prove difficult when you have an underwater forest, and the perceived best way to solve this is to send young boys, usually less than 10 years of age down to untangle the nets. There are currently over 10,000 child slaves trapped in forced labour on the lake (International Justice Mission), suffering from malnutrition, physical abuse and with no access to education. They’re often sold for as little as 75 Cedis (£12 GBP) by desperate families looking for a way out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t gain much media attention, so after spending a month in Ghana in 2013, already in love with local hospitality and the discovery of how fresh mangoes actually taste, I started the ball rolling on a project to help children who end up in this situation.

Now a registered charity in England and Wales, Holy’s Home for Children sits in a village called Kwahu Nteso in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Standing inside the completed dormitory last Easter, it was hard to believe that just two years ago this was a piece of land, some vague foundations, and a slightly mad idea to build a home for orphans in the region.

Two years ago was also my first day at Gong. The timing was serendipitous as the company had just introduced a new democratic selection process for its CSR projects. This comprised of a Dragon’s Den style pitching session to my brand-new colleagues, a slightly daunting but encouraging opportunity.  However, there was no need to persuade my colleagues of the development needs of sub-Saharan Africa; the company has been active in West Africa for years, has an office in East Africa and has since been shortlisted for two specialist agency awards for communicating sustainable development in emerging markets. Winning the pitch resulted in a monthly donation and counsel from Gong enabling the charity to plan more effectively its construction schedule. Over the past 18 months, more than 25 labourers and six local suppliers from across the immediate villages have been employed and have worked incredibly hard to finalise the two-storey structure that now stands proudly upon the hill (with the best view possible!). We’ve built what will be a financially self-sustainable enterprise by the purification and selling of clean drinking water – locally known as ‘pure water’, then giving children the chance to reach their full potential, attend school daily and live away from danger in a safe and loving environment. Once all donation targets are met, we’ll be looking after up to 30 children by Spring 2019.

In retrospect, none of this would have been possible without stakeholder relationships. It’s a term we hear most days if you’re in agency world, whether in new business proposals, campaign plans or perhaps a rationale to a client for why something didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to. Whether it was sourcing timber from local suppliers or drafting in legal advice during the charity commission registration process, every person we’ve encountered and persuaded, whether paid or voluntary, has been crucial to making this small charity functional.

Building solid networks and relationships with people on the ground in Ghana has been crucial in enabling the development of the charity. In the UK, Holy’s Home has been lucky enough to have the support of a network of passionate volunteers called Challenge12, who have so far among them sent a rocket in to space, climbed Everest, attempted to swim the English Channel, walked the Camino de Santiago, kayaked Lake Windermere (twice), stood on the wings of a plane (mid-flight), and escaped an underwater helicopter crash simulator that apparently is character building. I’ll leave that there.

Each of these volunteers is a stakeholder, aligned firmly to the same purpose. What I’ve learned from managing stakeholder relations both at work and through Holy’s is that when there’s limited attention given to purpose or grey areas in the overarching vision, plans can begin to crumble but uniting together behind a common and clear goal is when the best results are achieved.

After all, as the (slightly generic) African proverb goes: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

www.holyshome.org

 

BUSINESS TO BUSINESS SUPPLY CHAINS – WHO CARES?

BUSINESS TO BUSINESS SUPPLY CHAINS – WHO CARES?

Cute children and baby animals. These are two of the most emotive subjects available to campaigners for sustainable supply chain practices. Whether it’s children being forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan or orang-utans with dwindling natural habitat because of deforestation, heart wrenching stories are powerful advocates for change. Consumers can easily relate to the supply chains that influence these circumstances and shop with a conscience to reward companies who support the Better Cotton Initiative or RSPO palm oil. The images associated with these stories jump off the page and are loved by editors for their ability to get readers engaged and clicking through online.

Rewarding consumer brands with loyalty for ethical practice and influencing their sustainable behaviour through conscious consumption is important, but in terms of impact, it is business-to-business supply chains that could deliver the biggest wins. But communicating what goes on upstream in manufacturing supply chains requires much more imagination to make the subject matter cut through.

Think about an average lorry. Toyota reckons to have 30,000 components in each one of its cars. Let’s assume that commercial vehicles are in roughly the same realm. Even if the lorry itself promises to be fuel efficient and cut CO2 emissions, there are still questions about the supply chain sustainability of each of the individual components. But far fewer photo opportunities.

Data is one compelling alternative way to tell a story. Researchers at Stanford University carried out a large-scale analysis of corporate sustainable sourcing practices and shared their findings early in 2018. They found that more than half of the global companies surveyed make efforts to apply sustainability standards to their suppliers, but 70% of sustainable sourcing practices cover only a subset of input materials for a given product.  Even more concerning (but perhaps not all that surprising) is that almost all sourcing practices addressed only a single tier in the supply chain, usually first tier suppliers, such as textile factories in clothing retail. Unsurprisingly this study has generated some useful column inches, but given the importance of the subject matter, it has hardly moved the media needle.

Without a vocal mass of consumers on social media voting with their shopping baskets, who puts pressure on B2B supply chains to be sustainable and ethical? NGOs, with their limited resources have traditionally been the ones to hold upstream companies to account. They have undoubtedly punched above their weight in terms of influence with the help of the internet and citizen journalism. But now that demonstrating contribution to the SDGs is a collective responsibility within the corporate world, there’s a bigger and infinitely better resourced lobby amassing scale, capable of exerting not just influence, but also hitting businesses where it hurts financially – the investor community. Pressure from this sector has helped generate traction in high profile media.

In December 2017, the FT reported that investors with more than $26tn under management have pledged to push 100 of the highest-emitting companies worldwide to do more to tackle the threat of climate change. About 225 institutions, led by funds including HSBC Global Asset Management and Calpers, the California state employees’ pension system, joined the Climate Action 100+ initiative, intended to co-ordinate pressure on companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve disclosure and oversight of climate-related risks.

UK giant Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) last year voted in favour of 95% of climate-related resolutions in companies that it invests in, compared with an average of 21% from other institutional investors.  Even more traditionally ‘passive’ investors, like the world’s largest asset manager Blackrock, have found their teeth, with CEO Larry Fink challenging companies to act with purpose in his now infamous 2018 letter. A quick google of ‘Larry Fink Blackrock letter’ returned 49,400 results, proof enough perhaps that money talks.

For smaller and private companies, where institutional investors hold less sway, there are other factors influencing their supply chain choices. B Corp, the ‘business as a force for good’ movement emanating from the US is spreading geographically and extending its reach from consumer facing small business into B2B and services businesses. Becoming a B Corp is a business certification that requires a supply chain audit as part of a holistic appraisal of operations and values. Danone and other corporations which have achieved B Corp certification (much harder as an established multinational) have been rewarded with huge amounts of positive attention across all media platforms.

All of this is good news for driving change at scale. But how easy will it be for businesses to seek out more ethical supply chain partners? Does conscience always cost more?

Technology buffs would argue that supply chain innovation is driving efficiencies that actually save companies money. In an article published at the end of 2016 which looked at this issue, the Wall Street Journal observed ‘The ability to measure and adjust performance relies on new technologies, as well as collaboration and communication with suppliers — and their suppliers. Technology and communication feed innovation. Innovation feeds growth.’ Investors in Blockchain start-ups would surely agree.

Although they are reported less in the mainstream media, there are many instances where B2B practices are creating entirely new product flows and commercial opportunities. Dubbed ‘web approaches’ these less linear and often asymmetrical partnerships span across large and small firms, corporates and start-ups, public and private, business and NGOs.

An example from the automotive industry is GM which is seen as a leader in supply web approaches by many. Its work in the supply chain has resulted in used water bottles being re-used in Chevrolet Equinox V-6 engine covers and air filters for 10 GM plants. A spin-off product developed in cooperation with The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit NGO is insulation for coats for the homeless.

Whilst sustainability reporting has become increasingly sophisticated and will become further standardised once GRI Standards become compulsory from July 1, media space to report on innovations like these is still scant, but awards are springing up that create a focus for specific supply chain innovation – such as the Global Good Awards for Sustainable Supply Chain, Edie.net’s Sustainability Leaders Awards and Business Green’s new Supply Chain Project of the Year category for 2018.

At best, business-to-business supply chains are shaping up to be catalysts for innovation that rewards companies with new revenue streams. But there is still a long way to go before every component or service is sourced as sustainably as possible.

The good news in terms of where the pressure is coming from is that there is a growing band of activist stakeholders from investors to procurement managers asking for sustainability assurances in contracts. Their influence is underpinned by positive role modelling of award winners and case studies in media. Added up, it certainly shows that B2B supply chains are getting more of the attention and spotlight they deserve.

Narda Shirley and Gong Communications are hosting a roundtable discussion, called ‘Business to business supply chains: Who cares?’, today (25 April) at The Crowd’s XComms event.

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

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.