Category Archives: Insight

#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.

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.

MY TWO CENTS TO ALL STUDENTS… ‘DO AN INTERNSHIP!’

 

Sara Bonafair

Kick the habit of ignoring advice given by parents and career advisers, just this once, and take it from a peer – internships are worth your time. As a recent grad, I know the feeling of having just barely survived another round of exams and essays. The last thing you may feel like doing is researching, applying for and doing an internship – especially, if you are young and lucky enough to still consider career pressure a distant prospect. Nonetheless, I believe you can never be too young to embark on the trial-and-error process that will lead you to a career in an area you will enjoy in the years ahead.

That’s not to say that we don’t all change between the ages of 17 and 20 something, but if you start the learning process early, it can grow with you. Starting now takes some of the guesswork out of deciding where to direct your focus when you graduate and minimizes some of the stress of committing to your first job. Internships are an integral part of understanding what you want to do, how you want to do it, who you want to do it with – and, crucially, what you don’t want to do.

I took the advice of my career adviser, when pressure and my resume were still pretty non-existent, and ‘playing professional’ seemed almost exciting. From the age of 17, I explored every interest under the sun, from art to financial services, navigating the ocean of opportunities offered to students searching for experience. I worked for small firms, large firms, start-ups, and corporations, making my mantra ‘you never know until you try’. By my last year, a process of elimination allowed me to be able to say with conviction that I wanted to work in the communications industry.

In my last year, I tried advertising in a small firm and while I enjoyed the personal mentorship that was possible in a close-knit team, found advertising wasn’t for me. I tried PR in a large firm, on a B2C team, I enjoyed the type of work, but found the lack of opportunity to slow down and ask questions to understand the bigger picture and strategy frustrating. This learning process was essential to understand what I was looking for – a small PR-firm.

Soon I discovered Gong, which was not only what I was looking for in terms of being a small award-winning corporate communications agency in London, but also what I was looking for in terms of combining my personal and academic interests in my daily work. The supportive and collaborative environment that Gong cultivates had become an important criterion for me. Sitting next to project heads, I was able to really understand everything necessary to produce Gong’s marketing and communications services to its clients, feeling no hesitation in asking how to do things and why. As I developed my skills in the nuts and bolts of PR, I felt I was, at the same time, contributing to impactful work on client briefs that I was proud to be part of.

I can imagine why employers are just as keen as experience-hungry students to offer internships. They give the management team the invaluable opportunity to witness prospective recruits in action rather than relying on intangible words on a CV and an interview.

In short, internships permit you to first realise the industry you want to be a part of, then to envision your ideal role and the environment in which you want to perform it. Internships can also be a ‘getting to know you’ period, for yourself and your future employer. It’s a quick way to learn how to perfectly position yourself after graduation for a rewarding first job to kick off your career. So my advice is, at the end of term, instead of a week of box-sets in bed to take your head off exams –get out there and get an internship!

Beyond diversity: The business case for developing an internal culture of inclusion

BEYOND DIVERSITY: THE BUSINESS CASE FOR DEVELOPING AN INTERNAL CULTURE OF INCLUSION

Philip Dundas

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are on the agenda for most organisations in terms of recruiting a broad talent base. But it is increasingly recognised that the diverse and inclusive perspective you get from that workforce can enrich the internal DNA of a company. This helps to shape its strategic goals beyond the thinking of senior leadership across the whole organisation. In the global marketplace the most innovative companies recognise that to impact on their strategic goals, diversity isn’t just about the range of people within an organisation but the diversity of thinking that reflects.

Equally important as an organisation is how inclusion connects to diversity: your ability to reflect the world around you in your workforce is just the start. The 2014 Deloitte report Global Human Capital Trends, clearly defines ‘diversity of thinking as a business imperative’. Diverse teams draw out better ideas, smarter conversations and ultimately better business decisions.

Lots of organisations have identified inclusion as a bedrock of innovation and to that extent drive and foster the diversity and inclusion agenda across their sectors, seeing how it can shape and transform their organisations and their people. It’s not always in the most obvious places that D&I shapes the way businesses function. Well-managed and effectively implemented D&I policies emerge through a much wider range of issues; from how to adapt the built environment for workability and getting the most from a cross-generational workforce to understanding the implications of working globally and the importance of inclusive leadership.

The benefits of D&I go way beyond compliance into every aspect of a business. From senior leadership right down to graduate entry employees, an inclusive organisation relies on the diversity of thinking from an ever inclusive workforce to be ahead of the game.

Sarah Nicholas back from secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective in Rwanda

SARAH NICHOLAS BACK FROM SECONDMENT WITH THE AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR COLLECTIVE IN RWANDA

Sarah Nicholas

As I struggle to warm my fingers after a freezing commute through London this morning, it’s hard to believe that this time last month I was spitting distance from the equator. I was in the land of a thousand hills – Rwanda – sharing my experiences as a communications consultant with some truly inspirational entrepreneurs and individuals while on secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) in Kigali.

Listening to the stories of entrepreneurs and colleagues there, it is clear that innovation is thriving in East Africa. But more than that, AEC’s mantra that ‘all solutions to Africa’s challenges already exist on the continent’ now feels more credible and tangible than ever.

Just one example is Marcel, who, having been orphaned by the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994, wanted to harness the main driver and instrument of destruction – media and youth – and turn them into a force for good. Now three years after launching, and with support from AEC, Marcel’s news website Umuseke is the second most read digital media outlet in Rwanda and employs 20 people – not bad for a 25 year old.

Another case in point is Rwanda’s answer to Uber, SafeMotos. The app combines booking software with black box technology to ensure customers are only hopping on the back of the safest motorbike taxi drivers in town, offering valuable peace of mind in a city where 80% of traffic accidents involve motos. Peter and Nash developed a go-to-market strategy with think – AEC’s tech incubator, funded by telecoms giant Tigo Rwanda – and the app now adorns billboards across the country.

But it wasn’t only the vision and determination of AEC’s entrepreneurs that blew me away, the passion and commitment of their own team was infectious.

A social enterprise with job creation as its ultimate goal, AEC is a collection of business incubators and accelerators who support local entrepreneurs enabling them to grow, employ others and make a long-term contribution to the economy. In two years, they have already helped 150 entrepreneurs to create 700 jobs and have big plans to expand to seven African countries within 10 years.

Having a soft spot for the entrepreneurial spirit and our own growing communications practice in East Africa, a partnership between Gong and AEC seemed a natural fit and I was luckily enough to be the first of the team to spend a month offering pro-bono comms consultancy and skills building to the organization and its entrepreneurs.

It was certainly a busy month! I created communications plans and marketing strategies, ran messaging workshops, edited websites, drafted press releases, held media training for a bootcamp full of social entrepreneurs and supported AEC’s launch into Tanzania – on which, more later.

But it wasn’t all work. In just 4 weeks I explored Kigali, met a four-month old gorilla in the Virunga mountains, kayaked on Lake Kivu, tested out my first shaky words of Kinyaruanda, got caught in some spectacular rainstorms, was laughed at relentlessly by market stall holders, flew to the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in a really small plane, and leapt into a lake fully clothed (there was a reason for it!).

For now, while I immerse myself back into the fray of all important client work back at base, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the AEC family that made it such a great experience. I will be back!

 

Concern Universal on how to make phone calls using a mud oven

CONCERN UNIVERSAL ON HOW TO MAKE PHONE CALLS USING A MUD OVEN

Narda Shirley

 

I often find myself banging on to clients about the virtues of bite-sized video as a story telling medium. But I was reminded again of its power when I watched a video about a Concern Universal project called ‘how to charge your phone with a mud oven’. At just 1 minute and 30 seconds long, with only captions to explain what’s going on, the film has had over 20 million views and inspired 62,000 comments.

The ‘Flower Pot stove’ is bucket-sized and made of mud. It is made locally to a tested template, and runs on just a few sticks of wood, roughly a third less than a fire would use. It also produces much less harmful smoke which is an important innovation as the simple act of cooking kills 4.3 million people each year.

Approximately 2.5 billion people living in the developing world burn biomass as a primary energy source; this number is expected to grow to 5 billion by 2050.

Thanks to the clever little thermo electric generator that attaches to the stove, and produces electricity from its heat, people living in rural locations without access to the grid, can generate enough power to charge a phone or power a torch. Mobile phones, now very cheap, can help relieve poverty in so many ways. Remote farmers can get better access to fair market pricing and selling time for people to make phone calls can be a means of generating additional income in a community. Torches mean children can study after dark making more of education opportunities.

Concern Universal, (CU) the charity behind the initiative has a sweet spot for innovation where it improves the lives of women in particular. Its resourceful new Global Head of Communications & External Affairs, John O’Brien has masterminded an event on Tuesday 22 March at the fashion and design emporium, Clerkenwell London. The event, called ‘fashionUP’ will raise awareness and money for the work of the charity which has been going for 40 years and whose work extends beyond Africa into Latin America and Asia.

I’m shamelessly shaking down my friends (and theirs) to stump up the donation price to come along to ensure that Concern Universal gets a great turnout and raises the money it needs to continue with its work. While we are chomping on canapes, downing a few drinks, and taking in the stylish surroundings of the Clerkenwell emporium, it’s affecting to think that all over the undeveloped world, rural families are watching the last glimmers from their cooking fires go out, sinking them into complete darkness. Well done CU for shedding some light on all the issues and with such a clever solution. See you on the 22 March! And check out that film here.

Photo credit: Toby Richards

Girl Power shone brightly at Economist Energy Summit 2015

Narda Shirley

A young female delegate at the Economist Energy Summit on 4th and 5th November was overheard to remark that the audience in the room was unusually diverse. Energy is one of the industries that still struggles with diversity. Anecdotally it seems, if you haven’t done your time on an oil rig (or other heavy engineering equivalent), it will impact your ability to climb the career ladder. This can be an issue for women, which is in turn an issue for the industry which is desperate to build new engineering talent pipelines.

In our business as comms advisors, it is very often the case that what we learn working for one client, gets applied in other contexts. So it was with the Lloyd’s insurance market Dive In Festival of diversity & inclusion still very much in mind, that I set off for the Honorable Artillery Company to help tweet from day one of the conference on Wednesday.

For my money, the two stand out speakers on the agenda on day one were women. Dorothy Thompson, CEO of Drax Power spoke to the Economist’s Energy Editor, Edward Lucas about the wood pellet-based renewable energy side of the business, Drax Biomass. She made a compelling case for biofuels, explaining where the wood for the pellets comes from, the advanced technology in the supply chain that compresses and transports the pellets and the parity of the fuel with coal in terms of performance.

The final slot before drinks went to Dr. Michal Meidan of China Matters, an energy consultancy. She gave a masterclass in the use of data points that consistently supported her comments and observations, keeping the session bubbling along as she discussed China’s energy mix in consumption terms and the future for gas, with her own engaging energy and style.

Of course it’s not only gender, but cultural diversity and age that can bring new perspectives to foster innovation. Two entrepreneurs stood out in particular on both counts. Mytrah’s CEO Ravi Kailas gave a compelling interview about how his wind power business is creating new capacity for the national grid across 6 states in India. And young entrepreneur and Bio Bean founder Arthur Kay (who was studying architecture when he had the idea) explained how waste from coffee is being used to generate power in his innovative UK based business.

Over drinks, conference sponsor BP offered delegates the ultimate ‘millennial’ young gamer innovation experience, the chance to try on Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets for an immersive experience of their exploration and R&D. As you can see from the photo, it was an offer I just couldn’t resist.

The Economist Energy Summit 2015 certainly helped the industry present a more than usually diverse face to the audience. It will be interesting to see which stories and spokespeople get picked up in the final round-up of the reporting to see if the media also found merit in the diversity of voices and views on offer.