Environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts have unfortunately become a fertile ground for greenwashing, where companies attempt to create a facade of responsibility without genuine commitment. Greenwashing in the context of ESG often takes several forms, including but not limited to selective disclosure, vague terminology, token gestures, exaggerated claims and cherry-picking data.
For PR professionals, the challenge is to artfully weave storytelling with steadfast transparency, striking a careful balance between engaging audiences emotionally and upholding the rigorous standards of ESG. And at the core of this narrative lies trust and transparency.
However, trust is a two-way street. Corporations can’t shoulder it alone; PR firms must also be held accountable for the narratives we shape. The big question: How can PR professionals assess trust in client information? Let’s delve into the strategies that can empower PR firms to take a leadership role for a more accountable, sustainable future.
Tackling this issue requires finesse and sensitivity. In the fragile client-consultant dynamic, you can deftly maneuver by underlining the critical role of trust. Your commitment extends beyond client advocacy to guaranteeing the credibility and genuineness of the information. This involves checking facts, verifying data and critically assessing major claims. Framing it as a joint quest for authenticity nurtures transparency and respect in the partnership. This strategy reinforces your commitment to long-term success and mutual benefit.
It’s crucial to ensure that clients are heading in the right direction. One key method is establishing a clear set of ethical guidelines and expectations at the outset of any client relationship. Regularly assessing actions against these standards is essential. Additionally, seek external perspectives, engage in open discussions with clients, and consider seeking third-party audits or certifications to validate ethical practices.
Ultimately, good faith is at the heart of PR professionalism. It’s about trusting that your clients are sincere in their intentions to do right by ESG principles and society. However, it’s also about due diligence, ensuring faith is backed by evidence. The aim is not to catch clients in deceit but to help them navigate the ESG landscape with integrity.
A good PR strategy not only boosts a company’s reputation but can also spotlight its eco-friendly, socially responsible and well-governed achievements. It doesn’t shy away from potentially adverse impacts. More and more firms, such as Philippines-based Ayala Corp., are openly acknowledging environmental challenges in their energy-related businesses and outlining concrete steps they are taking to mitigate them.
Maintaining credibility within the PR industry hinges on a commitment to accountability and ethical practices. To uphold trust, you must ensure that the messages you convey on behalf of your clients are accurate and reliable. It’s about being upfront and transparent and avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing. An illustrative example that caught media attention was when McDonald’s introduced paper straws in 2019, only to discover they weren’t recyclable. This incident underscored the importance of transparency in PR.
Coming clean about any missteps or issues is vital to prevent greenwashing. PR is not just about shaping narratives; it’s a powerful tool for driving positive change. By leveraging the proper communications channels, you can raise awareness and promote activism, catalyzing behavioral shifts. Consider REI, the American outdoor retailer, which closes its stores on Black Friday, urging people to #OptOutside. It’s like a gym closing during the first week of January to avoid those shortsighted sign-ups—the people who would just keep paying without any real intention or ability to start regular workouts. This bold move promotes sustainability and underscores the brand’s commitment to ESG values, including employee well-being.
ESG initiatives should originate from and question the very core of a business. These are not just public relations or marketing maneuvers but fundamental to a company’s values and operations.
So, yes, the business side should drive these initiatives.
But—and this is where we come in—PR professionals can play a pivotal role as advisors. We’re the translators, the bridge builders, the storytellers. We might not be ESG experts per se, but our expertise lies in understanding complex subjects and showcasing their interconnectedness to consumers, communities and the world at large.
We need to learn the terrain, ask questions and bring our communication savvy to the table. It’s about helping the business side express their ESG commitments in a way that resonates with and can be understood by everyone. As brand custodians, we must distill brand and business information for stakeholders in a simple, relevant and relatable way.
The other critical aspect of our role is managing a brand’s most precious asset—consumer and community trust. We understand trust is not a static truth. Brand trust can be eroded instantly or lose hold over time if not keenly managed and nurtured.
In an era where news is real-time, multimedia and often mistaken for propaganda, we recognize consumer cynicism is the default context in which brands operate. PR firms risk becoming soulless mouthpieces in today’s fast-paced, hyperconnected world. The pressure to meet client demands and deliver results often leads to a focus on messaging rather than meaningful communication. Therefore, it is incumbent on us as communication experts to deliver insights from the public, facilitate conversations and ensure that a company’s ESG journey is communicated authentically and empathetically.
This means our code of conduct for business needs to be rooted in authenticity and transparency. In PR, there’s a growing call for agencies to be transparent about the ESG communications we do for our clients. Embracing accountability is not just a matter of business ethics; it is a strategic imperative for PR firms today wanting to stay relevant and respected tomorrow.
This post was originally published on Forbes.