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We recently had the honor of hosting some of the industry’s leading communications and marketing professionals for a panel entitled “Surveying ESG Media Coverage to Shape Your Communications”. The panelists included:

  • Emily Chasan, Director, Communications, Generate Capital 
  • Dan Flaherty, Senior Manager & AVP, PR, MFS Investment Management
  • Claire Schiff, AVP, Media Relations & Communications, BNP Paribas
  • Andrew Marshall, Vice Chairman, Cognito

For the past few years everyone from portfolio managers to communications professionals have been educating themselves on ESG initiatives. Now, as media attention has increased significantly, here are our panelists’ three main takeaways on how the landscape is changing and what that means for media professionals.

Focus is shifting from firms’ ESG efforts to ESG trends in the industry

One finding from Andrew Marshall’s recent report on media coverage of ESG investment was that “the media [is] shifting away from stories that just write about what one firm is up to, over to stories that are about industry trends in ESG” and that “most firms have been written about as part of broader stories.” This makes it more difficult for smaller firms to stand out in a crowded field as many of the household names will get the most recognition on ESG initiatives. The same can be said for subject matter. If publications feel a story is small, they will not be as driven to cover the story. Furthermore, projects that do garner media coverage may still struggle to capture the attention of some bigger publications due to many moving parts which may lead to a lack of interest from those publications. In order to combat this, the industry needs to report on these issues regardless of the scope of the story: Stories are significant no matter how small.

ESG is becoming a matter of importance to the workforce

An influx of younger workers has brought along an emphasis on ESG initiatives. And panelists agreed that as Gen Y and Gen Z continue to enter the workforce we’ll see an influx of new ideas – particularly a major interest in ESG and how it will evolve. This generation wants to make sure that, at the bare minimum, if their money is not going to make a difference to the upside, it better not add to the downside. Additionally, the panel thought that businesses need to be aware of what their workforce and clients prioritize, because if you’re not on the right side of what people care about, you’re going to get left behind, and rightfully so. And if the media fail to cover the topics the public cares about, they will be left behind.

ESG efforts are turning out to be increasingly harder for media to ignore

With that in mind, our panelists agree that we will see ESG initiatives become a more popular topic of conversation and therefore see more media coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic and these past two years have shown us that nobody is unaffected by environmental, social, and governance challenges. COVID has pulled back the veil and shown that sustainability and ESG isn’t specific to one sector, such as finance and asset management but is, in fact, touching on all aspects of business. Eventually the world will realize this issue can’t be ignored. These stories will cease to be a niche topic for reporters, but rather seep into everything that we do. The panel feels that, ultimately, we can’t help but pay attention to these stories. Interest will only continue to grow and as a result, the bar for ESG initiatives will rise. People will no longer be satisfied with half measures and will insist that the companies they are investing in put forth their full effort into creating a better world. In order to obtain this information, the public will want to read reports on ESG progress, making these stories much more in demand than they have ever been before.

As demand for disclosures on ESG initiatives continues to grow, there will be a brighter media spotlight on the matter. The more firms show they care about issues by highlighting ESG practices and positions that incorporate thinking about sustainability, the more mainstream covering the topic will become.