Sustainability is no longer an optional extra. It’s becoming a core part of business. In 2019, 90% of the S&P500 published a sustainability report. Investors and customers increasingly expect companies to meet their sustainability criteria. The pressure is not just coming from board rooms. Two-thirds of employees say sustainability is extremely important to them.
So, as a PR agency, how can you boost your sustainability offering? Here are three steps to get started.
Step 1: Understand the sustainability needs of your clients
And connect those needs to what you’re good at.
Before you build your sustainability offering the first question is whether there is a feasible offering at all!
What are the sustainability needs of your client base, and does your firm have the capability to fulfil those needs?
Sustainability consulting is a broad church – strategy and communications, stakeholder consultation, peer reviews, impact assessment and reporting – and the needs of clients can vary wildly. Some may want to tell a ‘green’ brand story, while others may simply want to meet their emissions reductions targets. If your firm lacks any capability to meet those needs, you should reconsider whether a sustainability offering is worth pursuing.
Understanding the specific sustainability needs of your clients is the first step to curating a fit-for-purpose offering that clients will be open to hear. Is the pressure to act on sustainability coming from investors? Consumers? Or is it driven by a desire to do the right thing in line with the values of the organisation? Depending on the context, your offering will need to change.
Step 2: Find the right people to take ownership
And empower them to step up and be bold.
For most PR firms, sustainability is a newer offering. When building it up, you can push the boulder up the hill on your own for a while, but that’s unsustainable.
In the long term, you’ll need many people in your firm to help champion and drive this new offering. Finding people in your organisation who are passionate about sustainability is critical. Empower these people with time, training and resources and give them room to make mistakes and take risks. Progress will be remarkably swift.
Getting the right people started can take some time. Luckily, sustainability isn’t uninspiring. After all, what’s more fulfilling than helping to build a better future?
Step 3: Partner with people who can cover your blind spots
And don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything.
Sustainability is multidisciplinary by nature. For clients, it involves their engineers, management, investors, marketers, consumers and many other stakeholders. More often than not their sustainability needs are complex and require different technical perspectives.
You won’t always be able to fulfil the needs of your clients perfectly. But by partnering with others who fill your weak spots, you can provide an offering that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Building your sustainability network is important to making you aware of your blind spots and how others can help. A healthy network means you maintain a wide field of potential partners.
As a PR agency, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything. There is a lot of mutual gain from collaborating with that ecologist you befriended in your second year of university. Sustainability is founded on collective and collaborative action. Embodying that in the way you work is one of the best ways to boost your sustainability offering.