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Sector: Corporate Affairs

Five things you should know about investor perception studies

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An investor perception study is a proven method of gaining quantitative and qualitative insights from investors. A perception study seeks honest opinions and insights and identifies areas of concern from investors so that the company could update its strategy and tactics accordingly to better serve its customers, investors and key stakeholders and potentially achieve better valuation in the capital markets.

Logistics of an investor perception study

Audience

An investor perception study targets an issuer’s institutional audience in the capital markets, including current and previous investors as well as sell-side analysts. Ideally, an investor perception study might even reach out to potential investors and analysts who are involved with peer companies but not the issuer itself. However, given the regulatory and staffing changes in the industry, less people are being asked to do more. The appetite and willingness to participate in an investor survey is much less these days, especially among those who do not have a direct relationship with the company. That being said, a study should at least include current shareholders and sell-side analysts who cover the company.

Building a questionnaire

There are four general areas of questions in a typical investor perception survey; 1) core strategy and business model – questions that are meant to identify investor awareness and understanding of a company’s fundamentals; 2) financial performance and share valuation – questions that are meant to gauge investor satisfaction with execution and their read on share valuation; 3) IR performance – questions that look at the bigger picture of IR, but also at the nitty gritty; and 4) specific topics – if the company is undertaking major projects or trending topics such as ESG and leadership diversity.

Transparency is key

An investor perception study is typically done by a third-party such as an IR agency. Using an intermediary preserves investor honesty and transparency, which is critical to create value from study results and ensure that management hears what they need to and not what they want to from investors.

Benefits of an investor perception study

1) Update strategy and business model: results from an investor perception survey typically are expected to show that investors understand and agree with a company’s overall strategy and business model. There may be specific areas within the overall strategy that investors take issues with, and the study alerts management of these topics so they can better address them. For companies contemplating major undertakings (M&A, delisting, etc.) or in turnaround situations, real-time insights from an investor perception study can be even more helpful in helping management re-think and re-evaluate the situation. It’s not unheard of that a major project can be called off or delayed for a future time if results of the investor perception study are overwhelmingly negative and against the original plan.

2) Identify valuation detractors: if management believe the company’s shares are undervalued, they should most certainly ask investors as part of the perception study and make sure to ask investors for their reasonings either way. What happens next is a win-win situation for the company – if investors agree with management, they will tell management why they think the shares are undervalued. If investors do not believe the shares are undervalued, they will tell management that it’s because new markets are having a hard time taking off or because there is a lack of progress on asset sale and deleveraging. Whatever the case may be, management gain key insights into what investors think about the company’s current valuation.

3) Improve IR strategies and tactics: an investor perception survey can be quite detailed when it comes to asking investors for their opinions of a company’s IR program – asking investors how they feel about the effectiveness of the overall IR program, how investors feel about disclosure of earnings releases, timing of the earnings releases, whether management is making enough efforts being on the road meeting with investors or attending investment conferences etc. These data points are tremendously valuable and help the IR department and management to work together and improve their IR program post study.

4) Learn about your peers: an investor perception questionnaire can be designed to directly compare a company against its peers across a variety of topics and metrics so that management have a better context to judge how they perform over time, both internally and against other players in the space. In addition, investors sometimes make valuable observations about how peers run their business or communicate with investors, which management may have previously been unaware of and could choose to emulate and incorporate as a result of the study.

5) Talk amongst yourselves: findings of an investor perception study can serve as great starting point of internal discussion between IRO, management and the board of directors on issues relating to operations, financials or investor communications and upon which they can improve. Throughout the year, such internal discussions tend to be limited to financial or annual reporting. By doing an investor perception study, a company gives itself additional opportunity to reflect, discuss and strategize for better future outcomes.

In 2016, NIRI (National Investor Relations Institute) commissioned a report on measuring IR program success. Covering 515 IR professionals from company industries, the report ranked perception studies as the second most important metric IR professionals and management at large and mega cap companies used to measure the success of their IR program. For micro and small cap companies, perception studies were also a top five key metric of success.

As mid-year approaches, management should consider planning and conducting an investor perception study to learn about what investors really think about your business, valuation of your shares and your competitors and how you can improve going forward.

When was your last investor perception study?

Grayling NY has over 30 years of experience planning and executing investor perception studies for issuers across market cap sizes and industries. In particular, we are experts at conducting studies for companies with a global shareholder base. If your company needs help with your investor outreach or is getting ready to jumpstart your first investor perception study, do not hesitate to contact Lucia Domville, Managing Director Grayling New York.

 

 

 

All together now: no stopping the New Collectivism

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COVID-19 has accelerated – rather than slowed – the movement towards better business. That was the overwhelming verdict of the expert panel recently brought together by Grayling to discuss the findings of our recent whitepaper New Collectivism: Building Better Business.

Our research found that over two thirds of senior leaders in large companies agree that businesses have a collective responsibility to the societies in which they operate. Underscoring the effect of the pandemic and looking ahead to a crucial COP26 in Glasgow, three quarters of these senior leaders also said that ESG issues would be more important this year.

Commenting on the results of the research panellist and All Together founder Jamie Mitchell maintained that he had expected the pandemic to knock the sustainable business movement off course. Instead, he said, “COVID just revealed the stark inequalities in society in this bleak way, revealed the fragility of the planet in this most clear way – and a new wave of civic leadership appeared from business [as a result].”

He argued that the pandemic has reinforced and accelerated existing arguments and trends around better business: “We seem to be coming out of the pandemic with a universal, singular point of view…which is very exciting.”

For panellist Roksana Ciurysek-Gedir, Chairwoman of the Impact Advisory Board of White Oak Global, the banks and investors who were previously sceptical about sustainability and who advocated the “profit only” model are now also on board. During the discussion, she characterised the old approach as “maximising profit, then throw money to fix environmental problems caused by this approach afterwards.” Now though, almost the entire sector agrees that “the sustainability revolution is the biggest investment opportunity in history. There isn’t a single institutional investor who isn’t talking ESG and impact investing.”

However, according to Ciurysek-Gedir, only measurement and transparency can ensure that businesses are keeping their promises when it comes to sustainability. “We know that if something is not measured, it doesn’t get done.”

Kerry Irwin, Director of Communications, EMEAR at Tetra Pak pointed the role of consumers when it comes to this shift in business thinking. “It’s one of their biggest concerns”, she argued. While responding to this pressure and effecting change across a huge organisation can seem daunting, businesses have to make deliver on what they promise: “even if it’s small steps.” “It requires a full 360 degree change right across the business.”

Dan Mobley is Corporate Relations Director at Diageo. During the webinar, he underlined how the understanding of profit and risk in the business world had dramatically shifted over the course of recent years – particularly for a company that counts some of the world’s oldest brands among its portfolio. “When you’re looking at taking decisions where the payback is decades away, you have to build a sustainable and inclusive business – the cost of inaction is very real.”

However, he cautioned against some of the “utopian” rhetoric around sustainability and warned that trade-offs are inevitable for global businesses. “For example, one of the easier ways to get to net zero is going to be invest in clean technology in rich countries rather than poor ones. Business, governments and civil society have to come together to address these trade-offs because none of us can solve it alone.”

The panellists all agreed that, despite the challenges of driving change across organisations, the time for better business is now – and that the COVID-19 pandemic has only supercharged this drive for sustainability. There really is no stopping the new collectivism.

 

Please find the full recording of our session on the “New Collectivism” below:

 

If this is a challenge you recognise within your organisation, Grayling can help. We provide a wide range of expert communications services across Europe, including public affairs, public relations and digital communications. Please don’t hesitate to drop Tom Nutt, Grayling’s Head of Corporate, UK & Europe, an email to learn more.

How has WFH Changed our Corporate Communications?

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Over the past year, we’ve been tested routinely as we worked from kitchen tables, home offices or our comfy couches, sometimes with limiting patience. Video chats, social distancing and reducing group gatherings are seemingly now part of our DNA, however vaccine rollouts and some return-to-work strategies are full steam ahead in some U.S. regions that could decrease our introversion.

This begs these questions to be answered – how has working from home changed future corporate communication dynamics? Moving forward, how should we communicate differently in corporate communications? How will our societal changes during the pandemic impact corporate initiatives?

Greg Marshall, Account Executive from Grayling NY, takes a look at these discussions surrounding communications in 2021 and shares his thoughts on what professionals in this space should prepare for post-COVID.

Working from home has a new feeling

When we’re not checking our Wi-Fi connection and solving IT problems, we’re learning to balance our work schedules with personal lives with limited exposure to traditional office environments. According to a recent Prudential survey of 2,000 American adults who’ve been able to work from home during the pandemic, an overwhelming 87% want the ability to continue doing so after the risks of the virus subside.

In 2021, new communication strategies will be major underlying factors in company culture and employee engagement in new remote and hybrid workspaces. Considering how employees like to communicate and how they like to receive information and feedback will be paramount. Implementing creative adoptions of behavioral science and personal aspects of our work environments to ensure everyone is connected will be key for better performances moving forward.

For those who worked from home for the first time in 2020, new policies across corporate offices offered a reprieve from long commutes and lost time with family. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, only 6% of the employed worked primarily from home before the pandemic and about three-quarters of workers had never worked from home. In May 2020, over one-third of the employed worked from home due to the pandemic – a close match for pre-pandemic estimates of the share of work that could be done remotely.

We’ve seen workers move toward less expensive or more desirable locales, further from city centers or office complexes, and still showing signs that remote work is growing on people. According to a recent survey from IBM, more than 75 percent indicate they would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, while more than half (54%) would like this to be their primary way of working.

Telecommuting continues to be a challenge for some, particularly for parents of young children. For many younger employees that perhaps don’t have family responsibilities, cultivating relationships over Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams and connecting with a mentor has become more difficult working from home – something that has proven to be especially beneficial over the course of a career. Working from home is still a concept that’s a “work-in-progress” for many but becoming a mainstay in our corporate environment.  Communicating in this way will have to adapt (as it always does) and establish a new function of business that keeps us moving in the right direction.

Authenticity will lead corporate communications to success

As PR communicators, we are constantly balancing our clients, colleagues, family, friends and loved ones with different forms of communication every single day, but even for us, it gets exhausting too. Looking back to anything pre-March 2020 seems like a century ago and it’s still tough to get a grasp of where we are now. Naturally, and as is the case with many of the highly-disrupted areas of business this year, corporate leaders will now be looking to rethink the manner in which internal and external communications are approached.

To combat challenges and discover opportunities, establishing an authentic voice should be a top focus for all communications leaders right now. Whether communicating online or in person, you can see that honesty, transparency and flexibility are highly valued, which isn’t expected to change. This is especially true as we continue to experience crisis-fueled or health-related messages washing over us via email, social media or news stories.

Companies like Stanley Black & Decker has undergone some fundamental shifts in the way that information is distributed among its people. Paul Hevesy, HR Director, offered some further detail, explaining that work transformation has formed the basis of the approach. Engaging employees, sharing information, creating culture, and instilling purpose in daily objectives have become top priorities for today’s corporate environment. A digital workplace and agile work flexibility are no longer being seen as long-term business goals, but rather as immediate necessities.

“We live in a society…”

Our collective global society continues to grow each month, recovering from the biggest pandemic in over 100 years since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  Although local movements and grass roots initiatives will always be a staple of society, it is obvious that communication and the growth of human interaction have transformed the way we see the world now.

Discussing COVID’s impact on global society, David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, commented in an open forum with Pew Research, “One of the results of the pandemic is that it is finally obvious to everyone that we are global.” Kreiger continued to explain, “Closing borders and blocking flows of people and materials represents a ‘lockdown’ mentality aimed to disrupt connectivity and stop the flow of the virus, but at the cost of disrupting the economic, social and political foundations of the globally networked society.” In this perspective from Kreiger, our world’s current positions around health, government, business and culture have many different branches that connect everyone in some form or fashion, no matter the barriers or borders.

We saw an astounding impact of societal change in 2020 in many different forms from the pandemic, including culture changes and greater expectations. According to recent research from Mitto, Americans believe actions speak louder than words, as 73% say it is important that social justice-related statements they receive from brands, nonprofits, and other organizations are not only empathetic but are followed by measurable action.

Much of these expectations also include the art of communicating mindfully, authentically, and honestly in a way that is representative and inclusive of a diverse audience. Global business will continue to see inclusivity showing up in the workplace in more impactful ways to call out disparities and lack of opportunity. Look for diversity and inclusion numbers to show up on annual reports that detail company spending and donation reports that tell the story of each company’s commitment to social responsibility.

Although 2020 will be remembered for many misfortunes, it also shined a light on long overlooked issues in communications, sparked growth in society and introduced breakthrough opportunities for businesses. Organizational leaders who stayed the course with their communications investment and societal footprint are sure to leave a positive mark on our future.

Delivering a meaningful public consultation through online engagement

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On 31st March 2021, Kingston Council approved the plans for Unilever’s new global headquarters to be developed in Kingston upon Thames town centre in the UK. This decision means that Unilever, the company behind many household brands such as Marmite, Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, would be consolidating its workforce from five sites across London and Surrey, bringing 2,000 jobs into Kingston.

In addition to the offices, the plans include the construction of a new residential building, car park and landscaped gardens. This development will regenerate an underused and largely vacant site into an attractive, accessible campus in the heart of the town.

These plans are very exciting for Kingston, even more so as they were designed with local people. Over the past year, there has been a significant amount of work done to engage and talk to local residents, ensuring that these plans will be genuinely welcomed by local people. The Grayling Engage team led the public consultation process (on behalf of the developer, Cube Real Estate) for these plans and has delivered despite the pandemic.

In pre-COVID-19 times, the consultation process for plans like these would involve face-to-face events (in a public library or church hall) where the plans would be open to the public who could ask questions to staff. For obvious reasons, this wasn’t something that was possible in 2020, but we still needed to make sure that the community was properly engaged with, even if we couldn’t present the plans in person.

Instead, the public engagement for this development took place entirely online through EngageOnline, Grayling Engage’s fully customisable and flexible platform which keeps the conversation going online.

The consultation process for these plans took place in two phases. In both consultations, exhibition boards and a feedback form were hosted on the website, as well as a live chat function so residents could speak directly to the project team. Following consultation, over 50% of respondents agreed in principle with the plans for the site.

Residents were kept informed of the consultations and design development through highly targeted social media advertising. To ensure all residents were reached, more traditional methods were used as well, with over 2,500 leaflets delivered neighbours and adverts placed in the local press.

In addition to the public consultations, throughout the design process digital meetings were held with key stakeholders in the town, including the University, Kingston Chamber of Commerce, Kingston First, the town’s Business Improvement District, and local politicians. When the application reached committee, it did so with letters of support from the University and both business groups.

Despite a global pandemic and the normal way of working being totally transformed, we still managed to fully engage with local people in Kingston who would be most impacted by these plans. Across the entire consultation period we:

  • Reached 45,153 people for each phase of consultation through press advertising.
  • Reached 31,101 people through social media.
  • Received 3,828 visitors to the website.
  • Received 293 responses to the two phases of consultation.

One of the largest sites to go through planning totally virtually, this represents a real shift in how we should look at consultation. Through our work during the pandemic and our Future of Engagement research, Grayling Engage has continued to develop EngageOnline over this period, with new features being added to ensure that we can keep the conversation going online.

Receiving planning approval for these plans is just the beginning for this project and the delivery of this online engagement is just the start for EngageOnline. If you would like to find out more about the platform, get in touch on engage@grayling.com

Investor innovation: the rise of the virtual non-deal roadshow

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Non-deal roadshows – where companies talk to investors even when they aren’t going public – are a proven method of enhancing communications with investors. As first quarter reporting is well underway, management should consider planning and executing a non-deal roadshow, either in person or virtually, to address investors’ questions and share the outlook for your company in yet another atypical year.

Primer on non-deal roadshows

A non-deal roadshow is an investor relations program during which management meets investors not for the purpose of selling securities, but simply to talk about topics of interest such as company milestones, financial results, products, research and development, customer relations, human resource, guidance, etc. The goal of a non-deal roadshow for management is to effectively communicate the highlights and investment propositions of the company so current shareholders can follow the story more closely and potential investors become interested in eventually purchasing your shares.

Pre-pandemic, non-deal roadshows mostly took place at investment centers around the world. Over the last fourteen months, many such roadshows have taken place virtually. Both management and investors have come to appreciate the convenience, flexibility, and cost efficiency of virtual roadshows, as well as the opportunity to greatly expand the potential audience base. Despite the progress in vaccination and gradual increase in business travel, we anticipate that non-deal roadshows will likely take on a hybrid approach of traditional and virtual roadshows existing side by side going forward.

Logistics of non-deal roadshows

Typically, management would work with either an investment bank or external IR agency to run a non-deal roadshow. While an investment bank tends to arrange roadshow meetings based on its own portfolio of clients, an IR agency has unconstrained access to potential investors as long as they match what management is looking for.

After the time and location are set, the key to a successful roadshow is to identify potential investors that could be good fit for the company in criteria such as industry category, market cap (large cap, mid cap, small cap), investment style (GARP, growth, value), peer ownership, etc. A non-deal roadshow could have as little as three meetings or thirty meetings, depending on availability and interest level from investors. In most cases, the number of meetings average 15-20 per week, unless the roadshow includes breakfast or lunch group meetings.

Roadshow meetings usually come in two forms – one-on-one meetings are more personal and allow investors to converse directly with management, while group meetings are better suited for investors who appreciate the opportunity to not only hear from management but also learn how others think about a particular company. Either way, these meetings represent invaluable opportunity for investors to learn and analyze investment targets beyond what is available on company press releases and filings.

7 benefits of non-deal (virtual) roadshows

1) Keep investors updated: fresh off quarterly reporting, non-deal roadshows give management the opportunity to clarify any areas of doubt and make sure that investors fully understand the results and the company’s strategy going forward.

2) Keep investors engaged: non-deal roadshows provide an avenue through which management can interact with top institutional shareholders. Yes, management is likely to be in regular email contact with investors. Roadshows are dynamic and personal way to engage with investors that often include a wider range of topics of discussion and a wider cast of participants. All of which is to build and ensure healthy relations with investors.

3) Meet new investors: non-deal roadshows are a powerful tool with which management can proactively reach out to potential new investors. With virtual roadshows, management has the opportunity to interact with investors in parts of the world that might otherwise be difficult for them to reach via on-the-ground roadshows. In addition, some investors keep a low profile and choose not to attend public investor conferences. Hence, non-deal roadshows greatly increase the geography and pool of capital that a company can access.

4) Gain valuable feedback: after telling more or less the same version of the company’s story to various investors, management will receive opinions and perspectives from investors, with which management can gauge the effectiveness of their communication and think of ways to refine specific story angle for the future.

5) Maximize your time on the road: in-person investment conference eventually will make a comeback. Non-deal roadshows are a great way to maximize management’s time on the road by allowing them to meet with additional investors in the same city or neighboring cities or states who are not attending the conference management is going to.

6) More resources at hand: in addition to lower cost and larger audience base, virtual non-deal roadshows also come with the advantage of allowing management to have more personnel and resources available while they conduct the roadshow from their office. That way, management is able to better address investor questions in real-time instead of having to resort to “let me get back to you on that later”.

7) Build trust: roadshows are helpful in building trust between investors and management, especially for those who are located in different countries or even continents and may not see each other often. As convenient as emails and modern communications tools are, the human touch of being in the same room, shaking hands and conversing will always retain its value.

 

When was the last time your company did a non-deal roadshow?

Grayling New York has over 30 years of experience planning and executing hundreds of non-deal roadshows for issuers across market cap sizes and industries. In particular, we are experts at running roadshows for international companies seeking to access the U.S. or European capital markets. If your company needs help with your investor outreach or is getting ready to jumpstart your first non-deal roadshow, contact us now at newyork@grayling.com.

 

 

What does the ‘new collectivism’ mean for your business?

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How are businesses of all sizes responding to the changing values of our time? At Grayling, we asked 500 senior business decision-makers across Europe about their organisation’s purpose. The results indicate a shift away from the economist Milton Friedman’s vision of business existing solely to increase profits towards one more akin to the benevolent philanthropy of Victorian industrialists. What does this mean for your organisation in the era of ‘New Collectivism’? Tom Nutt, Grayling’s Head of Corporate, UK & Europe, shares his thoughts.

In 1970, Milton Friedman stated that businesses’ main social responsibility was to increase profits. This economic thinking peaked arguably in the 1980s with a ‘greed is good’ culture that was captured so well by the 1987 film, Wall Street.

Fast-forward to the present in a world slowly emerging from a disruptive year of lockdowns and we’ve learned that the pandemic has accelerated movements that were already active, with racism, gender equality and the environment as key themes. Younger generations are rejecting the status quo and spending their money with brands with a purpose beyond profit.

What business leaders tell us about purpose

At Grayling, we wanted to see how business leaders defined their organisation’s purpose in a post-pandemic world. In early 2021, we canvassed 500 senior decision-makers from across Europe*. We found that just a third (32%) of senior decision-makers across Europe believe that the sole responsibility of business is to maximise profits without breaking the law.

However, the majority (63%) believe that – alongside making a profit – businesses have a collective responsibility to the societies they operate in. Just 17% of micro-business owners believe that making a profit is the sole objective of business. We outlined our findings in our New Collectivism Report.

The pandemic has highlighted several societal and economic factors that were already in play, and three in ten (29%) of business decision-makers that we surveyed say they expect communication around COVID-19 to limit conversations around sustainability during 2021. A much smaller number (14%) say they feel pressure from customers, consumers or governments to move more quickly on ethical issues than is possible at the moment.

A fast-changing dynamic is forcing a rethink

The demographics of business are changing. Younger, tech-native Generation X and Millennials are rising through the ranks into positions of power, and we can expect them to bring a new management style that includes a purpose beyond profit. At a political level, younger politicians in Finland and New Zealand are indicative of this move, supported by a new progressive administration in the White House.

A politically active younger generation, invested in social and environmental movements, are voting with their e-wallets by buying from companies whose ethics and purpose they align with. Young talent also wants to work for progressive employers, with competitive benefits beyond the salary. Businesses must keep up. They must find a purpose beyond profit and vocalise it in an authentic way, not with greenwashing or tokenism that can be called out in an instant on social media.

The nascent era of ‘New Collectivism’ is a huge opportunity for organisations of all sizes to reassess their purpose and what kind of conversations they want to lead going into the future. This new direction must filter throughout the organisation from a cultural perspective and will impact everything from the products and services you offer, to your messaging, your human resources policies and your recruitment strategy.

If this is a challenge you recognise within your organisation, Grayling can help. We provide a wide range of expert communications services across Europe, including public affairs, public relations and digital communications.

We would be delighted to talk, so please drop me an email or download the report here.

 

*Study conducted of 500 senior business decision makers in international businesses across micro (1-9 employees, small (10-49 employees), medium (50-249 employees) and large corporations (250+ employees). Field study conducted 3-8 Feb 2021 by Opinium Research.

 

Peter Fecko appointed new CEO of Grayling CEE

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Grayling has appointed Peter Fecko as the new Chief Executive Officer in the CEE region, effective 1 January 2021.

Grayling was one of the first international agency networks to set up shop in CEE in the early 90ies and has successfully expanded its footprint in the region over the past decades – providing corporate communications consultancy and extensive public affairs support in addition to classic public relations services. In his new leadership role as CEO of Grayling CEE (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine) Peter Fecko is responsible for taking the region to the next level in terms of business growth.

Peter has been active in the communications industry for more than 20 years, working originally as a journalist for business media in Slovakia and prior to joining Grayling and establishing its office in Bratislava, Slovakia in 2000. Over the past 12 years, he has been managing further Grayling operations in CEE including, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, while continuing to provide strategic advice for multi-market key clients.

The newly created CEO role for the CEE region is linked to the recently announced new leadership roles and Grayling’s biggest-ever commitment to agency-wide cultural initiatives: significant investment has been made to ensure that Grayling staff worldwide feel more connected to each other and the business, and that best practice and local understanding is shared seamlessly across markets.

Ben Petter, Chief Operating Officer Grayling Europe, said:
“Grayling’s network in CEE is one of the agency’s great strengths. It has showed remarkable resilience throughout the pandemic, primarily because of its outstanding Public Affairs and Crisis Communications offer. Peter has such a wealth of experience in these areas, as well as Corporate Communications more broadly. Under his leadership, we are very confident that Grayling will continue to go from strength to strength in CEE.”

Peter Fecko, CEO Grayling CEE, said:
“Grayling has the most comprehensive and best-connected footprint of any agency in the CEE region. That has always made us an obvious choice for clients looking for multi-country support, but we are also seeing increasing demand for integrated Corporate Affairs services, covering both Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. This is our sweet spot across the region, and we expect to see significant growth in this area in 2021.”

 

Let the sunshine in: Transparency is critical ahead of COP26

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Transparency is king. That was the clear message last week from the panellists at Grayling’s first COP26 event of 2021. Neil Thomas, Senior Account Director in our London team, shares the main insights from the event.

The event kicked off a year of action around this year’s climate change conference and brought together a stellar panel featuring Baroness Sue Hayman, CDP’s Global Head of Value Chains Sonya Bhonsle, Quiller’s Deputy CEO Andrew Hammond and BT’s Head of Environmental Sustainability Gabrielle Ginér.

Drawing upon years of combined experience of attending UN Climate Change Conferences, all our panellists agreed that – despite the distraction and disruption of COVID-19 – COP26 is set to be the most important conference ever.

In the last few months, the new Biden administration has injected new energy into the global fight against climate change. Re-joining the Paris Agreement on day one of his presidency, Joe Biden is also expected to announce an enormous infrastructure bill in the coming days which will include huge climate spending. This comes after the other two members of ‘the big three’ – China and the EU – also made big climate change commitments in the last year.

There is also renewed pressure on governments and businesses to act, from above and below. Investors are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to reporting requirements. The global climate strike led by young people around the world and led by the tireless Greta Thunberg has also created immense pressure.

And increasingly, business leaders know action on climate change means good business. Indeed, in research recently carried out by Grayling, 70% of business leaders stated “alongside making a profit, businesses also have a collective responsibility to the societies they operate in”.

In the lead up to the Paris agreement, climate targets by businesses were often half-hearted according to Sonya Bhonsle: “Companies were setting targets in line with what they thought they could do but we’ve seen a change since then from what can we do? to what is necessary?“.

For example, many have signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative, which represents a commitment by these businesses to act in line with limiting carbon emissions to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperatures.

“Business leaders know this is a moment”, agreed Andrew Hammond.

But what of those companies that have yet to take the first step when it comes to taking meaningful action on climate change and want to engage with COP26?

For Bhonsle, transparency is key.

“We’re still hearing from many companies that, when it comes to disclosing carbon inventory, putting their head above the parapet is scary. By contrast, investors are saying that transparency is key – and anything is better than nothing. No one expects perfection in year one.”

Clearly then, for those brands wanting to demonstrate climate leadership and get involved at COP26, a commitment to disclosing carbon budgets helps build credibility and shows seriousness.

Beyond reporting, how should climate goals be framed – especially at a time when stakeholders are becoming more sceptical after the raft of announcements coming out of many companies in the last year or so?

Quiller’s Andrew Hammond suggested that “it has to be a mix of both”.

“You need the headline initiatives to drive transparency. They also offer a sense of clarity and purpose for the future.

But you also need shorter term initiatives to get there as well. One of the big lessons of the last 5 years is that you can make these pledges, but you need to show granular progress year by year. The key thing that will hopefully come out of Glasgow is making deeper cuts, deeper pledges.”

Telecoms giant BT has a commitment to be net-zero by 2045, and an interim target of cutting carbon emissions by 87% by 2035. Gabrielle Ginér added, “it’s important to have those interim targets so companies can demonstrate to how they’re getting on along the way – and the barriers that they face in order to reach them.”

When it comes to companies that are still on the fence about taking meaningful action on carbon emissions, the window of opportunity is closing. For Baroness Hayman, “The future of climate change action is from the bottom-up. It has to be that way, otherwise people – and especially young people who are by far and away the most engaged in climate issues – won’t buy into it.”

Are you looking to engage with COP26? Contact ross.laird@grayling.com or cop26@grayling.com to see how we could help you make your mark at this year’s critical UN Climate Change Conference.

A Ripe Environment for Radical Health Reform

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In a normal year, World Health Day, which is today (7th April), would largely pass us by without much thought, but we don’t find ourselves in normal times, and health is now prevalent in every aspect of our lives. And that change is particularly apparent in the way we communicate.

Until now a silo has existed around healthcare policy. The pandemic and the focus this has drawn to our health services means this is no longer the case. Health is now everyone’s business, and its connection to other issues, including the environment and economy, have never been more transparent. That brings fresh challenges, but also the opportunity to engage wider audiences on previously siloed topics.

From our analysis of online health conversations, we’ve been able to see how the nature of the debates around health have slowly changed over the pandemic. In the first three months of the pandemic there was a strong connection between health and the economy, as financial markets tumbled and the global economy stalled. Politics and healthcare were also very much in the news as governments reacted either vigorously or cautiously to the virus. Yet, even in these early months, we witnessed a growing connection between health and the environment – particularly from younger female audiences.

As the pandemic has rolled on, we have seen a changing dimension in the nature of online debate. The discussion around the economy and healthcare, for example, has moved from being largely negative to being more positive in places, both in terms of the role that the pharmaceutical industry has played, but also the role of tech start-ups. We have also seen a more widespread growth in the connection between healthcare and ecology.

All of these conversations are breaking down the barriers between healthcare and other topics, which means that when organisations are communicating, they need to think carefully about their audiences, messages and any potential repercussions in other sectors.

This, more inclusive debate, will become much more important in the months and years ahead. It matters because UK unemployment is continuing to rise and is expected to reach nearer 6%, with youth unemployment, which currently stands at over 14%, accounting for a significant portion of that figure. The damage this will cause to people is not merely economic, it is also likely to be detrimental to their health.

There is a growing wealth of evidence highlighting the importance of connections between good health and employment and access to the environment. We all benefit from the opportunity to work and socialise, with clear health benefits associated with supported work. Equally, we all profit from access to the environment, reaping the benefits both emotionally and physically of walking, running or cycling in our natural surroundings.

Political awareness of the inter-connection of health is the final piece of the jigsaw. Health policy has been largely an issue about institutions and services. If we are to break the mould of healthcare, perhaps now is the time for our governments to start to rethink healthcare and make the connections between health and other aspects of our lives. Both the UK and Scottish Government continue to think in largely departmental terms, so breaking down these silos will be no easy task.

There has probably never been a better time to implement more radical reform; the change in public discourse demonstrates that we are starting to think differently about health. Making the linkages between health and other topics will enable us to recognise that healthcare policy and decision-making is not a silo issue for clinicians and politicians to ponder, but an issue that affects all of us.

Ross Laird is Director and Head of Scotland at Grayling