Capital Markets Corporate

June 7, 2018

David Attenborough: A PR guru to the investment industry?

Investment ESG Trees

By Hannah Beard, Account Manager, Financial Services

It’s claimed that the first example of a PR campaign was the 1954 A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers. A campaign designed for the American tobacco industry, it was engineered to alter the public’s perception of smoking and discredit scientific evidence of smoking related illness.

It’s not surprising then that PR sometimes has a bad reputation – however, the future of PR may have something altogether more positive in store.

Cause driven communications is on the rise

Cause driven communications has been driving the news agenda recently.

Gender pay gap reporting caused a big stir when it revealed 78% of companies pay men more than they do women. As a result, calls for changes to board structure have been heard throughout the city, even if those calls have been met with pitiful excuses, including: “we have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”.

However, the cause that has really been dominating the news is the impact we’re having on the environment with plastic now public enemy number one. Arguably there’s one individual that’s owning the cause more than anyone else and that’s David Attenborough. From a PR perspective he’s certainly doing it right with a basic search showing his media coverage in the last six months increasing by 174% (source: Factiva).

But how is he managing to have such an impact?

The answer is that he’s got a winning formula based on some clear principles: communicate in an accessible way (i.e. no jargon or confusing language); be consistently on message (i.e. make the key points over and over); show passion and integrity (i.e. don’t act like a robot) and lastly lead the debate (i.e. take a stance and be bold, as anything less is unlikely to drive the news agenda). Clearly, his profile and status in the public sphere will undoubtedly help. Nonetheless, as a consequence of his efforts, people aren’t just listening, they’re acting.

Cause driven investment change

Engagement in these causes is also driving changes in how and what we invest our money in. As a result, ESG investments are one of the fastest growing areas of the investment industry, with new product launches being announced on what seems like a daily basis.

Yet despite the huge growth in and demand for ESG products, communication of responsible investment in Europe is often poor. A survey of the 40 largest asset managers conducted by ShareAction found that only 5% of managers provide detailed information, including quantitative information, on the impacts of their investments.

In contrast, ESG is one of the most talked about subjects in the UK media – in the last 12 months alone there have been over 1,700 articles on it (source: Factiva). As a result, ESG is a crowded market and what we’re often seeing is comment for comment’s sake with some just trying to jump on the bandwagon. In short, there’s lots of heat but not always much light.

Cause driven communications by investment managers doesn’t need to be extreme. The story so far is often just telling us that ESG is important and that there are ESG funds with robust screening criteria. This approach is overdone and consistently vague with many investors still unsure what they’re investing in. Managers who change the narrative by addressing specific causes with tangible solutions will be heard.

A great example of this is L&G’s recent GIRL fund launch. For Helena Morrissey it’s certainly on brand and consistent with her messaging. They’ve chosen a cause that people care about: promoting and enabling gender diversity, they’ve clearly explained how the solution works and why it’s needed (the website content is excellent too) and importantly, they’re telling people how they can get involved – it’s clearly not just a publicity stunt.

So, whilst cause driven communications is changing the PR landscape the investment industry must ensure it isn’t left behind the curve.

Ultimately, if the cause is crowded then change the way the story is told. In this respect, David Attenborough is showing us how it’s done: pick your cause, show the world why it should care and tell people how they can affect change.