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What We’re Reading – April 2021

Posted on April 26, 2021 by Paige Borgman
, Reputation Partners

What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From how businesses are addressing climate change to the European Super League’s 48-hour lifespan to the importance of crisis preparedness, here’s a look at the news that stood out to our team in April: 

SUSTAINABILITY COMMUNICATIONS

Some CEOs Are Hearing A New Message: Act On Climate, Or We’ll Cut Your Pay – Camila Domonoske, NPR

On Earth Day, President Biden pledged to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, the administration, company stakeholders, consumers, NGOs and others are increasing pressure on top Fortune 500 companies to lead the way in operating more sustainably, which will help collective efforts for accomplishing the administration’s emissions goals.

Top executives at large companies receive compensation for meeting performance metrics, and now those bonuses are being tied to achieving company climate goals set forth in Corporate Social Responsibility Reports, TCFD Reports and SASB Reports. Academic research published in the Academy of Management Journal indicates how government climate change policy mandates combined with company leadership having short-term financial incentives is needed for companies to truly become more sustainable. 

This movement is a sign of things to come for companies of all sizes: they can each expect to receive questions about how their business and operations impact the environment from stakeholders, clients, customers and the general public. Companies that have failed to plan for or communicate how they are becoming more sustainable will face reputational and financial risks.

Companies that communicate a clear and actionable sustainability plan that is executed diligently will outperform competitors, earn stakeholder trust and reap significant awards. There is no sitting on the sidelines in achieving sustainability—it is now a business mandate moving forward or else companies risk negative outcomes.

Earth Day 2021: brands from P&G to Apple take action on climate change – Imogen Watson, The Drum

“As we celebrated the second Earth Day during the pandemic, brands took this opportunity to highlight what conscious efforts they’re making – or what consumers can do – to reduce carbon emissions, promote products created from natural materials, or transition to renewable energy sources. Each year, I enjoy looking at the brands who pledge to “reduce their carbon footprint” in the coming years and then checking in YoY to gauge whether their progress aligned with their promise. Do they have a sustainability statement posted on their website to go more in-depth about their commitment? Have they won any sustainability awards? Are they featured in sustainability-focused media? Although coming out with an eco-friendly campaign is a legitimate tactic to employ on Earth Day, it means absolutely nothing if concrete action items aren’t in place to further carry out their mission.” – Haley Hartmann

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

How the Super League Fell Apart – Tariq Panja and Rory Smith, The New York Times

“48 hours…the European Super League lasted less than 48 hours. How could it be that incredibly successful business owners for some of the world’s most well-known sports brands could have gotten that so wrong?! Whether you call it soccer or football, there are a several key lessons here. First, know your audience – the owners of the teams that announced the formation of this new closed league clearly, and massively, underestimated the reception this announcement would have. While they viewed the teams as businesses with an opportunity to maximize profit, they did not appreciate that these clubs are truly of, by and from their individual communities. They may no longer be owned by the local towns they are from, but that history and foundation forms an incredibly deep connection for many. Second, and relatedly, don’t surprise your stakeholders – from all the reporting so far it appears that these owners did not share the news even with their team’s managers or players, let alone their fans and supporters. They also appear to have not provided any preview to elected officials and the media where they may have been able to establish their narrative and justification for the move. Third, understand and appreciate cultural differences. With many of the breakaway clubs owned by non-European individuals they missed the nuance, and importance placed on core parts of the game like relegation and promotion and the overall football pyramid structure. And finally, understand the real business and financial impacts from brand reputation and trust – just look at what has happened to the stocks of Manchester United (MANU) and Juventus (JVTSF) since the league fell apart.” – Andrew Moyer

DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook app boss says ‘we’ve been working on audio for a very long time,’ readies to launch Clubhouse rival – Sam Shead, CNBC

“It doesn’t come as a shock that Facebook plans to launch its own audio product to rival Clubhouse.  I thought this article did a good job highlighting where it wants to go with the technology. While the exact details of the Facebook product haven’t been released, it will be interesting to see what lessons, if any, the social media giant takes from watching Clubhouse rapidly rise and then plateau. Also, as an increasing number of users become more wary of Facebook’s security and influence, there may be less of an appetite from people to add another one of its products to their personal suite of social platforms.” – RJ Bruce

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

FedEx Shooting Is Reminder Why Corporate Crisis Teams Should Be In Place Before They’re Needed – Edward Segal, Forbes

“It’s not a matter of if, but when.” I can remember using that phrase in a crisis/issues meeting with a client several years ago. It was applicable then, and with what feels like the daily rate at which crises and issues pop up, it is especially relevant now more than ever. Unless you’re living under a rock or in complete denial, EVERY company should have a crisis plan in place and be ready to effectively put it in to action. Being ‘ready to effectively put it in to action’ is what I view to be the most important piece. Far too often, we are engaged by clients that are interested in developing a crisis manual, but for whatever reason, they don’t take one of the next, key steps of actually conducting a tabletop exercise or crisis drill – a/k/a practice. I love that this article stresses the need to “Practice, Practice, Practice,” but it feels a bit buried, just as it is often an afterthought for companies. Yes, having a plan and team in place are both important, but unless that team is confidently prepared to implement the plan, the desire to successfully address and navigate a crisis will be aspirational at best.” – Brendan Griffith

EXECUTIVE POSITIONING

Last Call for Climate Action – Steve Fechheimer, LinkedIn

“On Earth Day, New Belgium Brewing announced the launch of a beer that not only brings to light the impacts of climate change but has the taste of ingredients impacted by climate change (in other words, it doesn’t taste great on purpose). The beer is called Torched Earth and, to announce its launch, the company’s CEO wrote and shared an accompanying op-ed on LinkedIn. At RP, we’ve recently been discussing the value of authentic executive positioning on LinkedIn. This launch and op-ed hit the nail on the head. Beyond discussing Torched Earth, the LinkedIn piece cites relevant stats related to climate change and highlights a New Belgium-created tool to help customers identify if a Fortune 500 company has a sustainability plan. New Belgium Brewing is definitively marking its ownership of sustainability, stepping into a space of discomfort and doing so in a creative way. And, it’s newsworthy. The launch, and call-to-action, were widely covered in industry trade, national and local news outlets around the country. Not every company has such a clear space to own in sustainability, although important nevertheless; however, every company and organization can identify and own its own thought leadership space. Thus, using LinkedIn, a platform so focused on industry thought leadership, should be a natural part of a product launch or ongoing PR campaign.” – Frances Fyten

LABOR COMMUNICATIONS

The union’s defeat at Amazon is shaking up the labor movement and exposing a rift between organizers – Eli Rosenberg and Jay Greene, The Washington Post

“This is a fascinating analysis of the aftermath of the union’s lopsided defeat in trying to organize Amazon’s Bessemer, AL plant.  The company’s tactics (all apparently lawful) are criticized, and some left-leaning groups criticized the RWDSU for going forward with an election even though its base of support turned out to be shockingly low.  Of particular note, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos now acknowledges that the company needs to improve working conditions at its distribution facilities, a smart move given that that’s where the company remains most vulnerable to a union.” – Nick Kalm

BIG TECH

Nations Need Ambassadors to Big Tech – Alexis Wichowski, Wired

 “This article makes the case that big tech companies today, like Microsoft, Google and Facebook, wield country-like power and influence, and governments don’t know how to handle that. When a tech giant misbehaves, governments slap fines and create regulations that the companies can avoid with a simple change to their handbook. They maintain this power because governments are, frankly, out of touch. The only way to get a grip on regulating big tech is to have an expert on hand at all times- an ambassador. Seeing as we have ambassadors for countries that wield less power than Google, it only makes sense. When the UN held a “high-level roundtable” on climate change, they invited national leaders like the British prime minister, the Canadian prime minister, and the president… of Microsoft. It will be interesting to see how much influence big tech will have in the coming years, and what treatment they will be getting from- or giving to- world powers.” – Fred Walls

WORKING FROM HOME

‘Can You Hear Me?’ The Annoyances That Lead To Zoom Burnout – Claire Miller, NPR

“I found this article very interesting, especially as we move into year two of continued working from home arrangements. With work-life lines more blurred than ever, it’s important to find ways to disconnect and recharge. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is so important for overall work productivity.” – Natalie Wanner

Six things you must do if you’re planning to work remotely permanently – Jessica Thiefels, Fast Company

“This article provides some great tips for maintaining motivation and productivity during a prolonged period of remote work. What stuck out to me and has already proven to be beneficial is the suggestion to set movement alarms throughout the day. It’s very easy to remain in a fixed spot for hours at a time without much movement when working from home. I now set aside 15 minutes 2-3 times a day to take walks with my dog, when I get back to my desk I always feel refreshed and productive.” Paige Borgman

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