What Your Content Production Agency Needs to Know About ESG

What Your Content Production Agency Needs to Know About ESG

Discover how your content production agency is positioned to be the crucial link between modern ESG values and the audiences who prioritize environmental, social, and governance impacts above traditional business metrics.

How Your Content Production Agency Must Adapt to the New Marketing Era

From preserved mosaic ads discovered in a businessman’s house in Pompeii to the rise of AI-driven content, the how of marketing has gone through too many evolutions to count. But periodic “We’re the good guys” campaigns aside, marketing has always been about engaging and attracting customers and increasing revenue. 

Not anymore. Now we’re seeing brands with messaging that seems to risk alienating their customer base. (Or to be speaking to someone else entirely!) It’s critical to understand why people consume content differently now and how to adjust content services to meet their new needs.

ESG Narratives in Focus: How Your Content Production Agency Can Lead in Ethical Business Messaging

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. It’s shorthand for the growing belief that businesses should be a force for good, not just profit – that they should be committed to helping make the world a better place. 

And that desire to see companies work toward the common good has broadened the audience (stakeholders) for marketing content. That’s why you’ll see clients asking your agency copywriters for help addressing topics like these:

Where Employees Want to Work

Younger employees tend to be more engaged in environmental and social issues than previous generations, and they’re more willing to change their lifestyles to accomplish those goals. One way people demonstrate their commitment is by choosing employers who share their values. 

A study found that 93% of employees under 30 become more loyal and motivated when their employers are more environmentally and socially responsible. Employers are taking notice of this trend and paying attention to the needs of their younger employees.

Where Investors Want to Put Their Money

Financial responsibility is one of the biggest drivers of ESG. In addition to encouraging organizations to focus on things other than profit, a growing number of investors want to reduce risk by putting their money behind organizations that show responsibility in their environmental, social, and governance activities. There are now hundreds of ESG-based mutual funds serving investors who want to “do good” while making a profit. 

Where People Want to Shop

Customers may no longer be the only audience, but they definitely have a voice. And they’re not afraid to use it! Given the choice between two companies, many will give their business to the one that does the best on ESG metrics. Potential customers may focus more on diversity, sustainability, and other factors than on the ESG scores financial institutions rely on. And they don’t hesitate to boycott businesses to protest everything from executive salaries to the products they sell. 

These are only a few of the factors that make up the ESG landscape. Do your clients a favor and brush up on them now!

How Your Content Production Agency Can Help Clients Tell Their ESG Stories

You probably already have clients who are making ESG a top priority, and there are plenty of people clamoring for that kind of content because they want to work with (whether through purchases, investments, or accepting job offers) organizations that act as a force for good. They want to be part of making the world a better place. 

That’s a pretty big paradigm shift for any brand. And it’s why content marketing agencies that can also serve as brand stewards have a chance to stand out by offering additional value. Digital policy consultant Kristina Podnar says, “In a world where business goals extend beyond profits, organizations will seek out content marketing agencies that can elevate a brand’s image and forge meaningful connections based on values, integrity, and a shared vision for a sustainable and equitable future.”

How do you do that? Find the stories. Some people might want to read the raw data, and they can find that in an organization’s ESG reporting. But most people count on stories to find brands that resonate with their values.

However, creating ESG stories is different than creating stories around products or services. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. Just follow these five simple steps. Once you’ve done the work, make it part of the client’s style guide.

Step 1: Look For Signs of ESG in Content Requests

If one of your clients suddenly starts requesting content that seems to make no sense based on their previous content strategy, ask yourself if they may be trying to promote their ESG efforts. 

If so, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart conversation about what you can do to help. Successful ESG marketing isn’t built on piecemeal blog posts; it’s built on a full-scale commitment to big goals. Specific actions and progress toward goals are great, but customers want to be inspired. And they want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

So when you sense that your clients might be sticking their toes into ESG waters, offer a  helping hand. Instead of just writing content that seems off-brand, help them formulate an ESG content strategy.

Step 2: Your Content Production Agency Should Always Focus on Authenticity

Audiences expect authenticity from the brands they support. They want to read stories that brands publish because they’re proud of the good they’re doing, not content they post just to check off a box. 

Here are two examples:

  • A company that makes solar panels could write an article outlining the things buyers should consider when purchasing a home with existing solar panels. There are lots of things to consider – whether the solar panels are leased or owned, for example. Such a blog post would demonstrate the company’s commitment to sustainable energy without being self-promotional.
  • A company that’s designated as being a great place to work could write about how that accomplishment directly affects customers. A retail company could write a post about how a long-time employee helped a customer solve a problem. A healthcare company could write about the link between employee retention and patient outcomes. 

Good agency copywriters can take just about any ESG activity or accomplishment and turn it into an engaging story.

Step 3: Think Out of the Blog Post Box

One of the driving forces behind ESG is that consumers want to feel like they’re a part of something. So whether your client achieves an ESG goal or wants to enlist employees and customers in their efforts, tap into the power of social media to get everyone involved: 

  • Don’t just craft a tweet; ask people to retweet it with a comment. And don’t forget to tag stakeholders who are likely to share the tweet. If your client won an award related to their ESG initiatives, for example, tag the agency that gave them the award.
  • Create an image or meme and post it to Instagram. Ask your audience to share and tag stakeholders with large followings. 
  • Come up with a catchy hashtag. Even if it doesn’t go viral, it will become part of your library of ESG-related content. It might also be a good idea to research trending ESG hashtags so you can build on their momentum.

In addition, help your client create an ESG statement for their website. More and more people are looking at “About” pages. It’s a good place to talk about governance – the “G” in the ESG acronym. This type of content is less about telling a story than laying out your client’s rules for conducting business

Step 4: Ask, “What Could Go Wrong?”

When brands get trashed on social media – or, even worse, face widespread boycotts – it’s often due to ESG messaging gone wrong. We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all thought, “What were they thinking?”

The likely answer is that they were thinking about boosting their ESG score and not about how the message could be misconstrued, taken out of context, or might offend their customers. This is something your content production agency should be thinking about all the time, but it’s especially important with ESG content. These are big issues where emotions run strong, and backlash can pop up where you least expect it.

Things to watch out for:

  • Any message that’s likely to alienate your client’s existing customer base: Most brands will hope to take their customers with them on their ESG journey, but some customers will dig in their heels. Maybe they’re not motivated to make a change, or maybe the leap is just too big. And that may be OK. But it should be a carefully considered decision from the C-suite, not an “oops.” 
  • All talk and no substance: The pressure on organizations to make progress on ESG standards is enormous. And it’s OK to talk about goals. But a brand can only do that for so long before people start to notice. 
  • Greenwashing: “Greenwashing” is a relatively new term used to describe an organization that makes its sustainability progress sound better than it really is. For example: “Our product contains 50% more recycled materials than it did before” sounds really good – until somebody points out that it increased from 2% to 3%. Don’t let your clients engage in greenwashing – it’s bound to come out.

Step 5: Be Sure Your Content Production Agency Has a Crisis Plan 

The old adage that “You can’t please everybody” has never been more true, and your content production agency needs to help your clients develop a planned response for ESG marketing gone wrong. 

According to Podnar, “Having a social media crisis policy is like having a lifeboat on a ship. It can serve as your map for navigating the turbulent waters of a crisis – protecting the brand’s reputation, maintaining stakeholder trust, and ensuring an effective recovery.”

What will your content production agency do if there’s a big negative reaction nobody anticipated? 

And what if it happens outside of working hours? Does your working agreement include being available after hours to respond to emergencies? If you notice a problem developing, do you have an emergency contact for your client? Who has the authority to make decisions regarding a response?

If there is a strong backlash, will your client backtrack or double down? 

The answer depends on how important the issue is to your client. If they were just testing the waters, they could probably get away with backtracking. That may include an apology or just a “clarifying” statement. For major issues, it’s a tough call. Doubling down will show supporters they mean what they say. Backtracking may appease those who objected but will likely alienate supporters. There’s no single right answer. Airline pilots talk about how it’s easier to resolve problems if they have plenty of altitude to play with. The same is true for businesses. Those who have plenty of capital, plenty of loyal customers, etc., will make different decisions than those with limited resources.

What messaging can your content production agency create in advance? 

Your experience as a content production agency should enable you to create some messaging in advance. This includes responding to comments on blog posts, tweets, and Instagram, or on other platforms. Get them approved in advance, and decide how much you can tweak them without needing to contact your client for approval. 

Steering Through Change: How Your Content Production Agency Can Lead in ESG Marketing Innovation

Between technological advances, environmental priorities, and cultural changes, content marketing is changing at warp speed. And it’s far better for your content creation platform to be leading the charge than trying to catch up with your clients. Prepare now so you can guide your clients through the potentially choppy waters of ESG marketing.

About the Author:

Patti Podnar headshotPatti Podnar is a seasoned content writer, strategist, and consultant with a rich background in various industries, emphasizing compliance topics like security, privacy, and accessibility. Her expertise lies in crafting content that not only aligns with business goals but also resonates with specific audience groups, leveraging her deep understanding of business and marketing fundamentals. Patti distinguishes herself with a unique approach that combines writing skills with content strategy, assisting clients in identifying their target audiences, addressing their needs, and navigating complex compliance landscapes. Check out her writing profile to learn more about how her expertise can level up your content strategy: Patti Podnar.