Sustainability communication is predicted to be one of PR practitioners’ concerns in the future. But what is it?
The statement above was delivered by Veve or Verlyana Hitipeuw, CEO and Principal Consultant of Kiroyan Partners when she opened the discussion with PR INDONESIA virtually Friday (12/11/2021). According to her, sustainability communication is an approach companies use to communicate their sustainability efforts towards their stakeholders.
Sustainability communication here does not only mean communication about the CSR program and the program impacts. The meaning is actually broader. Effective sustainability communication must involve employees, customers, and investors as key stakeholders. And it must be aligned with the company’s overall strategic intent as outlined in its long-term sustainability plan. There is involvement or engagement in it. Its content is not merely hard news information, nor does it just promote how diverse and creative the company’s CSR programs are. It is also not about the number of beneficiaries of the CSR programs.
Effective and believed sustainability communication is communication that has a positive influence on equity, customer, and employee loyalty, as well as the company’s reputation in the eyes of key stakeholders. True sustainability communication enables companies to inform customers, employees, and other stakeholders about their business, operations, and how the company uses a sustainable approach in all aspects of their organization’s activities.
It Starts with Understanding
Therefore, like any other strategic communication, strategic sustainability communication must start from the public relations understanding of the audience and stakeholders. PR must assess the motivation of the audience they are targeting so that the messages conveyed are appropriate. PR also needs to use various communication channels according to the targeted audience to reach the right target, and the messages are relayed.
For example, investors will focus on sustainability factors that impact the company’s financial performance. Specifically, they will usually see the company’s initiatives and efforts in responding to challenges in certain industrial sectors. Meanwhile, customers will be more interested in non-material factors such as sustainable sources or products. On the other hand, prospective and current employees will tend to pay more attention to whether the work environment provided by the company is by the standards regulations or if it is even above average.
For this reason, the woman who is also a lecturer in the reputation management course thinks that it is crucial for PR practitioners to learn more about sustainability communication. This is not only to follow the trend but because the entire company will be expected to become more sustainable in all aspects of its operations in the future. This does not only apply to public companies. Abroad, the responsibility to carry out sustainability communication usually falls within the scope of work for the corporate communication department, in collaboration with the division that handles corporate sustainability strategy.
Sustainability communication needs to be seen as one of the business strategies for companies that have integrated sustainability into their operational activities. “One of the goals for sustainability communication indeed is to help improve the company’s ESG (environment, social, governance) ranking,” she said. Because, in many cases, an ESG rating can be an accurate indicator of sustainability performance. “But that’s not the only goal of sustainability communications,” she said.
In addition to the abovementioned challenges, Veve also appealed to PR practitioners to prepare for many challenges that will arise in the future. One of them is the demand for PR to think strategically and creatively to achieve communication goals. Being strategic here entails being effective, efficient, and on target, starting from the HR side, budget to mobility, even with all limitations.
The recipient of a master’s degree in Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences from the University of Bonn, Germany, also highlights the importance of public relations in managing expectations. For example, we all learn that the rate of virus transmission is decreasing, the number of vaccine recipients is increasing, and health and economic conditions are improving in 2021. However, we should not expect that the way humans move, work, and even the way the audience communicates will return to the way they were before the pandemic. The lifestyle considered suitable during the pandemic will be kept even when the conditions gradually improve. “Because we feel that the method is effective, has become a new habit, and is still relevant to do,” she said.
PR has to get used to not relying on only one channel even in hosting an event. Instead, to echo the same message across several different channels. From holding workshops, followed up with coverage in online media, to publishing it in the form of content on social media. PR should also be able to explore the channels that best suit their target audience. This condition is complex because now, all communication actors compete to convey messages repeatedly in many channels. “Multichannel is no longer an option but a necessity,” she said.
PR should be more proactive in monitoring news and conversations concerning their brands/organizations across all channels. The increasingly massive development of social media makes every individual able to act as a content producer. However, not all must be responded to reactively. Like Pandora’s box, a pandemic allows all things initially being forbidden to be opened.
Veve concluded that adaptability, not being rigid, open to new things, flexibility, being agile, up-to-date, and doing much research will be the PR competencies that are most needed in the future. “Whatever the industry, no matter how long the organization has been operating, every organization will be demanded to be like a startup company,” she said. What is certain is that PR should never join in doing something just because it is going viral while it is not necessarily the answer to overcome the issues faced by the organization. “However, one thing for sure is PR practitioners must continue to study the new trends,” she said.
Several factors influence whether or not PR should follow trends. Among other things, returning to the goals or objectives of each organization/corporation, the target audience they want to target, the medium channels they use, and the situation or issues the organization faces. After that, PR can adjust to suitable trends. “The formula for communication remains the same. These factors influence everything,” she said. For that, this is where the importance of doing research for PR. Thus, PR can find a point or a middle ground for the organization that is most relevant, even though it may vary from one organization to another.* rtn/ais
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 81st Edition, issued on December 2021, pages 20-21.
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