DE&I Diversity and Inclusion ESG

Now is the time for media and marketing to take measurable action on ESG – but how?

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July 27, 2023 | 7 min read

As the Responsible Marketing Agency launches in response to a growing need for sustainability and social guidance in advertising, we speak to founder Hannah Mirza about the steps marketers can take to kick-start their journey

Welcome Hannah. You recently opened the Responsible Marketing Agency, which you call a first-of-its-kind of agency for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) transformation. Where did the idea stem from, and why is it unique?

The conversation around the need for sustainability and inclusion and diversity strategies in media and marketing has been brewing for some years - it’s not new. And yet, it’s such a massive topic that knowing how and where to start taking tangible, consistent and measurable steps - to, say, reduce emissions or invest in underrepresented voices - is still daunting for many.

With so many brands and media companies asking us how they can make progressive changes (and, crucially, measure those changes), I saw a gap in the market for an agency that could help them move beyond the talking and deliver ESG as a core component to campaigns without compromising on performance. The result is a full-service media and marketing consultancy specializing in ESG transformation through advisory, enablement and partnership services.

And who should be responsible for making these changes?

It sounds simplistic, but everyone involved in the media and marketing process - from creation, production, planning and buying to trafficking or delivery - can take steps to support better outcomes of their campaigns for both people and planet. So whether you’re a client, creative agency, media agency, publisher, production company, data or ad tech company - everyone has a role in this journey.

And as I said, none of the steps need to detract from the effectiveness of the actual campaign. Clients’ need for change is real. The looming 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals goals and the corporate commitments to them cannot be ignored.

If we took one of the areas, sustainability, what resources are available for media and marketing execs today?

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) has just launched the world’s first action guide to sustainable media for advertisers in conjunction with AdNetZero, put together by some of the biggest household names, including Diageo, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Mars, L’Oréal, Reckitt, and Mastercard; as well as industry bodies including 4A’s, Ad Net Zero, ANA, ISBA, WFA and our team here at the Responsible Marketing Agency. The aim of the guide is to identify key areas where advertisers can take action immediately to reduce the direct carbon emissions of their advertising activity.

Alongside the guide, there are several other reports that serve as a great reference point, including the WFA’s recent Sustainable Marketing 2030 Report, which seeks to explore how the marketing function can be part of the solution to a sustainable future; and the IAB Tech Lab’s recent Sustainability Playbook, a portfolio of recommendations to reduce the carbon impact of the programmatic supply chain.

The critical aspect of these resources is it moves us from conversation to action. Often, ESG can seem daunting and the phrase ‘eating an elephant’ comes to mind. These resources give clear guidelines to start what is a major change process for businesses, one step at a time. We are helping clients take those steps.

What sort of changes should media and marketing companies be looking to make to drive a sustainable agenda?

There are three fundamental areas we see as a starting point to decarbonize the media and marketing supply chain. First, we need to ensure sustainable supplier selection and infrastructure. Second, we need to consider what goes into the assets created and can we optimize those assets before they are distributed in media. And finally, we need to ensure we’re building a sustainable process for media planning and buying.

Q: What are some of the specific steps?

So a best-practice example of supplier selection and infrastructure would be to build a sustainability-assured media partner list. This is perhaps the greatest decarbonization effort that we can achieve across the supply chain. Alongside this, we need to be more selective in the technologies we choose to support our campaigns, focusing on those that contribute the least amount of greenhouse gases. And we should also remove poor-quality inventory from the plan wherever possible.

When it comes to optimizing assets for reducing media carbon outputs, there are a number of things we can consider. This includes reducing, reusing and recycling creative assets, as well as compressing and optimising the length of each ad format, i.e. shortening them where possible. This goes hand in hand with the next step, which is to stream content rather than preloading it, thus reducing demand on server energy.

And finally, for media planning and buying, there’s a whole host of considerations to dive into. First, we can start to plan our campaigns around timeframes that include off-peak energy periods. Second, we can streamline the way data is used - applied to campaigns, stored and transacted. This can be done by improving targeting capabilities (for instance switching from mobile roaming to wifi targeting), and by deduplicating overlapping data layers and services.

Where print is included in the channel mix, we can prioritize those who opt to use responsibly sourced paper, as well as recycled and recyclable printing materials (e.g. biodegradable inks). Similarly, we can look to work with suppliers who leverage advances in out-of-home (OOH), such as energy efficient display displays, recycled aluminium structures or solar-powered roofs.

That all sounds great, but how do we begin to measure our efforts?

Measurement is the final piece of the puzzle, because without it, none of us know how much, if any, impact our efforts are having on the media supply chain. The good news is, we’re seeing the emergence of more and more carbon calculation tools and emissions dashboards that allow us to track, measure and analyse our carbon footprint in the media supply chain.

The next chapter, though, is the urgent and pressing need for industry standards on how these calculators are taking data inputs. So at the moment, one advertiser might think they are implementing the same sustainability measures as the next, when in fact they are reporting a hugely different result. Once the industry decides on these standards, they can be fed into planning, buying and reporting platforms for everyone to use. We are still at a nascent stage here and the critical work of GARM will help us navigate faster towards solutions.

What’s next for the industry?

Creating an industry standard requires all of us to put aside our competitive business mindsets and realise that access to transparent knowledge and collaboration is the only way we can accelerate the change needed. This means that normally rival companies will need to collaborate together for the environment effort without reservation.

The Responsible Marketing Agency works with clients such as Diageo and the WFA to deliver high-performing consultation projects with a focus on ESG. To find out more about the steps from the GARM Guide to Sustainable Media mentioned above, download the action guide here.

DE&I Diversity and Inclusion ESG


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