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January, 2024

BBC Studios: Sustainability messaging is mainstream in advertising, media becomes key trusted knowledge source on ESG info for business leaders, but are ANZ firms really doing enough to meet ESG requirements?

Half the advertising briefs coming through to the BBC Studios ad team today have aspects of sustainability messaging as Australian businesses look to demonstrate how they’re being socially and environmentally responsible, says group VP of advertising and distribution channels A/NZ, Jamie Chambers.

Given fresh survey data from the broadcaster shows 85 per cent of Australian business leaders believe it’s important to be seen – in public at least – as socially responsible, the stat isn’t too much of a surprise.

What surprises the media executive more is the fact the BBC’s own strengthening ESG credentials, which it’s proudly putting in front of businesses to show it’s walking the walk as much as talking the talk, aren’t being drilled into as much as they probably should be.

With Australia on the path to adopting mandatory ESG reporting as early as the next financial year, a new level of transparency is about to be unleashed around just how true corporate claims of sustainable and environmentally impactful business are in practice. Couple that with the ACCC’s growing crackdown on greenwashing in advertising, and it’s clear saying you’re committed to a healthier planet or offsetting carbon emissions without more sustainable, practical sustainability measures in place aren’t going to cut it for much longer.

It is imperative businesses start getting tools, processes and their data ducks in order to ensure they’re able to meet these regulatory obligations.

Yet Chambers is worried some still have their heads in the sand when it comes to making the wholesale changes necessary to meet climate change requirements. He’s surprised, for instance, only 42 per cent of Australian business leaders surveyed in BBC’s new ESG survey rank ‘environment’ as the leading ESG topic, followed by social (30 per cent) and governance (28 per cent).  And he sees the mixed reception of BBC Studios’ sustainability credentials as indicative of these gaps in knowledge around the risk – and business opportunity – ESG presents the local market.

“You look at reports from a couple of years ago, and ESG was one of the leading concerns for c-suites and executives. Now, based on that, plus the fact a lot of regulatory change has been known as coming – it’s been signposted very clearly and broadly, even at a national macro level – plus Australia’s carbon footprint full stop, I would have expected this to be a bigger concern among Australian business leaders surveyed,” Chambers tells Mi3.

“It probably goes back to economic concerns taking precedence, along with digital transformation and some of the challenges with privacy – it’s all proportionate and relative. But still, it’s going to come through quickly and it’s going to have a massive impact, especially for large corporates who may not have been as focused on this. You can’t just suddenly implement a reporting tool into your business to get all that information and ensure you can report on a full financial year.

“The can gets kicked down the road until it cannot go any further. Consumers are there. Customers are there.” 

That’s not to say the advertising and media industry hasn’t been working to bring sustainability about, and Chambers agrees there’s growing pressure on the advertising supply chain to be accountable. As a publisher, the BBC has committed to being Net Zero by 2030, a move that’s triggered new policies around travel, production channels adopted, supplier auditing, catering onsite and more.

“We push it up and through pitches, and when we’re taking propositions out there. We are putting those credentials of our business front and centre, especially when we get any sustainability-led campaign coming through. It shows us walking the walk as much as talking the talk,” Chambers says.

“It is a mixed reception just how much information is being sought from us; additional credentials beyond just saying we’re doing something. We have a number of certifications including Albert [BAFTA certification for having a carbon emissions action plan], which we can bring into our content production for advertising partners.

“Then there’s adtech: The levels within our adtech stack are as lean as possible to reduce energy consumption and cut our carbon footprint. From our perspective, that’s definitely not something you see when looking at our competitor set. Quickly do the analysis and you can see the number of partners being brought through, which means a proportionate increase in the carbon footprint.”

It’s not just governance driving this either. Chambers is quick to point to broader business opportunity available to those who do invest and make ESG a differentiation point early. The BBC Studios’ new report shows more than half of Australian business leaders will pay a 10 per cent premium for services provided by well-credentialled ESG suppliers. It’s a sign companies will pay to protect their reputations and attract ESG conscious customers and investors, the broadcaster says.

The media’s role for ESG information sourcing and marketing

The ESG knowledge gap points to a growing need for reliable information on ESG issues and practices. And this is something media companies like BBC are increasingly fulfilling. According to the new BBC Studios report, 68 per cent of Australian leaders find media reporting to be ‘very impactful’ in shaping corporate ESG strategy.

Business leaders were found to seek ESG news primarily through dedicated ESG publications and websites, followed by mainstream news platforms and lastly, social media.

Singaporean leaders, who are at least 18 months ahead of the local market in terms of climate reporting obligations and feature in the BBC survey as a comparison point to the Australian market, are finding media reporting on these topics even more impactful in shaping policy (89 per cent). What’s more, Singaporean business relying on media more heavily to guide investments in ESG technology (58 per cent in Singapore versus 36 per cent in Australia). And they’re placing more importance on the ability of employees to see their companies’ position on ESG (81 per cent versus 67 per cent).

“You’re probably going to find as these ESG reporting standards come through in Australia, that will force a lot more business leaders and stakeholders charged with influencing any decision making with the business suddenly go right, we need to lift our game, get out there and find out how to do it,” Chamber says.

We push it up and through pitches, and when we’re taking propositions out there. We are putting those credentials of our business front and centre, especially when we get any sustainability-led campaign coming through. It shows us walking the walk as much as talking the talk. It is a mixed reception just how much information is being sought from us; additional credentials beyond just saying we’re doing something.

Jamie Chambers, VP advertising and BBC News Distribution ANZ, BBC Studios

Media and the message

Media like the BBC has a role to play not just as a pure editorial information source, but as a contextually relevant platform for marketers of brands and businesses with a solid sustainability message, products and services to tell, Chambers continues.

“As a marketer, if you can connect with those different people in the right environment, in the right language and tone of voice, right level of complexity, you can create much more effective marketing outcomes,” he says.

By way of example, Chambers cites success with a sustainability-led campaign run on BBC channels with the Commonwealth Bank’s Institutional Business and Markets Division for the first time two years ago. Previously, the financial institution had used Australian and technical publications as the main media channel to market for ESG messaging.

“Our appeal was our audience was looking overseas and global news – we knew our audience and we spoke to senior audiences. As much as those people will be in The Australian or AFR, there is a way to reach them in a different way and tone of voice through BBC. That was enough to convince them, along with some of the research we provided, to try splitting up the budget and try a dual approach,” Chambers explains. “The results we got from brand studies were fantastic – you’re talking a +60 uplift in consideration.”

With other brands looking to take a sustainability message through media channels, Chambers advises focus on the human story and relevancy.

“The challenge we see with businesses is there’s a message that needs to be communicated. But they do sometimes focus a bit too much on product and service and the need to drive in technical details,” he comments. “Some of that can obfuscate what the story and relevance is for the audience. Going back to the point about understanding where audiences are at in any one publication is key.

“BBC audiences want to understand a problem. To understand that, you sometimes need to connect through a human-led story and things that feel relevant, then you get brought in. Overall, there’s a tendency, especially in B2B marketing and where sustainability comes in, to run to the end of the funnel and be too focused on getting the product message out there in detail, explicitly, to drive that demand generation. The brand messaging though is where the best businesses are putting the focus.”

AWS, launch sponsor of the new BBC Earth sustainability content pillar in the US, did this by focusing on building brand stories, Chambers says. The BBC is now putting the finishing touches on a new website and app, due in coming months, as well as the local debut of the new BBC Earth vertical in Q2.

“The broader marcomms continue that journey and connect deeper and go technical, but AWS knows it’s a great opportunity to connect in a story-led way with audiences to ensure AWS and its solutions are thought of first in terms of unprompted recall by businesses, influencers and decision makers.”

The new BBC Studios survey was conducted in October 2023 and canvassed 250 senior business leader respondents from Australia as well as 250 from Singapore.