Sustainable Marketing – Walking the talk Breakfast Event 28.10.23

By Fiona Couper on Monday, 2 October 2023

On Thursday 28th February in conjunction with the Financial Services Forum (FSF), we held our second breakfast event of the year on the theme of Sustainable Marketing - this time focusing on the making and delivery of sustainable marketing to ensure that internal behaviour matches external promises. With thanks to our expert panel for their insight:

  • Millie Hyde-Smith, PR and Content Director, Retail, Legal & General
  • Jo Fenn, Global Director, AdGreen
  • Jo Hand, is Cofounder, Giki
  • James Maxwell, Executive Creative Director, Teamspirit

Setting the scene

The Chair, Fiona Couper, CMO, Teamspirit highlighted that the pitfalls of failing to be sustainable in the making and delivery of marketing can be very public and reputationally damaging. The Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) has been baring its teeth, to reinforce that saying one thing and doing another is no longer going to wash. Last year it upheld complaints against HSBC’s out of home adverts that were deemed to be misleading they could lead viewers to conclude that HSBC’s overall financing activities had a positive impact on the climate despite the $87bn in financing to fossil fuel companies between 2015 and end of 2021.

In terms of attracting talent sustainable performance and behaviour is also crucial. According to Marsh McLennan, top employers by employee satisfaction, have average ESG scores 14% higher than the global average, likely due to their strong environmental scores. Previous panellists, such as Jasper Martens at Pension Bee, have reiterated how much the company’s purpose to do the right thing for the long-term acts as a barometer when creating new products and services – with the internal team warning if activity is ‘off’ brand.

Increased priority in 2023

The session kicked off by asking if 2023 has seen an increased focus on making marketing production and output as sustainable as possible – walking the talk. All felt that the year had seen increased interest and focus with the proof in the increased amount of data available to be measured., this increased interest was still seen as part of a tale of two halves, where both long-term goals and more immediate cost of living communications having to be twin tracked. Whilst James felt there’s also been a shift away from the saturated climate and net zero related messaging to those around nature and the ‘s’ in ESG.

Securing investment

Next the panel discussed how to navigate the barriers to making a more sustainable or long-term commitments, which can often be viewed as a more costly direction to follow. For Millie navigating the barriers began at the very start of their Colourful Retirement which has gone on to become an enduring inclusive photography direction. Getting beyond the vanilla stock photography to represent a more realistic portrayal of retirement meant working with real retirees and using a photographer who helped create genuine imagery that more accurately reflected this audience in a more relatable way. Getting to know those to be photographed led to more content and depth across the campaign which helped balance out any preconceptions of a bespoke photographic style being a more costly route to take. The result was an ownable, and category differentiated style that continues to this day.

Attracting and retaining talent

Exploring the role of employees in helping to make a sustainable difference the panel discussed how individual action can feel futile and lost. Jo Hand shared information on the ability of their Giki platform to create internal engagement, even allowing for an element of competition between teams, offices, and markets. The imperative is to help employees understand their personal carbon footprint, to do the heavy lifting that allows them to engage and come together through challenges and events to encourage collective action.

Measuring the change

This neatly led on to the need for evidence, to prove the impact being made through meaningful, material, and measurable targets. Jo Fenn talked about AdGreen’s carbon calculator and how it allows agencies and clients to see the breakdown of carbon emissions by activity across shoots. By reducing flying, number of attendees on shoots and using more local teams where possible the difference can be enormous. Particularly when you look at the vast number of shoots in sectors such as fast fashion. This led to the panel discussing the vast swathes of content being produced daily and the environmental cost of this living in the cloud or buried deep in company websites. All of which uses energy and the panel advocated should lead to a quality not quantity content direction.

Avoiding trend reactions

Finally, the panel discussed how the likes of political direction and AI is impacting the creation of sustainable brands. All felt that being clear on what the brand stands for, its purpose, in the face of changing headwinds is vital and acts as the NorthStar. Doing the right thing is a long-term commitment which should never vacillate in the face of trends. In terms of AI and a digital first world its even more important to reinforce key brand assets to ensure that they are both fit for purpose in a world that moves and create a branded experience at every touchpoint.

Huge thanks again to the panel for their insight and candour. If you’d like to discuss how to ensure your brand behaviour matches external promises, please contact us at

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