On 22March 2023, The BD Consultancy hosted a roundtable in London: ‘What Matters Most? Communicating values across professional services firms’. This event followed on from their recently published industry report, expanding on the key puzzles it raised.
While there are plenty of conversations about how firms can refine their ESG, CSR, and similar strategies, very few focus on how to authentically communicate these values to clients, employees, and potential recruits. This event aimed to fill this gap, giving attendees the confidence to ‘talk the walk’ across all forms of communication.
Discussions covered a range of opportunities and challenges, with contributors providing down-to-earth advice. Through these exchanges of ideas, the following themes emerged:
An evolving journey
Communications are an integral part of a firm’s ESG/CSR/impact journey, which should be an ever-evolving work in progress rather than a static objective. Nobody has all the answers, so being open about your firm’s ongoing developments will show integrity, transparency, and adaptability, and may even spark some interesting discussions with potential clients.
So, it is recommended that you keep refreshing your communications, for example with new content updates and events. Regular training across the firm, including everyone from junior staff members to senior partners, will further empower individuals to become ambassadors of your firm’s values.
Bear in mind that people in your firm will all have individual understandings of, and attitudes towards, these matters, so varying levels of simplicity or detail are appropriate for different audiences. Nonetheless, all ESG and related communications should be underpinned by a foundation of in-depth understanding and sharp focus.
This detail-first approach to communicating positive impact was advocated across the board during our roundtable session. Such an approach involves meticulous, cross-firm strategizing to determine the focus of ESG, CSR, and related activity, as well as how it should be communicated. This comprehensive understanding can then be distilled into clear, memorable value statements that you can circulate internally and externally.
A clear internal message
Participants emphasised the importance of clear values for internal communications and how these values should be baked into the firm’s DNA, as well as reflecting the individuals who make up your firm. It is better to have fewer values (three was identified as an ideal number) that are simple and memorable, rather than lengthy and often generic paragraphs. Accompanying these values with engaging, consistent, and accurate storytelling will help people to get on board, as will visual representations.
A useful starting point when considering your firm’s values can come from asking different people across the firm to name and explain the values. This process will show the messaging that is already getting through and where work still needs to be done.
Contributors also shared advice on ensuring that all internal stakeholders understand the importance of impact communications. Compiling data was found to be a useful way of emphasising this, particularly in advance of key meetings. It also helps to tailor the information to your audience – perhaps board members appreciate lots of detail, while business support teams may prefer punchy statistics and short examples. This approach is especially useful for those in the ‘middle’ of a firm’s structure, who need to communicate both ‘up’ and ‘down’, often in differing ways.
Additionally, participants emphasised that a long-term view is required when measuring the business value of comms surrounding ESG, or ‘proving its worth’. For example, completely losing focus on this messaging when budgets tighten can make it seem superficial and undermine sustained efforts to create a positive impact.
Ultimately, contributors agreed that continuing to prioritise ESG-related activity and communications, regardless of budget constraints, is the greatest show of authenticity. This will bring long-term profitability in terms of talent retention, client engagement, and firm reputation. Some of the firms in attendance were able to demonstrate a tangible link between their communication of value-based credentials and profitability. For example, referencing values in their pitch presentations prompted interesting conversations with prospects that led to securing new work.
Standing out to clients
Although the messages firms share should be consistent across internal and external audiences, the way they are delivered often needs calibrating. Participants referenced the phrase ‘know your audience’. Just as you may need to tweak your language for different groups within your firm, the same is true for clients, potential recruits, and others outside the firm.
Contributing firms shared examples of how they are communicating their values to clients, through regular newsletters and inviting them to roundtables. Asking yourself: ‘what unique strengths does our firm bring to the table when it comes to having a positive impact?’ can help make your messaging stand out from competitors.
Your firm’s values should be implicit across all communications, not just those specific to ESG and related areas. Audiences will then recognise that these values are intrinsic to your firm’s wider strategy and culture – rather than merely a bolt-on at the end of a slide deck.
To ensure this consistency, and to drive positive impact, transparency and information sharing are essential. The best messaging has openness at its core, alongside a willingness to educate and learn from others.
Headline contributors included:
- Cindy Godwin, Head of Social Responsibility at AlixPartners
- Angela Monaghan, Purpose & Impact Manager at Bates Wells
- Alexis Gray, Marketing Director, The Berkeley Partnership
- Pauline Caldwell, Director, Momentum Business Consulting
- Charlotte Knight, Business Development Manager (ESG and Sustainability), Slaughter and May
- Caitlin Roxburgh, Head of ESG, The BD Consultancy
Representatives from Beale & Co., Hydrock, IPFA, Lewis Silkin, Mytton Williams, RIAA Barker Gillette, Shakespeare Martineau, Wedlake Bell, and Womble Bond Dickinson also joined the session.
You can download The BD Consultancy’s industry report on communicating values here: