Peter Reid

The ESG Audit: MSQ

This week MSQ Partners CEO Peter Reid talks about helping clients maximise their ESG agenda

By Jeremy Lee

COP26 - the UN’s climate jamboree in Glasgow kicks off on Sunday. It marks the most important climate talks since 2015, when the Paris agreement was signed to help stall rising global temperatures. But when it comes to politics and politicians, it's no surprise the world is coming up short. Russia has decided not to attend the climate summit. Our Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already pronounced that the chances of Cop26 success are ‘touch and go’. Meanwhile, there are reports of rubbish and rats on the streets of Glasgow.

On the tail of these worrying signals, a lot of hand-wringing is to be expected of course. But let's remember that while the Glasgow summit in itself might not lead the way to a new energy economy entirely, it has started conversations in boardrooms where the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement has been gaining steam.

And rightly so, as the far-reaching challenges such as climate change and economic inclusion have been top of mind for business leaders who understand that ESG is not just another tick-box exercise to demonstrate how good you are as a business, but that it gets to the heart of why you are in business and what your impact on the world and the communities you are serving can be.

This is the next in our ESG Audit Series where we ask MSQ Partners CEO Peter Reid about his commitments to the environmental, social and governance movement.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are becoming an increasingly popular way for brands and businesses to be evaluated. How much of a competitive advantage is it for a business like yours? Also how important is ESG when it comes to attracting both clients and talent?

"We find it critical for both. In reality, taking this seriously isn’t a competitive advantage anymore – it probably was last year. Now it’s table stakes. Going beyond carbon negative, devising and implementing initiatives that truly move the needle is the source of competitive advantage now.

"For clients, it is a gating factor. If you aren’t taking this seriously, you won’t get on most major pitches as of this year. Every single RFI we’ve been issued in the past twelve months has a question on ESG within it – in fact many of them have whole sections dedicated to it – and rightly so.

"For existing talent and further recruitment, it is even more critical. That’s something that’s struck me speaking to a lot of new joiners this year. The fact that MSQ was the first marketing group to become Carbon Negative and the fact we’ve publicly committed to going well beyond that (by looking to cut emissions per head by 50 per cent by 2024) have been cited as key factors by people choosing MSQ over our competitors recently.

"Interestingly, that goes for all levels and all types of roles – people can see through the ‘tick-box exercises’ and want clear, actionable, innovative solutions. To see their business put their money where their mouth is. It’s why we’ve even appointed our own Chief Sustainability Officer, who’s driving initiatives such as The Million Tree Pledge, a Staff Renewable Energy Scheme and implementing Science Based Targets."

WPP was recently quoted as saying that “Demand is off the scale” for ESG-related work - how significant is it when seen as a potential revenue growth in advising clients in areas such as climate change, racial equity, privacy and responsible marketing?

"It is already a significant revenue stream. Last year we launched a specific climate, environmental and sustainability communications offer, MSQ/Sustain, following our acquisition of Kameleon, which brought a team with years of experience working in the area. MSQ/Sustain has helped many of the world’s leading ESG bodies and commercial clients set an ESG-focused agenda and deliver marketing campaigns to support and drive these initiatives.

"Working with the likes of the We Mean Business coalition, the team played a key role in driving policy at COP25, and working alongside the likes of Amazon, GSK, Unilever and the UK and US governments they helped launch The Leaf Coalition at the recent Biden Climate Summit. It’s revenue generating work and important too – needless to say MSQ/Sustain will have a strong presence at COP26 next month.

"More generally, the big change this year is that we’re also seeing more mainstream brands starting to put ESG at the very heart of their brand agenda.

"No longer is it a nice-to-have or a campaign that sits around the edges."

As a holding group what is your stance on ESG for your agencies, your clients and your shareholders? And does that preclude you from working with certain businesses?

"Our focus today is much more on engaging with clients and helping them maximise their ESG agenda – and in particular to help them limit their emissions and related impact linked to marketing activity.

"As such, ahead of each project we offer clients a dashboard measuring the carbon impact that the activity will generate, and we jointly put in place an appropriate offset plan to ensure that the output has no negative environmental impact. I’m delighted to say that clients are increasingly taking us up on that.

"And for the industry, our CSO has also created a ‘How to measure, reduce, and offset your company’s carbon footprint’ course, which we have made available on Future Learn free of charge to all agencies, so they can genuinely tackle climate change too."

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