Karen van Bergen

The ESG Audit: Omnicom

This week Omnicom Group's chief environmental sustainability officer Karen van Bergen tells us about its ESG commitments

By Jeremy Lee

Just two weeks to go now until 25,000 people from around the world descend on Glasgow (bringing with them an impressively large carbon footprint) for the COP26 summit.

Nonetheless, if progress can be made - particularly with regards to the emissions of developing countries - then the consensus is this gathering will be worth it. Moreover, those lived experiences of those countries that are affected by climate change could make for powerful listening.

In other news, the issue of environmental, social and governance investing has come further under the spotlight with heightened scrutiny from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. To many, this is indicative of greater rigour entering the market following accusations of "greenwashing".

For agency holding companies this rigour could be a good thing as they offer expertise to clients on developing strategies to integrate - and communicate - their ESG capabilities.

In the final conversation with one of the "Big 6" advertising holding companies we spoke to Karen van Bergen, chief environmental sustainability officer, Omnicom Group.

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?

"ESG is very important. A business like ours is all about talent. Now more than ever, we know current and future employees are looking for what a company stands for. They want to work for a business that has a clear ESG strategy and action plan; one that shows dedication to inclusivity and commits to positive impacts on society and the environment.

Similarly, clients are going to trust the counsel of a company who doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk. If we hope to attract their attention and budgets, it’s essential we uphold our own high standards for ESG internally.

Therefore, when we set goals and they are achieved, we don’t just settle; we raise the bar and set new ones. Our motivation to improve and innovate is what will set us apart from competition, for clients and talent alike."

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?

"This is certainly an area where we see growing interest. More and more, investors, consumers and employees are going beyond a company’s products and services and are analyzing its values and goals. This has resulted in more clients turning to us for expertise as ESG becomes engrained in their topline business decisions. In fact, many of our agencies have created specialized teams or departments to consult clients in these specific areas (environmental sustainability, DE&I, etc.). For example, our DE&I leaders at the holding company and network level are counselling top clients on DE&I initiatives. ESG is an essential part of doing business now and we are excited about developing innovative strategies and campaigns for clients that support their ESG values and business goals in an integrated manner."

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?

"We always want to see growth and positive change. Just as we are focused on moving the needle in ESG-related areas, our clients are as well. In the long run, it’ll be more effective if we partner and work together as we all pursue a commitment to creating a positive and lasting impact on the world."

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