R/GA’s Bayyina Black on ESG in Agency Selection, Authentic DEI, and Content Strategies

On this week's episode of The MadTech Podcast, Bayyina Black, global director, sustainability and impact at R/GA, joins ExchangeWire CEO Rachel Smith and research lead Mat Broughton to discuss the importance of ESG in the agency selection process, why authenticity is imperative to DEI, and the evolution of content strategies.

ESG becoming key to agency selection process

How has the pitching process changed amid ESG’s ascension? Has sustainability become a deal-breaker? 

Brands are increasingly asking agencies to prove their sustainability credentials at the point of pitching (or even beforehand), particularly around reducing carbon emission, efforts to reach net zero, and offsetting strategies. The trend follows a shift in the perception of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) from merely procedural to a high priority for corporations, according to agency figures.

However, selectiveness based on ESG commitments goes both ways, with some agencies declining to work with clients who aren’t as focused on climate issues. Partnering with brands who don’t show a clear dedication to adopting sustainable practices and who may hope to appear otherwise (or ‘greenwash’) could undermine agencies’ own green credentials.

Greater authenticity needed for DEI to succeed

What progress has been made towards embedding DEI in the advertising industry? What more needs to be done?

Efforts to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into workplace culture are being undermined by a lack of authenticity. According to communications professional and DEI practitioner Sheila Callaham, employers misunderstand the scope of DEI and the benefits of incorporating it into their business, causing them to view it “as a token program”.

To change this, leadership teams need to make their DEI strategies more authentic by bringing diverse talent on board and listening to their lived experiences, as well as by fostering a sense of belonging among their employees. Leaders must also hold themselves and their teams accountable for embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion, serving as examples of how to do so and addressing those who don’t, says Callaham.

Agencies begin reassessing content strategies

How can brands make their content stand out in a crowded digital media landscape?

Agencies are reassessing the amount of content they’re producing for clients as they seek to strike a balance between quantity and quality. While content consumption has increased, giving brands an opportunity to reach their target audiences, the volume of digital media has made the content landscape more competitive and pushed agencies to take other factors into account when determining a content strategy.

According to reports, strategists are steering away from churning out less meaningful content and reflecting more heavily on the ethical implications of what they’re producing. For influencer marketers, the tone and authenticity of content, as well as the diverse requirements of different platforms, are being approached with greater consideration. As consumers’ tolerance for inauthentic and poor quality content continues to decrease, agency figures recognise the need to focus on less, but more valuable, content.