PR’s Top Pros Talk… Building Value with ESG
Gloria Janata, President and CEO, TogoRun
Why are companies shifting focus from CSR to ESG? Gloria Janata, President and CEO of TogoRun, discusses how the move impacts the role of the communications function. Gloria also dives into TogoRun’s efforts on reducing disparities in healthcare.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: GLORIA JANATA
DOUG: The acronym CSR and ESG are thrown around quite a bit, and Glo, you’re going to bring some energy to this discussion. Can you start off by first giving us your sort of quick definition of what each of those terms mean?
GLORIA: Sure, Doug. Corporate Social Responsibility really is a term that’s been around for a really long time, and it speaks to almost the idea that corporations are sort of doing just sort of what they need to do to make sure that they’re supporting certain aspects of the communities that they’re working in or just doing sort of just enough to make sure that that responsibility is able to be understood and that is out there. There’s a real difference though now in terms of how society is really looking to companies to define what they do from a Corporate Social Responsibility standpoint. And that’s what’s so exciting about the new focus on ESG, because it really is putting ROI behind ESG in a way that’s going to really expand the stakeholders that we’re really trying to support.
DOUG: Great, and we’ve definitely set a record for most acronyms in the first question. But it is an important difference. So, are companies, are brands sort of learning to be moving? Is that movement happening quickly, or does it need to even move more quickly in your view?
GLORIA: I think it’s moving quickly. I think across both the investment community as well as the business community, we’re really seeing a new trend in looking at ESG, Environmental Social Governance, everything sort of coming together, not just into sort of one-off programs or programs that are being done by a company’s foundation. So, it’s sort of off to this other area, and it’s not having a real impact or a strategic focus on what it is that the companies need to really be doing to look at their stakeholders in a completely different way. I think a gratifying thing that we’re seeing in C-suites across, at least in our business, across the health and wellness sector, is really looking at how are we looking at environmental factors, social factors, governance factors. How can the company, and its leadership, and its employee base really be a part of society in a way that value is being brought across, again, each area? So, not just shareholder value, but stakeholder value. So, it’s a different way, and I know those terms are thrown around a lot, and we’ve all heard them many times. But how does that really, what does that really mean, and how are we looking at what a company’s role is in a completely different way and measuring against it? And I think that’s a key new thing that’s happening now especially too.
DOUG: We’ll get to the measurement in a moment, but I would think what you’re talking about there really maybe changes but certainly impacts the role of the communications function. How are you finding it’s different? One, there’s the persuasion aspect, getting companies to move along that timeline. But then there’s the execution and communication about what they’re doing with varied audiences. Do you want to start with the persuasion aspect first, and then we’ll follow up and ask about how do you communicate it to the different key stakeholders? So, how do you persuade companies to move? They’re seeing it, but what are the things that communicator can do to make sure their clients and even their own organizations are moving in that right direction?
GLORIA: Well, this idea of what is a company’s purpose, I think that that purpose driven it’s an overused term, but it’s a very important thing to be thinking about when we’re talking to members of the C-suite about things like mission, values, and vision, it’s very, very different when you really actually formulate that around even a higher goal or purpose. And while there’s a lot of talk or given to that idea of purpose. It is until you really drill down into what is that purpose, that societal purpose that changes things. I just had a discussion with a CEO where there was a real kind of an awakening moment where we were saying that purpose is different than what we’re talking about in terms of mission and in terms of what the values are and where you’re going, it’s a different way to think about things and when you think about it, and you brought in that pie, if you will, I love to talk more about that a little bit because it’s that idea of growing that stakeholder pie and also growing that pie in terms of there’s no zero-sum game in what we’re talking about here. What we’re trying to do is really get everyone to think about what that overriding purpose is and then all communications really, really look to that. And that’s sort of your North Star, and that builds on your mission, and your vision, and your values, and everything, and it’s going back to sort of that, why are you really doing what you’re doing every day.
DOUG: An effective communicator can really change the dynamic from a zero-sum game between constituencies to actually making things better for all of the constituencies that you are engaged with. That’s really interesting. I’d like to turn a little bit to your firm, and I just want to say this because it’s actually, the name is based on a rescue animal in Alaska who’s involved in saving people. So, TogoRun! And can you tell us a little bit about how that’s informing the work you’re doing, trying to ease health disparities.
GLORIA: Thank you for bringing up, Togo. Again, so much of us in terms of when we think about our purpose for us also, when we think about what happened in 1925 and the Great Race for Mercy, which is when the village of Nome, Alaska, was coming to an outbreak of diphtheria and there was no way to actually get the serum, the lifesaving serum to that village, except with the sled dogs, and Togo was a 12 year old undersized sled dog that actually didn’t really get the credit that he deserved because Balto took the spotlight. Everybody pretty much knows Balto, who ran the last lap of that race and became a Hollywood star and got a statue in Central Park. Steven Spielberg did a movie about him and all that good stuff. But the real story and the untold story there was Togo, who did five times the distance of any of the other teams, went through uncharted territory across the Norton Sound, not once but twice to deliver the serum and didn’t care about who he was delivering the medications for, had no thought of other than just sort of getting the job done and saving the people that needed to be saved.
DOUG: So, sort of like PR people who are the unsung heroes. At least in our stories, for sure.
GLORIA: In our stories and our untold stories and very, very, very, true. And it’s also the story about medicine, because a lot of times that drug that perhaps gets approved first is not really the story that you perhaps need to look at in the background because of all of the work that goes on to actually make that last lap possible, if you will. So, we’re all about finding those untold stories and looking at, what is it that we need to be communicating to drive change and to really drive a different way to think about things? So, one really interesting program that we did for one of our clients, Obagi, was to actually help them really find their untold story in that they were the first company, for instance, to do clinical trials across all skin types they’re a skin care company, global skin care company. And they had already from the start included every possible skin type in their clinical trials. But this is not something that they necessarily were really looking at. And so, when we said, well, what is your purpose, and we spoke with the CEO, Jamie Cassell, who’s awesome, and she was like, look, we want to make sure that our products are accessible, they’re the best and we want to make sure that they’re accessible, and how do we get our story out there in a meaningful way. And we said, look, let’s look at the fact that you guys have been pioneering and leading the way in making sure that there’s a diversity, inclusion in clinical trials. So, when you’re looking at that and you’re looking at what those disparities have been and continue to be, how do we as communicators, healthcare communities always look at this through that lens, how can we shine that lens on the issue? And so, we’ve been very fortunate to work with very forward thinking and I think caring as well as focused on ESG, looking at how can I also obviously build value for my company and for the stakeholders, and how can we really tell those stories in a very meaningful way. So, that’s a very gratifying and a very meaningful thing that we’re always bringing to the table when we’re sitting around trying to strategize about what is it that’s going to really build value and not just value for shareholders, but truly values for the communities you’re working in, for the patients you’re serving, and also as a leader how are you sort of setting the bar even higher. And that’s what Obagi did, they set the bar high for everyone, and they said, we expect and encourage every company to actually look at their clinical trials and their base in terms of who they’re serving and make sure they’re there widening the pie and serving everyone that we need to as an open and as a progressive society. So, that’s an important thing that I think that all healthcare communicators should and can do.
DOUG: That’s really important stuff. And just for disclosure purposes, I should reference that we did work with you on the Obagi campaign, which was quite meaningful as well. Really appreciate your insights and ideas. A lot of thought-provoking stuff about how to really put ESG into the healthcare, not just communications, but what the brands and organizations are actually doing to make it more effective. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas.
GLORIA: My pleasure. Thanks, Doug.