Stakeholder engagement: Learning to listen (And comms lessons from Sainsbury’s and Coca-Cola)

Hi, I’m the group director of corporate affairs

Last week I had another large, weighty, dull corporate sustainability report from a large company. (Actually three copies, and I have to pay to recycle all of them)

I won’t say who it was, but the firm is one of the largest UK consumer brands. Not FMCG.

Why then, did the company send me a very boring report with no reason clearly indicated for opening it?

Why did they send me a letter from the group corporate affairs director, with no reply email address?

It’s ‘push’ communication. And not very good push communication at that. No ‘pull’ involved.

That practice says a number of things:

1) We’re lazy

2) We are not really that interested in what you think

3) We lack imagination as to how to engage you

4) We don’t know how to communicate with you properly

5) The last thing we want you to do is actually reply to our group corporate affairs director.

Not good enough. Stop sending out your sustainability report with a letter written in corporate speak.

That is not engagement, or communications. I’ve blogged about this recently in a popular post.

That’s demonstrating compliance (producing an annual review of sustainability performance) which is anyhow expected. If we want to read your report, we’ll Google it.

If you don’t know, or are unwilling to learn, how to communicate properly, it’s best to keep quiet and save your shareholders the money.

(I’m not saying reporting is not valuable as an internal exercise, we know it is, but sending a report out does not count as communications)

Here’s a couple of ways to communicate below.

Taken alone, they are not two-way, but in the absence of that they at least capture the attention.

If you can’t show you are also genuinely listening, at least communicate in a readable and semi-engaging way.

(Don’t misunderstand me here either: I’m not saying Coke and Sainsbury’s don’t understand two way engagement, they undoubtedly do, just that their sustainability comms work below is quite engaging)



Why mail out reports when you can engage people online in easy to read formats such as these?

It’s not enough on its own, of course, but it beats the hell out of 60 page paper report packed with self-selected PR guff and some interesting numbers hidden away in corporate speak.

Say it in fewer words and you’ll only have space for the important stuff.

Less is more.

The web is where your report sits.

I’ll be ranting about this in public in a couple of weeks at our annual conference on the topic:


Mallen Baker’s recent post on the limits and problems of integrated reporting is also worth a read.

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