Creativity is Supposed to be Genderless. So Why Does it Matter Who Puts Ideas Forward?

Creativity is Supposed to be Genderless. So Why Does it Matter Who Puts Ideas Forward?

Genderless creativity

To celebrate Women’s Day, we advocate for genderless creativity in the Philippines’ PR and advertising industry.

 

TL;DR

  • Despite reduced objectification of women, biases persist, affecting promotions and project assignments.
  • Systemic biases like gender-based assumptions and micro-aggressions hinder the creative process in the PR industry.
  • Effective marketing demands diverse perspectives. Let’s advocate for inclusivity that creates a level playing field for all talents, regardless of gender identity.
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    Gender representation in the Philippine advertising industry has shifted significantly over the last decades. Overt objectification of women is no longer as prevalent, and we have seen ads boldly defying stereotypes (although sometimes overdone), reflecting more inclusive and progressive narratives. 

    But the scenes behind gender-empowering commercials and brand messaging seem to paint a different picture. 

    A liquor brand campaign deal that fell through because the client thought that “[the] all-women team might be a better fit to handle our make-up brand” was enough reminder of the persistent biases in the advertising and PR industry.  

    And this is just one facet of the issue: systemic biases encompass gender identities and come in different forms. A male AE leading a campaign for personal hygiene was suddenly removed from the project despite his vital role in shaping the campaign; a gay man’s idea was called “too gay;” a single mom was denied a promotion to a full-time copywriting position was held off because the agency wanted her to focus on motherhood. 

    Little things compounded 

    Here’s the problem. It’s the subtle gestures, the seemingly “harmless” side comments that quietly permeate the workplace and become embedded within the very structures of the industry.  

    These are not isolated incidents; they represent systemic challenges that often go unnoticed, unreported, or swept under the rug. We’re fairly certain the other parties didn’t perceive the real-life examples above as misogynistic or gender-biased, or at least not as something they feel culpable for.  

    Micro-aggressions may appear innocuous on the surface, but their cumulative effect is profound. They chip away at morale and hinder people’s ability to contribute their talents and thrive in the industry.  

    Even the most common form of advising a female AE to “wear a skirt and look pretty” for a pitch meeting or choosing someone for a client-facing role based on assumptions about their gender or appearance rather than their qualifications underscores the need for the industry, which prides itself on being the creative force behind culture-defying and ceiling-shattering initiatives, to take a critical look at itself. 

    We need diverse, not many, creative voices 

    Obviously, the problem extends beyond the walls of the PR industry. Clients and brands across diverse sectors come to the table with unique expectations and preconceptions, often shaped by societal norms and traditional corporate cultures. While briefs may not explicitly state a preference for “male- or female-only account executives and media planners,” subtle implications eventually infiltrate the discourse.  

    These nuanced cues manifest in the selection of team members, the allocation of resources, and the overall direction of campaigns. We believe these are not always intentional, but they reinforce gender stereotypes and inequalities. 

    Building an effective marketing strategy and brand messaging requires the contributions of many creative voices, each offering distinct insights and perspectives. Many minds are better than one, and by “many” we mean diverse voices that enrich the conversation with a variety of experiences and viewpoints. This leads to more well-rounded and impactful campaigns — and definitely steers brands clear of the pitfalls of gender-insensitive messaging and being the subject of a public backlash. Remember Subway Philippines’ blunder last year? 

    Whether an idea originates from a man, a woman, or any other gender identity, its value remains unchanged. Any team with the right expertise and creative flair can pull off an incredible brand campaign, regardless of where they see themselves in the gender spectrum. After all, creativity is – and should be – genderless. Brands and creative agencies are partners of innovation and progressive thinking, so fostering open dialogues, challenging implicit biases, and advocating for diversity and inclusivity together is crucial.  

    On Women’s Day, we call for allyship 

    As we celebrate Women’s Day, we rally for not just women’s empowerment and recognition but also gender equality and the liberation of creative voices from the confining constraints of societal boxes. 

    When we remove biases in campaign briefs, pitch meetings, and campaign executions, we create and respect everyone’s space in the industry, thereby leveling the playing field for all talents to thrive. 

    It is not enough to have seats at the creative table – it’s time for those who were shunned to be heard. The next time we hear someone speak in a mixed room, let’s recognize the value their voice brings to the conversation, not the gender attached to it. For to inspire creativity is to #InspireInclusion. 

     


    ABOUT THE AUTHORS 

    Nicole Briones is the Managing Director of Vero in the Philippines. Gella Gesultura is Vero’s Associate Creative Director for the Philippines and ASEAN.

     

    Vero Break

     

    For many of us in the PR and communications industry, being productive means spending more time working. But we all know where it will lead us in the long run: burnout, waning creativity, and dimming passion

    So, when we launched the first-ever Vero Company Break before 2023 ended, we wanted to make it a ritual for all our teams to prioritize rejuvenation. It was supplementary to our existing unlimited paid leave policy, but what makes Vero Company Break unique is that it’s a region-wide downtime. This means minimal to zero Teams chats, Outlook emails, and virtually everyone across Vero offices taking time off simultaneously to recharge and refocus. 

    It was a meaningful move – we saw the #VeroSquad travel to destinations on their bucket lists, make cherished moments with loved ones, and dedicate time to self-care. 

    As we finalize plans for our second Vero Company Break around June, here’s a quick recap of the squad’s fun adventures and moments of tranquility.  

     

    Claudia Graciela Pusung 

    Sr. Influencer Relations Specialist 

    VERO BREAK - CLAUDIA

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break?
    My family and I went to Thailand for NYE! We spontaneously decided to go for a brief holiday while we could. We wanted to shop and eat, so Bangkok was our destination.
     
    What did you enjoy doing?
    Even though our trip was very brief (3d2n), I managed to visit several shopping centers like Icon Siam, catch up with my Bangkok-based colleague (Ef), and indulge in delicious Thai cuisine. For the first time, I could explore the historic Grand Palace, immersing myself in Thailand’s rich history.

    Any new learning and takeaways from that trip?
    After visiting the Grand Palace and being respectful of the country’s culture, I later became curious about exploring other cultures and expanding my knowledge to new, unfamiliar territories.

    How important is taking a break to you?
    We operate in a fast-paced environment, so taking breaks for rest is crucial. These ‘breaks’ are pauses to help us prevent burnout, improve focus and productivity, and enhance overall well-being. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes especially important in the midst of hectic workdays. 

     

    Tran Ha Linh 

    Senior PR Account Executive 

    VERO BREAK - LINH

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break? 

    With the 5-day company break and the unlimited leave policy, I was able to travel to two amazing cities in Vietnam during the holiday season! I stayed in Phan Thiet for four days and then Da Lat for another four days. 

    What did you enjoy doing? 

    As I prefer to venture off the beaten path, I seek hidden gems and lesser-known spots to discover and explore. My journey to Mui Yen in Phan Thiet was filled with misadventures, but it was all worth it. I underestimated the road conditions and had to turn back, but the beauty of the surroundings was beyond imaginable. The trip to Da Lat was also quite a thrill. Our detour through the forest to a remote farm proved unexpectedly challenging yet memorable – there truly is a delight in the unexpected, especially when it comes to nature. When we’d finally settled, I could fully relax, read some books, visit local markets for pottery, and enjoy immersing myself in the moment. 

    Any new learning and takeaways from that trip? 

    I discovered that I’m more adventurous than I give myself credit for – I could go to unfamiliar places and quickly adapt to failed plans or unexpected challenges. Now I’m looking forward to doing more of this kind of thing, which reminds me that I need to work harder so I can afford to travel more 🙂 

    How important is taking a break to you? 

    It’s a time for me to slow down. I once read somewhere that as we grow up, time seems to pass faster because we experience fewer new things and “living moments” than when we were children. And to live more slowly, I create living moments for myself.


    For me, this means bathing in the forest, traveling on mountain passes to discover a new destination, or simply sitting and savoring coffee with a good book in hand, surrounded by mountains, forests, and the quiet company of nature. 

    Taking a break also allows me to observe life around me. When I’m not occupied with work and responsibilities, I take the time to know people and their stories, and be inspired to lead a more meaningful life.  

     

    Kim Donato 

    Digital Account Executive 

    VERO BREAK - KIM

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break? 

    The holiday season is a big deal in the Philippines – and finally, having the chance to spend and enjoy it without thinking about deadlines was incredible. I dedicated this time to being with my family, loved ones, and pets. 

    What did you enjoy doing? 

    As we typically have large gatherings at this time of year, I had the opportunity to enjoy playing mahjong with my family. Sitting, laughing, and sharing stories was a rare occasion. I also made time for self-care sessions, such as attending a dance class and reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen in ages. It was a perfect time to bond with my beloved pets. 

    Any new learning and takeaways from the break? 

    Taking a break is essential, and so is creating an environment that allows me to slow down and have fun. 

    How important is taking a break to you? 

    It literally means to separate, and to me, that means to separate myself from one aspect of my life and reconnect to another. This is essential to gain a different or a more holistic perspective/approach in life. 

     

    Yen Tran 

    Associate PR Account Director

    VERO BREAK - YEN

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break? 

    I traveled to Da Lat with my dear teammates! We had a really wonderful and relaxing getaway to a place that’s incredibly beautiful.

    What did you enjoy doing? 

    We relished the cool weather, immersed ourselves in this highland city’s natural beauty and breathtaking scenery, and indulged in local dishes. 

    Any new learning and takeaways from that trip? 

    The trip provided us with a great opportunity to strengthen our bonds, create lasting memories, reflect on the year 2023, and recharge for the upcoming year. 

    How important is taking a break to you? 

    For me, a good break—regardless of duration—offers a chance to disconnect from work and reconnect with oneself temporarily. It’s a time to pursue hobbies, explore new things, discover unfamiliar places, or relax, reflect, and recharge. A refreshed mind from a good break can infuse us with renewed energy and creativity when we return to work. 

     

    Christien Margareth 

    Communication Executive in Brand & Communications

     VERO BREAK - CHRISTIEN

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break? 

    I had a pre-planned trip to Hong Kong with my mom scheduled before the break so I just decided to use the five days off to stay in Jakarta and be with my sisters. We rarely bond without the pressure of looming deadlines, so it was a welcome chance to be with them in a very relaxed setting. I also got the chance to visit my new nephew! 

    What did you enjoy doing? 

    During the break, I took some time for myself and indulged in my favorite activities—reading and watching Netflix. I finally finished several books waiting for my attention and caught up on movies. Lately, I’ve been sharing my thoughts on Instagram Stories with quick reviews under #BacaBukuLagi (#ReadingBookAgain), which helps me process the books and connect with others who share my interests.  

    I’ve also started creating content on TikTok and IG Reels, documenting my adventures in Hong Kong. Despite being a beginner in editing, the positive feedback and growing viewership have made it an exciting new hobby for me. 

    Any new learning and takeaways from the break? 

    The break taught me the significance of self-awareness and personal space. I found joy in solitude and learned to value quiet moments. I also understood the importance of respecting my boundaries by declining outdoor invitations when needed. Embracing stillness enabled me to listen to my inner voice and plan for the year ahead. I’m grateful for the break, knowing not everyone had this chance. My heart is full! 

    How important is taking a break to you? 

    A break allows people to be fully present in the moment. In our bustling work environment, time passes by in the blink of an eye – I sometimes don’t notice that the sun has already gone down! This is especially true when working from home, morning and night seem to have no difference at all. What I’m trying to say is that this break holds deep significance for me as it grants me the chance to live my life truly. It’s a period where I can acknowledge my progress and move forward at my own pace, free from external pressures. As I realized on New Year’s Eve, as I looked at old photos, my life is filled with rich experiences that have shaped me into who I am. 

     

    Pham Thi Thanh Ha 

    Creative Designer

    VERO BREAK - HA

    How did you spend the Vero Company Break? 

    I stayed in Ho Chi Minh City for the entire break. My family and I had a staycation just for us to relax and unwind. I also made sure to get some me-time – going for a haircut, massage, gym, and wandering around the city. 

    What did you enjoy doing? 

    Since I’m always busy at work, I took this short break to create new memories with my family. We went out to a restaurant, indulging in good food, and shared nostalgia from childhood. Having that chance to share stories made me realize how loved I am. 

    How important is taking a break to you? 

    I believe these breaks are essential as they give me precious time to spend with my loved ones and rejuvenate me. After a stressful period at work, they offer a moment of “balance” and allow my mind to be free, enabling me to return stronger and more energetic! 

     

    Vero Clean Creatives

    Vero and On Purpose agree that signing the Clean Creatives pledge to foreswear work for fossil fuel brands is a decision worth celebrating. 

     

    Estimated reading time: 5 mins

     

    When we signed the Clean Creatives Pledge in 2022, we made a clear choice. An official and public declaration of our commitment to decline all contracts with fossil fuel brands and front groups meant drawing a bold, palpable line between progressive sustainability communications and deceptive optimism that’s distracting the world from the pressing climate crisis. We were the first to take that step in Asia—a continent that is warming faster than the global average. And on this two-year anniversary of our signing, we can look back and agree that this was an important and valuable decision. 

    It was a reaffirmation of a business principle we’ve long practiced – to never partake in the dishonest greenwashing campaigns that have become commonplace among many of the world’s largest oil, gas, and coal companies. These campaigns deploy the creative efforts of PR professionals to downplay, disguise, and distract from the harm Big Oil continues to cause in pursuit of its profits — and at the expense of the general welfare of humanity and the natural world.  

    And in the two years that followed, we have witnessed cause for hope and momentum for change.  

    More agencies and creatives joined the movement to demand accountability and transparency from their PR agency leaders. More PR agencies are realizing the reputational and moral risks of working with fossil fuel polluters. More PR professionals simply do not want to work for Big Oil. And more consumers are rewarding brands that align with their values and aspirations. 

    Signing the pledge also connected us with some of the most progressive voices in the industry. From the US to Southeast Asia, through Cannes and New Delhi, we are forging collaborations with inspiring practitioners and opinion leaders who carry the same badge. 

    However, the truth is that the impact of the Clean Creatives Pledge as a whole remains relatively muted.  

    Amidst the urgent backdrop of climate change and sustainability emerging as polarizing topics of discussion among global leaders, the absence of real backlash against PR agencies maintaining ties with climate deniers is glaring. Despite the potential for engaging debates on whether comms professionals should cancel or counsel fossil fuel clients, the prevailing sentiment in the region is that it’s too distant from the forefront of environmental consciousness and decision-making to truly impact change. 

    The lack of earnest and bold commitments about the climate crisis at the recently concluded Davos was yet another clear indication that the increasing calls for energy transition and real climate action are not yielding immediate results. Yes, we’ve planted 12 billion trees in over 100 countries, but let’s be honest: tree planting is now just a mere symbolic gesture to compensate for rampant deforestation, carbon emissions, and environmental degradation. 

    In fact, the wealth of fossil fuel companies continues to soar, and many of the world’s largest PR agencies still pocket millions from deals with major oil producers even as the planet experienced its hottest year on record.  

    A comprehensive study of public communications in 2022 from five oil and gas firms by climate finance thinktank InfluenceMap found that 60% of their public communications made at least one claim about companies’ positive climate actions. But on average, the five companies devoted only 12% of capital expenditure to low-carbon activities. With the support of globally influential—and regrettably award-winning—agencies and a US$750 million yearly budget for communications, it is hardly surprising that holding these companies accountable for greenwashing proves to be a challenging task. 

    In Asia, 72 communications agencies signed 103 fossil fuel contracts between 2022 and 2023, according to Clean Creatives’ F-List published last year. Here’s a hard pill to swallow: most of these deals came from the countries where we’re trying to make a difference. 

    It’s disheartening to witness conversations around sustainability in the PR industry die down even before they’ve reached the right audiences or how procurement professionals, despite their interest in the pledge and knowledge of the F-List, do not necessarily find it a decisive factor in their decision-making processes. Even environmental non-profits, which one might expect to champion such initiatives, often overlook the importance of partnering exclusively with clean creatives and inadvertently engaging with F-List agencies. In some cases, we learned that industry peers may not even know that they could check the credentials of their partners in regard to their environmental impact and vet them accordingly. 

    But these are the very reasons we believe aligning with truth and authenticity isn’t just a choice but a moral imperative—particularly in a people-focused business.  

    What we consider our biggest takeaway thus far is the fact that we are creating a culture of creativity and integrity among our teams. The development of a playbook about authentic sustainability messaging a year after our pledge came to us as a natural initiative. This also empowered employees to create their own projects, leading to the opening of our in-office secondhand store. “The Good Shop,” in Thailand.  Talented comms professionals understand the relevance of the Clean Creatives Pledge in the work that we do, and aligning our commitment to sustainability with their ethical standards has made us better businesses. 

    Now, we’re called to take even bolder and bigger steps towards a future in which the wonders of human creativity are no longer corrupted by those who are willing to put profits over humanity and the planet. Let this be a call—a rallying cry—for our PR industry peers to unite with us in taking this pledge. 

     


     ABOUT THE AUTHORS

    Raphael Lachkar is the chief operating officer of Vero, and initiated Vero’s signature of the Clean Creative Pledge. Girish Balachandran is the founder and managing partner of On Purpose. Brian Griffin is the CEO of Vero. Vero and On Purpose are the first agencies in Asia to sign the Clean Creatives Pledge.

     

    Vero leadership roles 2024

     

    Leading communications consultancy Vero announces key leadership appointments today, marking a solid start to the agency’s strategic plans and goals in 2024. 

    Nicole Briones steps into the position of Managing Director in the Philippines, a testament to the sustainable business she managed to build when Vero expanded its footprints in the Philippines back in 2021. Leading a team of 15 communication experts, Nicole has played a key role in spearheading campaigns for clients such as UNICEF, the Danish Dairy Board, and Prime.  In her elevated role, she will continue to provide leadership and guidance to the team, aiming to further strengthen the agency’s presence in the country and foster impactful partnerships with top-tier clientele. 

    Supreeyaporn Sihawong, who started as People & Culture Manager in Vero’s Thailand office in 2021, has now ascended to a regional position as the Vice President for Human Resources. With her demonstrated success in advancing the agency’s growth in Thailand, Supreeyaporn’s expanded role empowers her to supervise all HR initiatives throughout Vero’s office, promote progressive HR strategies, and cultivate robust programs for employee recruitment, retention, and professional development. 

    “Nicole Briones and Supreeyaporn Sihawong embody Vero’s forward-thinking culture and have been instrumental in our growth in Southeast Asia. With their elevated leadership roles, Vero is poised to make more meaningful work and take our work culture to greater heights,” said Vero CEO Brian Griffin. 

    Ranked among the Global Top 250 Agencies by PRovoke Media, Vero has strategically positioned itself as one of the most trusted independent communications consultancies in Southeast Asia. The agency boasts over 200 award-winning PR, influencer, creative, and digital consultants across Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and with a recent expansion into Singapore, Vero has forged strong partnerships with an extensive and diverse client base in the last 17 years. 

    Building on the launch of several business verticals and major brand campaigns last year, Vero is gearing up for an even more significant 2024. Besides these new roles, exciting new initiatives and bigger collaborations are in the pipeline.  

    “We will continue to deliver innovative work for our partner brands and organizations, helping brands strive in Southeast Asia’s complex media and consumer landscapes. It will be an exciting year for Vero,” added Brian.

     

    Data Storyteller - Tamanna Bajaj 

    It’s no secret – data storytelling is a marketing gold for any brand. In the digital age, where we are constantly confronted with a million numbers we can barely comprehend or attach context to, data storytelling turns numerical values into compelling narratives that become the core foundation of the decision-making process, reveal interesting patterns and trends, and ultimately enrich our understanding of the world. Or a brand’s audience, to be specific. 

    Data storytelling blends hard data and human emotive communication, enabling marketing professionals and brands to find their right audience and pinpoint effective strategies for reaching them. When raw numbers are transformed into insights with real meanings – like a consumer survey that goes far beyond demographics, uncovering interests, attitudes, and motivations – they unlock innovations and business strategies that have otherwise been impossible to conceive. 

    To Tamanna Bajaj, who joined Vero as the regional director of data and insights in November, data has never been more powerful and essential. The intense competition among brands vying for the same markets and the ever-changing consumer demands have emphasized the crucial role of insights in the dynamic interplay between consumer understanding and industry leadership. 

    With a background in engineering, data analytics, artificial intelligence, urban science, and policy planning, Tamanna embodies Vero’s forward-thinking approach to data and insights. Tamanna is now leading a team of data miners and consultants for Insights IQ, helping empower our partner clients with in-depth analysis of their brand’s reputation across various vital metrics, including social media sentiment, media coverage, and customer feedback. 

    In a recent conversation with Tamanna, she delves into the intricacies of data storytelling, unveiling its transformative impact on shaping brand narratives and translating audience insights into powerful strategies that resonate at the core of meaningful connections. 

     

    What sparked your interest in data and analytics?  

    When I saw the potential of how powerful data could be when harnessed in the right way, I was really drawn to it. Data proves indispensable to any industry – it has now become a survival tool. Every business in every sector recognizes the pivotal role of strategically harnessed data. And as a practitioner, data allows me to explore different tools and subjects and not be confined to a single realm or discipline. 

    And I have always been interested in mysteries and solving problems and when I was young, I wanted to be a detective. In my opinion, being a data analyst is like being a detective. You have to solve a mystery by digging through the data and unraveling clues. It’s like solving a puzzle to extract the best insights and takeaways.

     

    What’s the most complicated aspect of data and insights?  

    Data cleaning is always tricky. Data comes in many forms, often it can be in its raw, unfiltered form. often in its raw, unfiltered state. To derive the necessary insights, the imperative initial step involves meticulously cleaning the data. This can be a tedious process and, at times, manual. But it is also a very crucial step because it ensures the results are accurate and redundant data is filtered out.

    You call yourself a “data storyteller.” How do you transform complicated numbers into a story? 

    Yes, Data Storytelling is almost like combining scientific methods with artistic ones, almost like painting a picture for the audience using statistics and numbers. It involves approaching data as a journey, exploring the fundamental questions of Who? What? When? Where? and How? We guide our client or the audience through this journey, unraveling the narrative that the data inherently holds. 

    Visualizations, such as charts, graphs, and maps, play a crucial role in data storytelling. They help illustrate data trends, comparisons, and relationships in a way that is easily understandable even by those who don’t have technical backgrounds. Thoughtfully designed visualizations elevate the storytelling experience and ensure that the information is delivered with utmost clarity and precision. Most importantly, data storytelling is about inspiring action – whether it’s formulating a new product concept, orchestrating a strategic approach to branding, or sparking innovative campaigns.
     

    In what ways do data and insights contribute to the decision-making process of a brand or business?

    Data serves as a crucial asset for brands seeking to enhance their decision-making processes. It enables a comprehensive understanding of various facets, such as customer interests, through demographic insights and the perception of the brand through social listening—evaluating brand awareness and sentiment.  

    For instance, brands leverage customer data to delineate segments based on demographics, behavior, or preferences. This segmentation facilitates targeted marketing campaigns, allowing, let’s say, a clothing brand to customize its advertising for young adults, families, and seniors based on their distinct preferences. This strategic use of data ensures informed decision-making and the optimization of marketing efforts

    Is a baseline understanding of data and insights common knowledge among the new generation of workforce, and how imperative is upskilling in this domain? 

    Undoubtedly, data has become ubiquitous – it is everywhere and is used in different ways. Companies today, regardless of what industry they’re in, are undergoing a massive digital transformation, and there’s increasing recognition of data as a strategic asset that enhances operational efficiency, fosters innovation and leads to sustainable growth.  

    This paradigm shift signifies that companies are actively seeking a workforce equipped with an integral skill set for analyzing and interpreting data.  Professionals – new and seasoned – need to know that data literacy is now critical for career growth, and it might soon become a strict pre-requisite to any job. In the years to come, we will be confronted with new technologies, intelligent machines, and algorithms that will require adeptness in data-related competencies. Fortunately, plenty of tools and resources are available for upskilling, ensuring that we stay prepared and relevant in this modern professional landscape. 

     

    2023 Vero

     

    If we wanted to sum up 2023 in one word here at Vero, we couldn’t.  

    The marketing industry found this year challenging, to say the least. Global economic uncertainty prompted cutbacks in marketing and media budgets, the demand for meeting revenue goals and doing more with fewer resources was especially pronounced. 

    Despite various data and surveys indicating a more pessimistic outlook among marketing professionals, the communications industry demonstrated resilience, adaptability, and innovation. The rapid rise of artificial intelligence, once (and maybe still) debated as a potential threat to the industry, has opened new opportunities for transformative growth and efficiency. We also saw a heightened focus directed toward sustainability, transparency, and authenticity, pushing the industry to prioritize ethical practices and genuine engagement with audiences. 

    Vero embraced all these challenges and opportunities and strived to stay on top of the game. Though complex to navigate, these industry shifts inspired significant changes in our operational landscape and empowered us to redefine our business goals and client relationships. Our story in 2023 is a testament to our genuine commitment, rooted in resilience, as we adapt and grow in an ever-evolving landscape. 

    Before we bid farewell to 2023, we look back at our own transformative journey. 

     

    A leap into the future with Rover

    Rover - 2023 Vero

    AI, as we all know by now, is no longer a buzzword; it is the future of the marketing industry. The official launch of Rover, an AI-first PR agency in Southeast Asia, is additional proof that the “future” is already happening right here, right now. 

    Rover, which operates alongside Vero’s existing presence in the region, acts as an incubator for AI-powered brand campaigns and processes, producing work for new and existing clients and seeking partnerships with other AI-focused stakeholders in the PR industry, including AI applications, trade groups, non-profits, academics, and thought leaders. 

    Rover provides a wide range of PR and Creative services for clients across sectors, leveraging AI-powered tools to improve workflow efficiency, digital content, and output accuracy. The agency is also equipped to provide AI consulting and literacy training for brands seeking to embed best practices for AI within their organizations and in-house communications and marketing teams.

     

    Major partnerships, bigger campaigns

    Business wins - 2023 Vero

    Amidst lingering macroeconomic concerns, Vero saw pitches and proposals converting into new business wins. Thanks to the exceptional work by our teams across departments in the region and the trust our partners have placed in our capabilities, we pitched 380 new campaigns – more than one pitch per day! – with an impressive win rate of 70%, and we built campaigns for 129 clients this year, many of which resulted in tangible growth metrics.  

    We are proud to have welcomed the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to our client roster in Thailand, driving awareness campaigns on all the uniquely Singaporean experiences and increasing travel and tourism from Thailand to Singapore. In Indonesia, we worked with the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) to build the organization’s reputation in Southeast Asia and foster its mission to unlock green energy access. In the Philippines, where we just marked our second anniversary, we led Prime Video’s media relations efforts. Across the region in multiple markets, we continued to grow our relationship with partners including Royal Canin, SP Group, Dyson, and Duolingo. 

    Strengthening ties with our established client partners while simultaneously cultivating new relationships with prospective clients remains a central focus for us at Vero.

    Staying on top of the game

    Awards Vero 2023
    Our office in Vietnam has come a long way – from a decade of presence through a local partnership to officially setting up a team in 2019 and being named PR Awards Asia-Pacific’s Mid-Size Consultancy of the Year. We owe this sweet victory to the dedication of over 50 talents in Ho Chi Minh City, who have passionately fostered numerous collaborations with leading brands over the years. 

    Beyond Vietnam, our “Grow Green” campaign with Booking.com Thailand also achieved exceptional success, clinching three prestigious awards from PRCA APAC Awards, PR Awards Asia, and SABRE Awards Asia Pacific. It stands as a testament to the power of one campaign to make a lasting positive impact—reshaping perspectives, earning recognition, and setting a new standard for excellence in purposeful sustainability narratives. 

    These recognitions serve to reinforce our belief in the transformative power of communication and inspire us to future greatness

    Vero leaders take center stage

    A voice becomes powerful when it carries a message that ignites minds and sparks positive change. In an industry full of noise, our leaders made their voices heard. 

    Vero COO Raphael Lachkar’s panel talk at the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France centered on the communication industry’s role in elevating climate communications and curtailing greenwashing. This was also the main topic during VP of Culture Vu Quan Nguyen-Masse and Group VP of Communications and Operations Umaporn Whittaker-Thompson’s speeches at AdFest in Pattaya, Thailand. 

    Vu Quan also joined an insightful discussion on the future of work at the Singapore Business Federation Forum in Hanoi, while Indonesia Operations Director Lye Alangdeo talked about the growing power of influencers in branding at the recently concluded Citra Pariwara Advertising Festival in Indonesia.  

    We are incredibly grateful and honored to have participated in conversations shaping the marketing industry. We look forward to leading more meaningful dialogues and knowledge-sharing in the coming year!

     

    Impactful insights and thought leadership

    Vero articles

    There’s a good reason we’ve taken center stage in some of the important dialogues in the marketing industry this year: we do our homework. Vero has invested heavily in white papers, surveys, studies, and in-depth editorial pieces that allowed us to dive deeper into topics that matter to our stakeholders, clients, team members, and peers. 

    This year, we authored three comprehensive white papers, tackling Filipinos’ evolving focus on health and wellness, the challenges and opportunities in Vietnam’s electric vehicle landscape, and Chinese automotive brands’ position in the Southeast Asian market. Backed by expansive data from our IQ team and thorough analysis by Vero’s comm experts, these papers offered actionable insights for our clients into effectively penetrating the highly competitive Southeast Asian consumer market.  

    Our Vero team members also penned thought-provoking articles that dissected socio-cultural issues and trends and provided insightful perspectives that challenged conventional viewpoints. Vu-Quan’s “Let Us Be Seen: Why Diversity Matters,” Raphael’s commentary on Apple’s “Mother Nature” campaign, and Vero’s Operations Director in the Philippines Nicole Briones’ take on the prevalence of gender biases in the communications industry, among many others, earned publication in top-tier trade media and news websites in the region.   

    All in all, we published more than 45 insightful articles and exciting business announcements in 2023 that amassed over 143,000 engagements across Vero channels and gained over 100 pieces of news coverage across the region.
     

    Sustainability in motion

    Sustainability - Vero 2023

    We recognize that our commitment to sustainability did not and should not end with signing the Clean Creatives pledge in 2022. So this year, we embarked on more tangible initiatives to practice what we preach and welcomed partnerships with brands and organizations sharing the same mission. 

    In May, we published a Greenwatching playbook, providing brands with a conceptual framework to navigate the complexities and grey areas of sustainability business practices. This was followed by a Philippines-focused sustainability paper that allowed us to offer more practical advice on environmental stewardship. 

    Our vocal stance on refusing to work with fossil fuel clients also strategically positioned us in a comfortable advisory role for organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Myanmar, UNICEF in the Philippines, and the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) in Vietnam. Together with these organizations, we created high-impact campaigns that contribute to our collective mission of fostering sustainability and social responsibility. 

    And in case you haven’t heard or seen it yet – we also transformed a part of our Vero Super Campus in Bangkok into “The Good Shop,” a pop-up where our team members can buy and sell pre-loved fashion items. Inspired by our team’s passion for fashion and genuine commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle, The Good Shop is a learning venture for Vero to gain more direct insights into young professionals’ shifting preferences and ethics toward fashion, develop a deeper understanding of the second-hand industry, and become better consultants for clients looking to pivot to slow fashion trends. 

    Through these collaborative efforts, we have actively participated in shaping a future where positive change is not only advocated but diligently striven for. In that spirit, we’re excited to be planning more sustainability initiatives for 2024.
     

    New Singapore office and groundbreaking business units

    We capped off an eventful year in style with the opening of our new office in Singapore. We are thrilled to finally expand Vero’s presence to Southeast Asia’s most competitive market. Vero’s Singapore office will be led by industry veteran Lin Kuek, who brings with her a wealth of strategic insights and extensive experience in consumer and corporate communications.  

    We also launched several new business verticals and services this year. The formation of our Mobility team across Thailand and Vietnam builds on Vero’s extensive experience servicing leading mobility actors, spanning the automotive, logistics, travel and hospitality, travel-tech, and ride-hailing industries. Made up of 10 mobility experts, the Mobility team offers bespoke capabilities to navigate the high-octane landscape of mobility in Southeast Asia. 

    Vero further intensified our influencer marketing expertise through InFluent, an integrated and regionalized approach to influencer marketing featuring standardized guidelines and tools designed to resonate with brands and creators in the ASEAN region. InFluent was created to replicate the unified processes and workflows powering some of the most successful cultural industries such as A&R, publishing, and distribution in the music industry. 

    And we are proud to officially invest in our events management capabilities through the VeroXperience, which is dedicated to redefining brand event experiences across our markets. This new business unit specializes in coordinating and executing various events, from brand and product launches to conferences, fan meets, and VIP workshops.
     

    Stronger emphasis on healthy office culture and work-life balance

    Prioritizing employee welfare has been a constant commitment at Vero, as we understand that our success endures when our employees feel happy and valued. Our quarterly engagement surveys and regular assessments of employee satisfaction have given us insights into what our team needs and how Vero can provide each member with a work environment that fosters personal and career growth and inspires creativity. 

    We specifically wanted to make sure we were at the forefront of DEI standards. At our scale and in the context of our region, we looked into specific barriers to women’s growth. First, we researched our own data and found that we did not encounter gender pay gaps. Then, we identified that a critical factor hindering progress for talent identifying themselves as female was confidence and concerns about the perception of their qualifications. In response, our management and shadow board are designing policies set to be launched in 2024. 

    Nearly two years since we implemented an unlimited leave policy across our offices, we’ve seen employees take more days off to travel to their dream destinations, develop new hobbies, and prioritize self-care. The Vero team has taken a total of 2,841 days off in 2023! 

    But since we know everyone worked extra hard, we’re making sure they can take off more with the introduction of the Vero Company Break, a new annual ritual where all Vero offices go offline for five days. This year, in the holiday spirit, we scheduled our downtime for the last week of the year: from December 25th to January 1st. This is an opportunity for our more than 240 employees in Southeast Asia to fully relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy a well-deserved break. 

    We also recognize that giving our teams some days to step away from their work desks and indulge in some carefree fun together fosters tighter bonds and nurtures a greater sense of teamwork and purpose. 

    On our offsite team building activities this year, we took the teams to the island of Bali in Indonesia, Ho Tram town in Vietnam, Antipolo in the Philippines, and Bangkok in Thailand for memorable and fun-filled experiences.  

    It has been quite a year – one filled with gratitude and a wealth of invaluable lessons. We thank all our clients who allowed Vero to accompany them on their own unique journeys this year in 2023. To our media partners, your collaboration has been instrumental in bringing our creative visions and initiatives to a broader audience.  

    So, let’s take time to appreciate the eventful year we’ve had before we look forward to even greater success and good memories in the one to come. Here’s to 2023, and we’ll see you in 2024!    

     

    2023 marketing trends in Southeast Asia

    Vero reflects on the trends that defined the marketing landscape in Southeast Asia in 2023.

     

    Looking back over the past year, 2023 seems to represent a pivot point upon which many brands in Southeast Asia definitively shifted their marketing priorities to target young Millennials, Gen Z, and the emerging Gen Alpha.

    The increasing attention directed towards these audiences – their nuances, preferences, pain points, and aspirations – has paved the way for a more personalized and empathetic approach. This year, we’ve seen marketers actively building communities through cultural engagement, emphasizing the importance of fostering connections with their target markets over customer conversion.

    As cultural trends accelerate and new consumer segments come into the picture, it is clear that marketers are employing more savvy and forward-thinking strategies to stay relevant and build brand loyalty.

    Here’s a quick recap of the strategies and trends that have shaped the marketing landscape in Southeast Asia in 2023. We foresee these trends continuing to evolve and further influence marketing efforts and tactics in the coming year.

     

    1. The ubiquity of AI 

    While few agencies talk about it publicly, it is an open secret that 2023 was the year when AI became omnipresent among marketing creatives. While human creativity and expertise are still essential to produce a polished final product, machine learning has dramatically shortened the pipeline from ideation to demonstration, as marketers in Southeast Asia harness generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Google Bard, Bing AI, Canva Magic Write, and GitHub Co-Pilot to create personalized content, streamline workflows, and enhance user experiences.  

    ChatGPT may not produce high-quality original copy, but it does a good job at creating outlines in flawless English, making it handy for non-native speakers working across language barriers. It also powers chatbots on e-commerce platforms, providing instant customer support in various languages — crucial for brands that operate in multiple markets. Midjourney and Dall-E, meanwhile, are proving helpful in previewing a range of visual concepts before developing them into final designs. It has even been used in the final product of a well-received campaign by Pizza Hut Singapore

    The region is also catching up with AI-created influencers like the virtual Puma ambassador MAYA, whose appearance is based on selfies sent by people across Southeast Asia. 

    With its deep learning capabilities, Google Bard enables marketers to generate high-quality content for diverse audiences, while Bing AI and GitHub Co-Pilot empower marketers with advanced tools for content generation and collaborative coding.  

    With ASEAN expected to take a relatively hands-off approach to regulation, it is certain that AI will be everywhere in the years to come — and skills with the relevant AI tools will become a standard job requirement in the industry. In fact, we at Vero feel so strongly about this that we established an AI-focused sister agency, Rover, this year. 

    2. Brands adopting sustainability as a new USP 

    Sustainability in terms of both the environment and business practices is a larger concern for Southeast Asia’s Gen Z than previous generations, and brands are making the shift to meet them where their priorities lie.  

    One organization, Clean Creatives, has become a beacon for sustainable marketing practices around the world. The group names and shames big PR agencies that work with fossil fuel brands, including many operating in Southeast Asia, which seek to downplay and distract from the realities of human-caused climate change. Agencies can also take the Clean Creatives Pledge to refuse fossil fuel contracts, as Vero did in late 2022 and several others across the region have done since. 

    Brands in the region are increasingly adopting eco-friendly campaigns, reflecting the growing commitment to environmental consciousness. Studies show that Southeast Asian consumers approve of brands that prioritize sustainability, and some are willing to spend more on it. As such, the spread of sustainable marketing practices is a response to consumer demand and a strategic move to align with the younger generation’s values. 

    On the downside, as interest in sustainability has grown, the practice of greenwashing has become more popular than ever, making it a growing concern in the industry and a threat to consumer trust in genuine sustainability endeavors. With this in mind, Vero released a Greenwashing Playbook earlier this year to help communicators identify greenwashing before they develop a campaign rather than face backlash later. 

    3. The explosive entrance of TikTok Mall 

    Social commerce, in general, was a massive marketing trend in 2023. Integration of selling and shopping in the user journey on social media has created a seamless experience, and brands doing it right are doing well — but none did it more impressively than TikTok. 

    TikTok, synonymous with short-form videos, has become a trusted platform for Gen Z in Southeast Asia. Its growing influence in e-commerce has created opportunities for savvy brands to capitalize on the platform’s popularity among younger demographics

    The platform seems particularly tailored for Southeast Asia, having launched this year in six countries across the region (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and only two (the US and UK) outside of it.  

    In Thailand, TikTok Mall secured 4% of the total 4.4 billion GMV for the industry in 2023, placing it third behind the established e-commerce giants Shopee (56%) and Lazada (40%). TikTok’s success lies in offering a seamless e-commerce experience and leveraging its user base with tools like the new TikTok Mall.  

    In Indonesia, TikTok Mall grew so fast that it spooked regulators, leading to a ban on social commerce in October. Now, just a couple of months later, it looks to be making a return with ByteDance’s purchase of Tokopedia — a testament to the massive potential the parent company sees in social commerce. 

    The Philippines, home to the 7th largest number of TikTok users, welcomed a new phenomenon, the “budol culture,” where Filipinos buy something unplanned because they were influenced by social media, specifically by TikTok. 

    The platform’s power to influence consumer behaviors and its impact on businesses is expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead. 

    4. Influencer marketing shifts to loyalty and authenticity 

    Influencer marketing in Southeast Asia has never been bigger – or more inclusive. Far from the celebrity focus of yore, Nano influencers and niche creators are growing in influence, especially among Gen Z, who are looking for more authentic voices that represent them.   

    For evidence that influencers are trusted more than brands, look no further than the de-influencing trend that took hold early this year. 

    Building long-lasting relationships with influencers is essential for agencies aiming at a higher ROI. The Southeast Asian market is witnessing a shift towards authenticity that only grew more pronounced this year, with brands recognizing the impact of genuine connections. Increasingly sophisticated consumers can discern short-term influencer campaigns and see them as one-offs rather than significant relationships. Recognizing this, brands focus on creating enduring content, working with fewer influencers but taking time to foster more authentic relationships with them.  

    As a result of this trend, brands are finding that it’s no longer necessary to invest millions in owned content or advertising, as influencers are starting to plug this space more affordably. Loyal, relevant influencers create more authentic content and assets to drive awareness and education, which they then amplify on their brand feeds rather than creating their own branded assets. These long-term partnerships tend to yield a higher ROI and foster stronger connections with the target audience — and they’re the reason Vero launched InFluent, a marketing stack designed to help brands find the right influencer for them, in March 2023.  

    5. Leveling up engagement through gamification 

    Southeast Asia’s young demographic is deeply engaged in mobile gaming culture, making it a prime space for marketers. Recognizing the elements that make games popular (such as scores, rewards, and competition), brands are increasingly incorporating gamification into their social media campaigns to captivate and retain the attention of their target audience. 

    E-commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee integrate games to make shopping fun and keep people coming back for rewards in the form of coins, vouchers, daily bonuses, and prizes like promotional items or invitations to exclusive events. Duolingo, which has achieved steady growth in paid subscribers in the region, uses the gamification model to motivate regular language learning habits, propelling it to record growth in Vietnam and Indonesia

    And it goes both ways: brands are spending more on promotions in standalone games such as Roblox and Fortnite, which are popular among youth, sponsoring unique experiences that gamers actively engage with rather than passively take in.

    Closing Thoughts 

    These broad trends only scratch the surface of changes to the Southeast Asian marketing landscape in 2023. If we can leave brands with one big takeaway that ties these together, it would be to go beyond thinking of your audience as mere consumers and instead work to cultivate a fanbase. This entails fostering a dedicated community of enthusiasts who view themselves as an integral part of your brand and, in the best of cases, have real stakes in the business. Brands could accomplish this in many ways: through influencers, social engagement, values like sustainability, or just quality products that address consumer pain points.

    The fanbase approach goes beyond transactional relationships, emphasizing the creation of emotional connections and a sense of belonging. While consumers may engage with your brand for a single transaction, fans are in it for the long haul, often contributing to brand equity by championing your values and products, even when they aren’t actively making purchases. If you show your young audience how much you value them now, you could have not just fans but real brand ambassadors for life. 

     

    Asia hotel brand

     

    The Outbox Company, a leading travel marketing intelligence firm headquartered in Vietnam, joins forces with Southeast Asia-based communications consultancy Vero to launch comprehensive white paper, “Asia Hotel Brand Blueprint.” The collaborative study presents an extensive assessment of the current state of the hotel market and consumer perceptions in the region, and offers insights into how large hotel chains and boutique properties can future-proof their brands amidst evolving travel trends

    After a gradual recovery from a health crisis that briefly disrupted the dynamic hospitality sector, Asia’s hotel market is now exhibiting renewed vigor. While hotel performance in the region remains well below pre-pandemic levels, the online consumer surveys and data analysis presented in the paper suggest a promising upswing in 2024.  

    The robust hotel construction and opening, especially in India, Vietnam, and Thailand, signal a continuous flow of investment by renowned international hotel brands. The study shows that Accor, a French hotel brand, commands the lion’s market share, boasting an expansive portfolio of ​nearly 1,300 properties across Asia. Meanwhile, Marriott International leads in new project construction in the region, with 280 properties and over 60,000 rooms in the pipeline.  

    Thu Nguyen, Chief Research Officer at Outbox, said, “The intense competition spurred by the robust pipeline of new hotel expected to open in the coming years is ultimately pushing hotel brands to become more innovative and focused in building strong brand identities. This shift is expected to benefits the industry as a whole and driving further growth in the region.”

     

    As competition intensifies, strategic brand positioning takes center stage  

    The proliferation of international hotel brands in Asia has empowered consumers with an array of choices and the opportunity to experience a diverse range of hospitality offerings. The Outbox Company’s comprehensive Hotel Brand Survey model surveyed Asia’s travelers to gain insights into brand recognition, familiarity, and associated perceptions.   

    Brand awareness varies significantly across hotel segments in Asia Pacific, the study found. Hilton reigns supreme in the upper upscale segment, while Lotte dominates brand awareness in the upscale segment. This highlights the importance of tailoring brand strategies to specific market segments to maximize reach and impact. 

    According to the data gathered in the per-country survey, international hotel brands enjoy significantly greater recognition in most Asian countries, as consumers find these brands more popular due to their established reputation. However, the narrative shifts in Vietnam, where homegrown brands overwhelmingly dominate in terms of popularity. This could indicate a stronger emphasis on familiarity. 

    The research also showed that despite covering the most essential brand attributes, hotel brands across all segments have similar images without clear brand differentiation in the eyes of Asian travelers. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for hotels to invest in personalized marketing campaigns and carve out unique positions in the market.

     

    Future-proofing hotel brands amidst evolving travel trends 

    With the increased emphasis on self-planning, pursuit of more authentic experiences, and active involvement in sustainability initiatives, hotel brands are compelled to reassess their marketing strategies. This entails delivering services that closely align with the evolving preferences of today’s modern travelers. 

    For hospitality brands to remain top of mind for self-planners, they must adeptly cater to their desire for autonomy and spontaneity. This involves offering more flexible pricing structures and tailoring experiences to meet their individual preferences. At a time when room-and-buffet breakfast combo is no longer a significant selling point, hotel brands should seek ways to connect with their guests on a deeper level and convert them into brand ambassadors. 

    Modern travelers are also now going for more local immersions than group tours on crowded tourist sites. Hotels, being the experts in their destinations, can leverage this trend by developing cultural immersion programs that provide guests with first-hand insights into the community. Showcasing the hotel’s strong relationship with the community, including local artisans and businesses, signifies the brand’s commitment to cultural enrichment. 

    Beyond engaging with the community, actively embracing and promoting sustainability initiatives will contribute significantly to shaping a hotel’s reputation. Prioritizing environmentally conscious practices enables a hotel brand to align itself with the values of eco-conscious travelers and establishes it as a responsible and forward-thinking leader of the community and the hospitality industry. 

    “The hotel sector is undergoing continual evolution, and so are the preferences and demands of consumers in Asia,” says Trinh Nguyen, PR Account Director at Vero. “Hotel brands that keenly observe these changes and adapt swiftly to shifting sociocultural dynamics will not only distinguish themselves from others but also cultivate profound connections with their guests.”  

    To download the full Asia Hotel Brand Blueprint white paper, please visit The Outbox Company.

     

    PR fossil fuel

    “What the world needs is for all major companies to make clear that they would prefer for their PR agencies to cease working with fossil fuel brands.” 

     

    This article was originally published on Campaign Asia.

     

    This past June, the United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres called out the PR industry for enabling fossil fuel companies to sow disinformation and “knee-cap” a transition to renewable energy.  

    And earlier this year, more than 450 scientists called on PR agencies to cease working with fossil fuel companies. 

    Both acts are important milestones in the movement to end the greenwashing of fossil fuel corporations’ activities and reputations. 

    But the reality is that many PR agencies care far more about the sentiments of brand procurement decision-makers than what the UN secretary or a coalition of scientists say.  

    This is why corporate procurement and business leaders should take it upon themselves to give PR agencies the motivation they need to cease consulting fossil fuel clients.  

    More than 600 PR agencies have pledged not to work with fossil fuel companies by signing on to the Clean Creatives pledge. Yet, 294 PR agencies appeared on the most recent F-list consisting of PR and advertising agencies that continue to serve the interests of fossil fuel companies. 

    What the world needs is for all major companies to make clear that they would prefer for their PR agencies to cease working with fossil fuel brands

    When the world’s leading companies state that they want their PR agencies to implement a plan to phase out fossil fuel clients, we will see those agencies make a genuine and concerted effort to stop working with fossil fuel brands. 

    There are myriad reasons for procurement and business leaders to take this approach. 

    First, the best brands and companies in the world today are making significant efforts to develop their own sustainability goals. For these companies to procure services from a PR agency that consults for fossil fuel brands negates whatever sustainability measures a brand is taking. There is no point in a company establishing ambitious sustainability goals and then hiring a PR agency that bolsters the reputations of fossil fuel brands. 

    Secondly, there is a clear path for agencies to move away from fossil fuel brands. Brands can ask PR agencies not to sign new fossil fuel contracts. This allows an agency working for fossil fuel brands an opportunity to put in place a transition plan to replace fossil fuel clients with new ones and preserve jobs in the process. The point is that PR agencies need to plan this transition, but many will only feel incentivized to do so if their current or prospective clients are demanding it.   

    The third reason for brands to avoid procuring services from PR agencies serving the fossil fuel industry is based on talent. The best agencies maintain their status only as long as they continue to employ the best people. And increasingly, the world’s best PR professionals do not want to consult for fossil fuel brands. I expect that there will soon be a wave of talented professionals refusing to work at agencies that generate income from fossil fuel brands. For the clients of those agencies, that exodus will mean lower quality service despite their prestigious names (and premium fees).   

    People want to feel good about the work they do, and it’s hard to feel good about helping fossil fuel brands.  Numerous studies demonstrate a gap between their rhetoric around sustainability and their paltry investments in renewable energy — particularly compared to their continued investment in oil and gas extraction and industry lobbying.   

    For example, a study from the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found a clear “mismatch between words, actions and investments” of fossil fuel brands that “provide the benefit of alleviating pressure from society [and] can prolong the social license to operate, providing valuable time for the majors to continue their core fossil fuel business.” 

    The current debate over working with fossil fuel brands isn’t the first time the PR industry has faced such an issue. PR agencies faced a similar dilemma when tobacco brands were caught openly dissembling on health issues while under oath speaking to policymakers. In that case, most of the world’s leading PR agencies dropped tobacco brands and replaced them with new clients because of the stigma attached to burnishing the tobacco companies’ reputations.  

    As an industry, PR is generally thriving. Most PR agencies reported growing revenues over the last decade.   

    It’s also a fact that PR agencies are intrinsically flexible, adaptable, and creative businesses. They can maneuver away from serving fossil fuel brands, but those that have pledged to cut ties are still a minority.  

    While the UN chief spotlighting this issue is helpful, it’s even more important for the companies that hire PR agencies to follow suit. Brand procurement executives who insist they will only procure PR services from agencies with plans in place to transition away from fossil fuel clients will be the real leaders on the issue. 

    Last week, the global firm Allison Worldwide took the Clean Creative pledge, becoming one of the larger PR agencies to promise to cease consulting for fossil fuel brands. This is a great sign of the PR industry’s willingness to assist the transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy. 

    However, too many agencies — including many of the largest and most prestigious —continue to kick the can down the road, as Clean Creatives’ 2023 F-list attests

    As Mr. Guterres said: “Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one.” 

    But this will only happen when the business leaders who procure services of PR agencies insist on it. 

     

    Join Vero and 600 other agencies in taking the Clean Creative Pledge; sign up here.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

    Brian Griffin is the CEO of Vero, an agency that pledged in 2022 not to work with fossil fuel companies.