Lee Green is the Communications Director for the Consumer Goods Forum, a global, member-driven industry network of the world’s retailers and consumer goods manufacturers working to advance positive change and efficiency in the consumer goods industry and around the world.
—The Measurement Standard: Welcome to our Measurement Life interview, Lee Green. We are thrilled to talk to you! First, let’s learn a little about you: How did you arrive at your position at The Consumer Goods Forum?
I guess you can say I took the long route from the UK to France, which included a 13-year detour to China. As a fresh graduate, I went to China with the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) to become a volunteer teacher in Inner Mongolia. After a couple of years here, I moved to Beijing and became the first editor of PR Newswire in China. This is where I really got into communications and PR. The China market was relatively young, and we had to do a lot of educating of Chinese clients looking to communicate with international audiences and international clients looking to communicate in China. It was a great experience. After almost 11 years with PR Newswire, I was keen to get into non-profit communications and this led me to my current job at The Consumer Goods Forum. I applied while still in China and moved to France five years ago.
—TMS: What course of study did you follow, and what would you recommend for students interested in a similar path?
I graduated university with a joint degree in English Literature and Publishing. However, once I decided communications was where I wanted to be, I completed an online master’s degree in Global Marketing and Communications (several years later). This was helpful and provided some great background information, but I don’t think there is anything better than experience. You need to roll-up your sleeves and get your hands dirty if you really want to learn how to get things done. I believe the experience made my master’s degree much easier too.
The degrees are important, of course, with regards to the background context and theory, and they’ll help provide a decent foundation, but experience is where you learn how things really work. That said, some organizations won’t even look at you without a master’s degree, so think about what type of organization you want to work for, especially if you want to work somewhere like the WEF or UN.
—TMS: The practice of public relations and communications has become increasingly global. What trends and best practices have you seen companies put into action through your role at The Consumer Goods Forum?
There are a plethora of channels and strategies for PR and communications professionals to get their heads around nowadays. However, if I were to look at what our members are up to and what everyone needs to pay attention to, I’d say it comes down to measurement and trust.
Today, everyone has dashboards and data galore, but the trick is being able to showcase how your PR and communications activities have a direct impact on your communications goals and your business objectives. Your senior leadership teams must be convinced by your actions and the only way to do this is by successfully measuring the data and evaluating what’s working and what’s not. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without the measurement aspect, you’re just shouting into a crowd and hoping for the best.
Then there is trust. With fake news hitting the headlines on traditional and social media, and with trust in businesses and governments declining around the world, your communications strategy needs to think about how you are getting your consumers to trust your brand. A corporate press release or advert is no longer going to cut it. In Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, 63% of respondents worldwide agreed with this statement: “A good reputation may get me to try a product—but unless I come to trust the company behind the product I will soon stop buying it, regardless of its reputation.” It’s also interesting that results showed respondents trust a company’s social media content nearly two-times as much as their advertising.
And, if I could give a special mention, it would go to advocacy. You need to find ways to get customers talking positively about your brand and products. Get them involved in the conversation. And, get ready for “employee advocacy” to take off. Your employees are your first customer and best brand advocates. Look after them, and they will look after you. Companies need to build success from the inside out and then find ways to amplify the positive results. Your employees are also a great source of “non-promotional content.” Consumers are tired of being sold at. They want real stories from real people. This is how trust will be built and secured.
—TMS: The role of corporate social responsibility has been growing significantly over the past two decades or so. Do you view this as an integral part of the practice of communications? Why or why not?
It depends what type of company you want to be, but I would hope that companies today understand the importance of doing business the right way and that focusing purely on short-term profits is not the way to go. For us here at The Consumer Goods Forum, we are focused on bringing consumer goods retailers and manufacturers together to collaborate on pre-competitive issues that can drive positive change for the benefit of people, planet and business. Therefore, transparency and communications go hand in hand.
The business case will always play a role, but there is enough evidence out there now to show companies can make healthy profits without destroying the planet and the people on it. This is even more obvious when we see a significant increase in investors studying sustainability credentials before investing in a company. We’ve also seen companies evolve from having CSR departments to fully integrating CSR into their corporate strategies. It has to be engrained in your corporate culture. You should live and breathe it.
And, from a communications perspective, I think the key takeaway is, as I mentioned, ensuring transparency. Let people know you are on a journey and be open about your successes and learnings. Consumers want to know what you are up to as a company and we’ve seen how millennials and Gen Z’ers are happy to walk away from brands that do not fight for positive change and encourage others to do the same.
—TMS: Please tell our readers a bit more about corporate sustainability efforts. Are these efforts regional and country-based, or do companies have success in rolling programs out globally, despite vast differences in economies?
It can depend on the topic being dealt with. Many of the issues facing companies today are global by definition and they require global leadership, but the specifics can differ from region to region and country to country.
For example, we deal with many global issues here at The Consumer Goods Forum, like climate change, food safety, forced labor and consumer health, but the drivers for these can vary depending on the region or country. For example, our Collaboration for Healthier Lives initiative takes a regional approach to a global problem. Our members are working together in local projects to address the main health concerns in that country. Healthy aging is the focus of our work in Japan, while in the US we are helping consumers make one more healthy choice every day, as we look to drive healthier shopping baskets, and we have similar initiatives running in South America and Europe.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t work on these challenges at a global level. To help address increasing greenhouse gas emissions, our members followed up on their 2010 resolution to phase out harmful refrigerants (from freezers, coolers, etc.) by calling on governments to include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the Montreal Protocol. This was successful in 2016. And, only last year, our global membership came together to issue a landmark call to action to simplify food dates labels by 2020 as part of our global effort to reduce food waste. Of course, to achieve this at a global level, you need the CEOs on-board. Thankfully, this is what makes the CGF unique, as we have the CEO-leadership thanks to our Board of Directors, which includes 54 global CEOs.
However, once the global decision has been made, you still need to come back to looking at how change will be implemented on the ground.
—TMS: Stakeholder engagement is a core part what The Consumer Goods Forum offers its member companies. Can you tell us a bit about your approach to stakeholder engagement?
Our work requires much more than industry-wide collaboration. To achieve success and ensure the positive, long-term impacts of our initiatives, we also need to work across sectors. We recognize that the issues we are working on are too big for our industry to solve alone. We do, therefore, regularly collaborate with industry bodies, governments, public health authorities and subject experts to ensure we are at the forefront of ongoing conversations and innovative solutions.
As part of this effort, we have collaborated with the US government on deforestation, World Resources Institute on food waste, the Ellen McArthur Foundation on plastics, UNIDO on food safety and the International Labour Organization on forced labor. These “coalitions of the willing” that bring together businesses, governments and civil society are key to solving these global challenges.
—TMS: What advancements in PR and communications do you see affecting your organization and member companies over the next few years? What great strides do you see in your crystal ball?
Technology will undoubtedly have a major impact.
When it comes to providing consumers with a personalized product or experience, AI and deep learning will be at the forefront of this change. Companies will be able to personalize with speed and efficiency. And, more importantly, customers will demand it.
The power of automation will also continue to increase, as the need for speed becomes ever more important. Automation tools today are still relatively untapped, and their full potential is far from being realized.
And, “dark social” will also become increasingly important. Still largely ignored today, as measurement and analytics platforms can’t provide data on it, companies will be bending over backwards to figure it out. According to one recent survey, almost 70% of all online referrals come from dark social globally. That’s an enormous percentage of unrecorded data. In a world where data rules, whoever cracks this will be set for an early retirement.
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