High-carbon clients cause my staff concern. Here's my stance on boycotting

  Jenny Biggam, the7stars
Jenny Biggam, the7stars

There is a balancing act agencies must perform in response to employee worries about clients doing harm to the environment.

People say great culture comes from the top, but I disagree – I think great culture comes from the team. And the most important thing that senior leadership can do is simply to listen to them.  

We know from internal surveys at the7stars just how important the environment is to our team. In fact, along with “giving back”, it was ranked as the number one priority that they wanted to proactively do more on. And if it’s important to our team, then we have to make it important to us.  

However, as the saying goes, a principle is only a principle when it costs you money, and we have, in the past, declined work for clients based on environmental concerns. These concerns weren’t mine personally but were voiced by the team here. 

I asked staff how they'd feel about the work, and I received a very well-written and well-argued email from one of our team. Her issue was that, in her view, the company was doing environmental harm. And while she didn't change my view that agency boycotts aren't the long-term answer, she did make me realise the strength of feeling that was out there about this specific advertiser.

We didn’t take a public stance or announce a boycott. We simply politely declined to take on the work. But doing the right thing for the environment as an agency is complex – and it goes beyond recycling bins and energy suppliers.

Public boycotts of high-carbon industries or cries for the whole ad industry to cease and desist feel like an easy distraction. They are certainly not our strategy du jour

I believe real change happens through positive action. Some of our clients’ environemental, social and governance initiatives, for example, are truly inspirational. Consumers are demanding change and increasingly so are investors.  

There are many positive steps that we are taking as an industry, and the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero includes a pledge to harness advertising’s power to support consumer behaviour change. That’s exciting because it takes us to a positive place, beyond boycotts or bans. 

Earlier this year we partnered Global on a research project called “Sustainable Now”. Our team enjoyed working with clients who talked to us about their environmental initiatives – and we have supported clients in numerous “green” categories from green energy to plant-based food alternatives.  

As a top-performing media agency in Campaign’s Best Places to Work survey, at the7stars we will continue to listen to our team, democratise our decision-making, and prioritise our culture. In turn, we will help our clients and the industry more broadly, to lead on the important issues and become a force for positive change. Because it’s important to the team, our clients and, therefore, our business.

Jenny Biggam is founder of the7stars 


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