This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity, and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with Essence.
We sat down with Matthew Holland, vice president, client services, APAC, and Aarti Bharadwaj, senior vice president, analytics, APAC, at Essence in a fireside chat to discuss the varied ways in which the media and advertising industry can drive social good.
There has been a lot of discussion about practising social good, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Matthew Holland, vice president, client services, APAC, Essence: The pandemic has had a big impact globally for numerous people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Charities are set up to support these people but are also struggling themselves. Due to gathering restrictions, charities are unable to hold their traditional fundraising events. At the same time, donations from businesses have also decreased during Covid-19 as companies cut back on their overall expenses. I see opportunities to support charities in digitising their marketing activities to help drive donations – not just from businesses but also individuals to support the work the charities do.
Aarti Bharadwaj, senior vice president, analytics, APAC, Essence: Seeing how the pandemic has caused great imbalances in societies has compelled more people to come forward to offer a helping hand to those in need. While many interpret this as making donations in cash or in kind, my view is that we could do a lot more to provide opportunities to learn and be a part of the growing community of digital-first professionals. The route to a more inclusive and equitable future is through enabling talent to gain a foothold in the current dynamic landscape, and the first step would be to provide access to knowledge and learning.
How does doing social good impact a company’s business?
Aarti: Social good impacts a company’s business in both hard and soft metrics. In addition to giving people a sense of purpose and pride in what they do, it helps to create an equitable and positive work environment. In a very tactical manner, doing social good also helps develop talent, increase the employability of an individual, and equip them with skills and knowledge that are beneficial for companies.
Matthew: Social good should be a key part of any business where they can help support local charities and give back to the community. The clear benefit for the company is employee satisfaction, as companies can be seen to drive action through community efforts.
How can we drive social good in media and advertising?
Aarti: The media and advertising industry is a highly visible and aspirational industry. It is therefore imperative that we do our bit in driving social good because the impact that we have on society is more than we can imagine. One important way we can do this is in our representation of the brands we stand for, both in the advertising that we implement for our clients and in our persona as a company. As we aspire to drive an inclusive and equitable world, we need to start being the change we want to see in the world in how we show up every day.
For example, companies can leverage the same sophisticated technology, analytics expertise, and media tools they use for their own businesses to help charities achieve the best outcomes:
- Derive audience insights from the charities’ website traffic to inform content strategy.
- Use media channels’ automated bidding strategies and smart creatives to serve relevant messages to audiences who are most likely to support charities.
- Leverage data dashboards to monitor performance, such as website traffic landings, volunteer sign-ups and donations, and find growth opportunities.
Matthew: Our industry can support charities in their digital marketing strategy. There are many ways media agencies can use their experience to support charities, such as:
- Search engine optimisation: Sharing website optimisation best practices with charities to improve visibility and organic traffic to their sites.
- Conversion rate optimisation: Implementing heatmap testing for charities to understand their consumers’ online journey to increase website conversion rates and drive additional volunteer sign-ups and donations.
- Customer relationship management: Providing consulting on email marketing strategies for charities to reconnect with individuals and businesses to drive additional volunteer sign-ups and donations in the future.
What is your company’s approach to doing social good?
Matthew: Essence’s mission is to make brands more valuable to the world. The ways we do this include supporting a sustainable advertising economy. Advertising works best when it works well for everyone. As our industry’s increasing power creates the responsibility to make the world a better place, it is important to use our abilities for social good. We also have a commitment towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, and hope to support communities in the same way where we can. Being a purpose-driven business is important to Essence.
Aarti: Essence has a digital heritage, as well as data, analytics, and technology DNA. While we are always looking to advance our capabilities, in addition to putting these to good use for our clients, we aim to use them for broader purposes like social good too. We have a commitment to give back to the community, as well as help develop a diverse and inclusive talent pool. We support many learning initiatives, and ensure that we take the time to talk to aspiring talent and mentor them through their journey in the industry.
How is your company using your abilities for social good in APAC? Share an example.
Matthew: One example is our Essence Impact initiative. We set it up in APAC back in 2020 when many markets were in lockdown due to Covid-19. At Essence, every employee has volunteering leave to support worthwhile causes. However, during the lockdown, our employees were not able to get out and support local causes in the ways we would traditionally do.
Essence Impact is a way for our employees to remotely support non-profit organisations with their digital marketing. We know that charities suffered during Covid-19 with the inability to hold physical fundraising events and corporate sponsors pulling back. A lot of charities are also in need of digital transformation to drive awareness of their good causes via their websites but often do not have the capabilities to do so. This is where Essence supports them.
As a start, we help charities obtain Google Ad Grants, which provides them with US$10,000 per month to spend on Google search advertising to raise awareness for their website. A lot of smaller charities do not know these grants are available, nor do they have sufficient knowledge of Google’s advertising platforms to set up and track their campaigns. As Essence has been partnering with Google globally on media campaigns for more than a decade, we have a wealth of knowledge and expertise based on all our best practices to help charities set up and optimise their campaigns.
Besides helping charities obtain their Google Ad Grants, we support charities with analytics audits, website search engine optimisation recommendations, and onsite conversion rate analysis. This helps improve traffic to their website and overall customer experience from end to end.
Aarti: Practising social good has always been second nature to us at Essence, even before Covid-19 struck. We are supporting businesses learning to operate in the new digital world, as well as helping to develop and skill talent to prepare for the times to come, such as in the areas of data, analytics, and technology, especially given the shortage of a skilled workforce in this space.
Which organisations and who is this initiative supporting?
Matthew: For Essence Impact, in 2020, we did an initial test pilot scheme with three charities in Singapore, namely ACRES, Bethesda Care Services and Club Rainbow, whereby employees utilised their volunteering time to set up the charities’ Google Ad Grants campaigns and supported with search engine optimisation audits and analytics tracking solutions. We now have long-standing relationships with these charities and in the past year, have driven over 100,000 visitors to their websites.
By the end of 2021, we were working with more than 10 charities originating in APAC and serving communities locally and beyond, including ArtsWok Collaborative, Daughters of Tomorrow, IIMPACT Australia, New Hope Community Services, School for Life and Special Needs Trust Company.
In 2022, we aim to scale Essence Impact further across APAC, whilst also going global with our counterparts in the Americas and EMEA.
How does this initiative support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Matthew: We invite all our employees across our agency network to volunteer and support projects such as Essence Impact. All employees are welcome, regardless of their background or experience, to take up these opportunities to learn new skills and give back to society. Through this initiative, Essence also supports a diverse community across geographies and demographics.
Do such initiatives help to recruit, engage, and retain talent in companies, especially in current times?
Matthew: The feedback from our employees is that by supporting Essence Impact, they feel that the work they are doing has a positive impact and is giving them a greater sense of worth in their roles at Essence. This in part helps to retain our talent and gives new employees an understanding of the culture that we believe in when they interview for opportunities at Essence.
Aarti: Our employee engagement surveys have been showing a high score for purpose. Our employees feel a strong sense of pride and purpose in the work that they do, and one of the reasons for this is work like Essence Impact, which makes employees feel and see the tangible contribution we are making to the world around us and towards causes we believe in, over and above the work we do for our clients. This is particularly powerful in current times when people are still in the midst of a pandemic and are keen to help in whichever way they can.
What learnings would you like to share with other companies in using their abilities for social good?
Matthew: The main learning would be that doing social good is not a big time drain for businesses. With a relatively small amount of time spread across numerous individuals, this already results in far greater benefits, in terms of the social good that the company offers and the sense of satisfaction that employees achieve.
Aarti: The one learning I would like to share is that programmes like Essence Impact benefit companies in more ways than we can imagine. These initiatives bring people together in a non-transactional way and drive meaningful conversations across teams, practices, and levels. Especially in work-from-home setups, one issue that companies face is that relationships in the workplace can become transactional and it can be hard to drive employee engagement beyond that. A small amount of time spent on programmes like Essence Impact goes a long way in bringing people together in a positive way.