Content marketing – today’s once upon a time

Content marketing is set to be the single biggest area of increased marketing spend this year.   But content marketing is not new, it’s simply the evolution of something communications professionals like us have been doing since time began – writing and telling compelling stories. 

Effective story-telling is the basis for all good public relations, marketing and brand development activity.  Content marketing combines this skill with the concept of traditional media relations, where the value of editorial is far greater than that of paid-for advertising.

The fact that we now work in a world where there’s a frenzy of content generation, everyone can be their own publisher, and there are more free channels for dissemination than ever before, doesn’t diminish the value of traditional media and journalism.  There is still huge inherent value for the marketer in achieving editorial coverage, with its perceived editorial endorsement, through well-conceived, written and pitched news and feature materials. 

More than ever, consumers are looking for reliable sources to inform and validate their decisions and purchases – editorial endorsement is still powerful and can be a valuable education tool. 

In fact, good old-fashioned media relations is still the service that the Conscious Communications team gets requests for most frequently, except that these days we also include social media engagement in the mix of course.

So we find ourselves with three main options for dissemination of our content, each of which has its   own merits and offers varying levels of control:

1) Owned media where we have total control in the form of newsletters, whitepapers, websites, blogs – brands that create 15 blog posts per month average 1,200 new leads per month;

2) social media where we can control our own messages but also invite conversation and engagement with audiences – according to the Content Marketing Institute, the average B2B marketer engages in content promotion on 6 social media platforms;

3) traditional media – print, broadcast and on-line, where editorial control is in someone else’s hands and, therefore, still has greater perceived value for the reader. 

Conscious Communications believes that the best content marketing strategies utilise both traditional and new media channels to disseminate original, repurposed and curated content to achieve optimum engagement.  In this way, a good content marketing strategy can engage with audiences at every stage of the buying cycle through initial awareness generation through engagement and lead generation, to loyalty, effectively supporting other marketing and sales activities.

There is one other option too, which spans all of the above, and that is the ‘peer review’ which, again, is now more easily achieved than ever.  Much like the traditional case study published in a business or trade journal, customer and supplier reviews, guest blogs and endorsements can be effectively utilised within a content marketing programme to promote products and services and reinforce prospective customers’ reasons to engage. 

The really exciting thing about content today is that it doesn’t need to be static and can be delivered easily through moving image, audio, animation, graphics, text and a combination of all of these.    Just imagine, a massive two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.

Content marketing is also a hugely valuable component of any effective internal communications programme and should be viewed and managed with the same care and attention it commands for external marketing. 

Again, this is nothing new, but internal audiences have become more sophisticated and demanding, and content needs to reflect this by inviting and encouraging contributions, promoting successes and best practice. 

Employees can be a company’s most effective ambassadors and the company that successfully involves its staff in generating and disseminating content on the company’s behalf, has a lot to gain.   However, involving individuals in content generation is a great motivator as long as it doesn’t become a burden.  So make sure to set out clear guidelines and ensure individuals keep to agreed timelines so that content is topical and maintains momentum.

And, if you’re still not sure of the value of content marketing, it is a fact that well-constructed content, that resonates with audiences and achieves recommendations, will gain attention from search engines, pushing you up the search rankings.  Google values in-depth and lengthy (1,500+ words) technical articles, white papers, study reports and so on, so a good smattering of longer pieces to complement your curated news and repurposed views content will help ensure you’re appealing to all potential audiences.

If you’re thinking about developing a content marketing programme and need some creative inspiration, www.businesss2community.com published 57 ideas – some insightful, some obvious, all worth bearing in mind: http://goo.gl/H5Y4VX.

If you need help with constructing your content marketing programme, please give us a call on 01223 393 812 or email alison.taylor@consciouscomms.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter @Conscious_comms or visit our website: www.consciouscomms.com

The value of media relations

Great media relations skills are honed through years of hands-on experience.  They cannot be learned from a text book.  Top media relations practitioners have a raw talent, an instinct for a ‘story’ and eye for an ‘angle’.  Importantly, they know their audience and understand the media which, in the digital age, is no mean feat.

So what makes a good story?  There is no doubt that bad news shouts louder than good news and that bad news spreads faster and stays longer than ever.  But how do we make a compelling story out of good news? There are six main components that make up news:

  • Immediacy – it is about something that’s happening now
  • Impact – it has the ability to affect lives
  • Change – it is about imminent or actual change
  • Interest – it excites; worries; intrigues; motivates
  • Importance – it is of consequence to individuals and/or communities
  • Relevance – it is topical and of significance

The media landscape has changed dramatically in just the past few years and now employs over ½ million people in the UK.  It is now vastly more complex and dynamic than it was with every member of the public now a potential reporter and self-appointed journalist.  With more channels for news than ever before, competition for editorial space is fierce, so why communicate through the media at all?  Why not choose another way to communicate with target audiences and raise the profile of your company, products or services? 

The one overriding compelling reason is that the media offers the potential for mass dissemination of your messages.  With the right angle, making your story newsworthy, you have the potential to reach many millions of people across the world.  Even more appealing is that, with careful planning and media knowledge, you have the ability to engage with niche markets of interested customers and potential customers.  And, now that the media is so joined-up, you have the ability to push audiences to your own media outlets – your website; blog; pages on social platforms.

Of course one of the reasons why great media relations still carries such value is because a story reported by an independent media channel carries the implied endorsement of that channel, the journalist/editor.  Even better, if the story is delivered in the form of a third party review or endorsement, giving personal endorsement of the products/services, it has yet more value.

And while, prior to the new media age, stories in traditional media became chip paper and were lost overnight, with today’s digital channels, your story has an infinite life, potentially resurfacing time and again dished up by search engines, for many years to come.  So, a little media relations expertise can go a long, long way.

Eureka, a diet that works!

January is dieting season and if you’ve made a resolution to lose weight this spring you’ll no doubt have been trawling the internet, magazines, papers for advice on how to do it. 

One of the most convincing sources of information about what does and doesn’t work, is our friends and family.  People who have actually done it; are doing it; have succeeded; and can tell you how much pain might be involved and how determined you need to be, are the ones we listen to most. 

It seems to the Conscious Communications team that almost everyone we speak to has tried, or is doing, the 5:2.  The regimen has captured everyone’s imaginations with its sheer simplicity and one-day-at-a-time pain philosophy.   The thought that we can fast for two days each week, then eat whatever we like on the other five, and still lose lbs and lbs, sounds just too good to be true.  So, is it?

Conscious Communications was privileged to be at a British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) conference last week, frantically scribing press releases in the back row.  It was here that we learned that the original version of the 5:2 was titled ‘The 2-Day Diet’, developed by Dr Michelle Harvie, Research Dietitian at the Genesis Prevention Centre, University Hospital of South Manchester, and based on extensive scientific research. 

The 2-Day Diet comprises two days of 500-600 calories, plus five days of healthy eating and, yes, it really does work.  But here’s the rub, you can’t eat whatever you like on the five days -that just won’t work. 

However, the good news is, unlike other diets where keeping the weight loss off seems impossible, if you succeed in losing weight with this one, you can then cut back to just one day per week of ‘fasting’ to successfully maintain the weight loss.

Palaeolithic diets were also on the agenda at the conference and, as well as discovering that the Stone Age menu contained many more phytochemicals and fibre than the modern day diet, it seems that they also had a big impact on satiety hormones and feelings of fullness after eating. 

The Conscious Communications team thinks, therefore, that in theory if we combine a healthy eating plan, based on the Palaeolithic diet, with an intermittent fasting plan (2-Day Diet), the weight loss process would be even easier.  Not so much ‘no pain, no gain’; rather ‘just a little, intermittent pain, and big gain’! 

Against the backdrop of all of this scientific evidence, the NHS in association with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has launched its own 12 week weight-loss plan – yet another healthy eating plan with exercise included.  It sounds like so many other diets and surely adds to general dieting confusion.  No wonder the 5:2 seems so appealing in comparison.

Follow us on Twitter: @Conscious_comms. 

Recordings of four of the BNF conference presentations are available on: www.nutrition.org.uk

Keeping our resolve

41 percent of us will have made a New Year’s resolution at midnight on 31st December but 46 percent of these resolutions will last just 6 months and only 19 percent a full year. 

Every January the media rejoices in reporting on popular resolutions, personal and professional, many of which are predictable but enjoyable to make fun of nonetheless, even if some of them are a little too familiar, personally.  This year, the Guardian published its list with a twist: the top twelve resolutions NOT to make.   The Conscious Communications team’s favourite in this list is the new hairdo.  The sense of growing dismay and regret as your new image takes shape in the hairdresser’s mirror beautifully captured in this piece – resolution or not, who hasn’t experienced this one!

The media’s other favourite list for January is that of personal finance resolutions.  This list is similar across all media every year and a sad indictment to creative thinking.  For 2014 the recurring theme is to make better use of free on-line tools and advice to help manage and monitor your finances.  The internet has, of course, transformed the world of personal finance and allows us to research and compare information across multiple providers, products and services as never before.  ‘Switching’ is now part of our everyday vocabulary but the figures are still very low – in September 2013 the Payments Council launched a new Current Account Switch Service designed to motivate more consumers to change their bank.  One month later they announced that 89,000 switches had been completed since launch, but this was just 9,000 more than the same period the previous year when no such service was available.  The assumption could be that the public is apathetic.  But, maybe it’s simply that we’ve taken our New Year’s resolution, dug around and used free on-line information to search out better deals, then spoken to our bank and, hey-presto, customer service has kicked in and they’ve risen to the challenge and structured a package to suit us better.  That’s the experience of one member of our team anyway.

Members of the Conscious Communications team have all, individually, made New Year’s resolutions for 2014.  Interestingly in all cases these resolutions relate to learning something and ‘bettering ourselves’ in some way. 

CPD in social media is a recurring theme for us – the world in which we work moves so fast that it is essential to our work that we stay on the learning curve and, therefore, as well as being on our resolutions lists social media is naturally integrated as part of our on-going external training programme.

Without going into too many dull specifics, other resolutions from our team include further learning in sustainable business practices and collaborations; and greater involvement with local charitable causes.  If this all sounds very ‘worthy’, we definitely have some hairdos in the frame too! 

Importantly, how will we go about keeping these resolutions? According to International Business Times there are five things we all should do to ensure we keep our promises to ourselves.  The Conscious Communications team’s favourite of these is to ‘make a vision board’ – what, really?!  That sounds like a whole resolution in itself and far too much like hard work to be practical.  We actually think it’s more a case of just getting on with it although, undoubtedly, making a resolution with a friend can help, so the ‘buddy’ system described in the IBT piece has some merit.  However, buddies also have the potential to lead you astray and weaken your resolve so, one final resolution for our list is, beware the ‘weak buddy’.

Credit and recognition where it’s due

It was the British Nutrition Foundation’s Annual Day yesterday.  Academics, health professionals, industry, and students gathered at the Royal College of Physicians in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal, to hear this year’s British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) Annual Lecture, delivered by Professor Sean Strain, Professor of Human Nutrition at University of Ulster.  Professor Strain was winner of the BNF Prize 2012, awarded in recognition of his outstanding leadership and research related to human nutrition, food and health. 

Professor Strain’s lecture, titled ‘Eating Fish for Two’, examined the prevalence of mercury in fish, the result of both natural and human activities, and looked at the scientific evidence behind the effects of methylmercury exposure and advice given to women about eating fish during pregnancy.  This fascinating presentation concluded that there is a need for a change in policy advice to motivate increased fish consumption in pregnant women.  The benefits outweigh the risks according to Professor Strain. 

This extraordinary presentation of scientific significance was followed by a raft of award presentations by HRH The Princess Royal on behalf of BNF, to students, nutritionists and dietitians.  Some were given in the memory and under the name of Sir Jack Drummond, who played an important role in the history of nutrition, in particular during and after the Second World War.

So why is this interesting?  The Chairman of BNF said a few words at the reception that followed the awards giving and his words will resonate with many people.  Nutrition and food security are of huge significance across the globe and climate change is posing many challenges for governments, academics, agriculture and food industries.  These challenges will continue to escalate unless the work of organisations like BNF continues. 

BNF’s modest team of scientists and education professionals work tirelessly to analyse, interpret and communicate nutrition science to multiple audiences.  They are sometimes criticised by the naïve and uneducated for their collaborations with industry but they remain true to their aims and scientific principles, and under strict governance to remain unbiased, balanced and focussed on scientific evidence.

BNF’s work this past year in promoting food provenance, healthy eating and cooking to primary and secondary schools across the country during Healthy Eating Week was an unparalleled success.  With over 3,000 schools taking part and activities involving 1.2 million children it demonstrates the huge appetite and need for knowledge, skills and resources in the community.  .

The small not-for-profit team also works hard to secure funding for its work and they deserve greater support and recognition to build on their vital work helping to address the burgeoning obesity  and associated disease crisis. 

Is red tape restricting the green house building agenda?

Domestic and non-domestic buildings are responsible for around 37 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.   Taking domestic building in isolation, there are 26 million homes in UK and over 40 per cent of our CO2 emissions come from these buildings – the comparative figure for emissions globally is around a third.  These figures don’t even take into account current energy and water usage and means that there’s a massive amount of retrofitting to be done if we’re to meet our climate change goals.

The government’s flagship Green Deal was officially launched just nine months ago and last week the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment published its report ‘Re-energising the green agenda’, in which it concludes that the Green Deal already needs reviewing.  Apparently not many people know what it does or why it exists – this comes as no surprise to the Conscious Communications’ team which has heard the same from clients and at the green and cleantech events we attend.

A view reaffirmed by Dr Aled Jones, director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, today at the Retrofit East conference where he hold delegates that an “urgent reform” of the Green Deal policy is needed.  He believes that the only way to cut domestic carbon emissions by the required 29 per cent is by legislation and compulsory energy and efficiency standards.

Apparently only 700 people have so far taken out Green Deal loans, and just 12 installations have been completed to date.  99 per cent of people who have had a Green Deal assessment done on their home have not gone on to progress their project. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group’s report says: “…we feel it is time to take another look at the detail, make it work for social housing, galvanise the schemes locally across the country and make financial incentives permanent. The concern is that in the current form the Green Deal and Energy Companies Obligation will deliver fewer carbon emissions reductions than the policies they replaced.”

So, in conclusion, the Green Deal has taken us backwards. 

The report goes on to make several recommendations including making retrofit more financially attractive; making the Green Construction Board an industry focal point for delivery and action; and establishing an Existing Homes Hub to engage with industry on sustainability issues.

From a new build perspective, the UK has targeted itself with achieving a carbon neutral status for all new homes by 2016.  This appears to be an easier target for us to achieve, and the Code for Sustainable Homes is now being widely implemented.

Yet the Conscious Communications team understands that one of the key players in the green new build sector, Skanska – three times award winner at this year’s BCI Awards, whose president and CEO is co-chair of the Green Construction Board, has just pulled out of the UK residential market, largely due to the complexities of the planning process.  As an innovator in the market that has been setting the bar for other construction companies, we see this as a shocking indictment of our system, bogged down with red tape, and a calamity for the UK.  Surely there should be measures in place to help companies like Skanska to speed through planning, build progressive housing and help us reach our environmental targets.  Who will lead the way for new green homes in the UK now?

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s annual FTSE 350 Climate Change Report 2013, construction companies scoring highest in a ranking of corporate carbon footprints include Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Interserve, Costain, Kier. 

In our region, where the property ‘bubble’ continues to bulge, it is good to see so many of these companies have a presence.  Indeed, the Conscious Communications team was proud to have been part of Kier Eastern’s new office opening in Cambridge recently – we hope that they have more success with the planning process than Skanska did, and that they continue to strive in helping the UK reach its carbon neutral targets.

When is CSR not CSR?

Does corporate social responsibility (CSR) mean different things to different organisations, or do organisations choose to interpret the meaning of CSR in different ways?  This was the question that came to the minds of the Conscious Communications team following a recent ‘CSR’ presentation that we attended in Cambridge.

A number of not-for-profit organisations and SMEs delivered talks at the event and there seemed to be an interesting mismatch in application of the name ‘CSR’ to different activities.

There are various definitions of CSR to draw on but one that the Conscious Communications team favours is ‘corporate self-regulation’ integrated into the business model.  This ‘self-regulation’ refers to ethical standards, and the furthering of social good, beyond the interest of the company itself and its required legal compliance.  CSR is not just about philanthropy, it’s about having a positive impact in and around all areas of business which includes, most topically, taking responsibility for your supply chain.  Marketing Week presented an overview of opinions from CSR leaders – which makes for an interesting read.

It is, of course, inevitable that organisations will engage in CSR activities at different levels, and some more actively than others.  But, what is less obvious maybe, is that organisations will still, in 2013, go about ‘dressing up’ their own promotional activities as CSR, by simply bolting on a charity element.  Giving to charity is always to be applauded and we are sure that the charities concerned are happy to benefit from these activities – we all know how difficult fundraising is today.  But to start with a business or marketing objective and work backwards to develop an event or stunt that fulfils an audience reach imperative, and then add a fundraising attraction to draw in maximum involvement, doesn’t speak to the true essence of social good.  Nor will this approach deliver the long-term business benefits associated with genuine CSR activity, embedded in the culture and strategy across a business.

These benefits are now tangible to the large companies, such as Unilever, which have really embraced their CSR journey.  They know that real CSR can have a positive impact on reputation, employee satisfaction and recruitment, operational efficiency, investor relations, customer loyalty, market positioning and profitability.  Forbes gives six reasons a company should embrace CSR which are echoed across many other sources.

There is no doubt that embedding a robust CSR strategy and culture within an organisation so that it underpins corporate decision making is not easy.  But, if large corporations such as Unilever can do it effectively then it must be possible, if not easier, for SMEs to also do it.  The change needs to come from the very top of the organisation and, therefore, it could be argued that the smaller the company, the easier the implementation of a CSR strategy should be.  So, we believe there’s no excuse for dressing up a customer event as CSR activity – the first step to achieving a genuine CSR strategy is openness and honesty at board level about the organisation’s motivations and objectives.  This is how the Conscious Communications business was conceived, with our ethics and CSR strategy firmly rooted at the very beginning, and now evolving and strengthening as our company grows. 

Power to the wind-people

Wind power is free.  It is a genuinely sustainable energy source, which offers us huge environmental benefits. 

Last month saw the official opening of one of the UK’s greatest feats of modern engineering to date, the London Array – the largest offshore wind farm in the world.  175 wind turbines now generate enough power for 500,000 homes, around two thirds of all homes in Kent.  It has been predicted that the wind farm will lead to a cut in CO2 emissions of more than 925,000 tonnes a year.

The UK also plays host to the world’s second largest offshore wind farm, Greater Gabbard off the East Anglian coast. 

Both of these wind farms were developed as part of what is known as ‘Round 2’ which, as the name suggests, came after the Round 1 of the UK offshore wind farm developments and built on lessons learned.

At the opening of the London Array Prime Minister David Cameron was reported to have said: “This project has been built by some of the bravest seaman, some of the most talented engineers, some of the hardest workers, and it’s going to continue to bring benefits to people in Kent for many, many years to come….. I think this demonstrates Britain is a great place to invest.“

For once it appears that government, industry and the environmental charity sector are united in their sense of achievement and purpose.  Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, was quoted as saying that the London Array is an energy scheme Britain could be "proud of”.

However, he went on to say: “The UK has some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, but ministers aren’t doing nearly enough to develop this huge potential and create thousands of new jobs.”

We all know that there is opposition to land based wind farms but it is widely recognised that wind energy has the potential to contribute positively to our environmental targets.  The massive offshore renewable energy projects also provide thousands of jobs and help to boost the economy.  Round 3 of offshore wind farm developments was kicked off by Crown Estates (which leases the seabed) in 2009.  Across Europe 277 offshore wind turbines were connected to the grid in the first 181 days of the year, double that of the previous years, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).  This brings the total European capacity to 6,040 MW over 58 wind farms in ten countries.  So what is it that Friends of the Earth think the government isn’t doing enough of?

According to the EWEA, while construction activity and preparatory work for new wind farms which already have funding is high, the financing of new projects has slowed down and only one project has reached financial closure so far in 2013.  A major contributing factor in this is regulatory uncertainty.

The UK is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050, yet the Electricity Market Reform’s (EMR) legislation is only due to be finalised by the end of this year. A key element of the EMR is the introduction of long-term contracts, designed to provide a level of security for project developers.  So, it is no wonder that development has been slow to date but at least by the end of the year there will be a clearer way forward for accelerated development and delivery in the wind energy sector.

But it seems that what will still be missing is a clear indication of the direction of power strategy for the future, which would provide security and support for supply chain investment and project development.  Without this the EMR cannot succeed.  

Going back to David Cameron’s comments at the opening of the London Array, currently the oil and gas industry generates around £27 billion for the UK each year and support 440,000 jobs.  The engineering prowess the UK demonstrates in this sector and the sophisticated technology that is designed and installed offshore all over the globe by UK companies, is very similar to that required by wind farms.  So, with both technology and skills transferable, there is surely an opportunity for the UK to drive its recovery through high tech renewables technology. 

But with a growing skills shortage, particularly in engineering, already evident in the existing energy sector, it is difficult to see how the demands of this emerging industry will be serviced.  Perhaps the prospect of a career path in renewables is more attractive than one in existing energy sectors and maybe, therefore, industry, education and government are missing a trick in their collaborative efforts to market engineering careers to school children.  With a focus on careers in renewables, maybe the skills shortage could be more effectively addressed and a whole new generation of young men and women could be drawn to complete engineering degrees. 

On a lighter note and harping back to our very serious opening statement about wind being a sustainable energy source, one remaining question the Conscious Communications team has on the topic of wind farms is whether the ‘farming’ of wind makes it less windy?  We found our answer here in Popsci: unless and until wind farms are omnipresent we surmise that there are only upsides. 

Agricultural research crucial to relieve environmental strain

The region around our base in Cambridge is known as Silicon Fen due to the area’s cluster of high-tech businesses, which focus on electronics, software and biotechnology.

However our beautiful rural location also means that a lot of pioneering research work is undertaken in the field of agriculture (excuse the pun).

Our locality is teeming with movers and shakers from the agricultural research world, from BBRO in Norwich, the UK sugar beet industry’s scientific research and technology transfer hub, to the globally-recognised expertise coming from Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research, an R&D facility owned by AHDB and operated by its Potato Council division. There are extensive crop trials happening at ADAS Boxworth along the A14, and of course around the site of Cereals – the leading event for the UK arable industry, which is taking place in the next couple of weeks at Boothby Graffoe in Lincolnshire. One of our clients has this month been working with Wicken Fen, the National Trust’s first Nature Reserve, acquired back in 1899. Today it remains one of the most important wetlands in Europe.

We have been lucky enough to see some of this impressive research and development in action, and this has undoubtedly helped our colleague Nicola to recently pass her foundation BASIS exam in agronomy.  Her course was an excellent introduction to the integrated crop protection and crop nutrition of the UK’s combinable and root crops – including crop walking in snow, sunshine and rain, a good indication to the variety of strange weather we’ve experienced so far this season.

Responsible use of pesticides was an important component of the course, which saw Nicola study alongside some of the younger faces of the farming industry who will help to shape the future of UK agriculture.

Sustainability should be at the heart of every farmer’s business. At first glance recent headlines seem to show that isn’t the case, for example the European Food Safety Organisation’s findings looking at the decline in the number of bees due to neonicotinoid pesticides, or the joint State of Nature report, compiled by 25 wildlife organisations, which assessed the population and distribution trends of  3,148 species. But if we delve deeper, to see what steps the industry is talking to safeguard against the harm done by past generations and older farming solutions, for example polluted watercourses due to high levels of slug pellet use, we can see that the UK’s agricultural research and development isn’t going to waste.

In the words of Sir David Attenborough: “This ground-breaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.  We have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

Educating Business for Women Leaders

The on-going debate about women on boards confounds the Conscious Communications team. 

Angela Merkel’s well publicised campaign to increase the number of German companies appointing women to senior posts is currently heading for a quota of 30% by 2020.  Our own Vince Cable has said he’ll look again at quotas if the target of 25% female representation on boards is not met by 2015.

Of course there should be as many women on boards as there are men but the thought that laws should be put in place to ensure that this is the case seems at odds with the net required result: successful businesses and a thriving economy. 

The central issue is one of discrimination and there is absolutely no doubt that women have been discriminated against for many reasons throughout history – employment is just one of the many arenas in which this discrimination has played out.  Extremely capable women have been blocked from rising up the ranks of male dominated companies and there have been many widely publicised cases where salaries for female employees have been unacceptably low compared with male counterparts. 

Culture and geography have also played a major role in women’s ability to achieve their potential in business.  Internationally, women account for only 11% of all board positions: Europe has the highest percentage, with Norway, Sweden and Finland at the top of the league and US lagging way behind.  This is despite the fact that up to 20% of the growth in US productivity in the past 50 years has been attributed to the inclusion of marginalised groups, including women, in the work force.

Looking at an industry close to our hearts, research has shown repeatedly that gender diverse executive teams demonstrate strong CSR performance.  But men still dominate senior CSR roles in US.  The GreenBiz 2011 salary survey found that two thirds of senior sustainability roles in large companies were held by men.

But are laws really able to impact on this discrimination?  It’s a little like legislating to stop a playground bully – the act itself will not stop, it will simply become better disguised.  No, the answer, we believe, lies not in legislation but in EDUCATION.

A recent article in the Independent cited a report showing that the average British CEO is a 53 year old male with a background in finance.  Apparently 52% of CEOs have a finance or accountancy background; only 8% have a background in marketing or advertising – no comment from Conscious Communications on this statistic!

However and wherever a woman starts on her career journey, it can’t be avoided that if she is to have a family it is likely that she will have a career break of some length. In fast moving, ever changing industries like our own, even a short career break will require her to embark on a steep learning curve to catch up when she returns.  Here, again, education is the key and Conscious Communications wonders whether investment in provision for training and CPD for women, enabling them to compete on a level playing field, would be a better use of government resources, than enforcement of legislation.  

History has taught women that they can overcome adversity if they put up enough of a fight.  There are enough great modern-day female role models to demonstrate what can be achieved.  But, we believe that all self-respecting women in business want nothing more than to know they have earned their place in the business hierarchy, not achieved it by leapfrogging capable men to the role through the exercising of legal muscle.  There’s no satisfaction or achievement in that.

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