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The advertising industry has an important role to play in combating the climate crisis. From production to planning to creative, in 2022 sustainability is high on the agenda and across the board, agencies are striving to do better. One such agency is Total Media which became the first UK Independent Media Agency to achieve B-Corp status last year.
B-Corp is a status that signifies Total Media’s ongoing commitment to sustainable practices, yet as Pedro Martins, Chief Growth Officer at Behave, part of Total Media Group sees it, the certification solidifies “many things we were already doing as an agency.” As in the quest to becoming a B-Corp agency, those that take on the process must have sustainability and ethical culture embedded at the core.
For Total Media, the B-Corp values aligned perfectly with their own which inspired them to begin the journey to certification. Yet still, Martins explains that “the journey took close to two years. It was a massive effort from everyone across the board, all working together to pull in the relevant information and provide documentation and transparency to prove what we were doing.”
The agency had to share information showing commitment to five key areas; environment, customers or clients, staff, governance and policies and community.
We’ve turned down opportunities in the past because they weren't right for us as an agency, if our teams don't feel comfortable working on certain types of brands we can say noPedro Martins, Chief Growth Officer at Behave, part of Total Media Group
“You hear a lot about greenwashing,” explains Martins, “but the thing about B-Corp is that you have to have the proof. In order to achieve it, you have to show what you’re doing and that you’ve been doing it for a while.”
It takes two years to get B-Corp certified but Martins explains how achieving B-Corp status is just the beginning for Total Media. “Now we have to think about longer-term goals and what we are striving toward, '' he explains. Adding: “We’ve laid a good foundation, we’ve got teams that do everything across D&I green carbon, waste reduction, physical and mental wellbeing. Now, these teams want to drive forward how we can keep improving year on year - it's a long journey with lots of exciting opportunities.”
The teams Martins refers to were in place prior to achieving B-Corp status, but the process accelerated the agency's commitments. He explains: “We see a lot of people really following their purpose and passion across the business to do something that means something to them. It's not a case of top-down, it's who has an interest, who thinks this is important and having those people drive change across the business.”
Passionate people have been at the heart of the B-Corp process for Total Media and Martins reflects on how this passion bleeds into the running of the agency. He talks of the importance of saying no. He explains: “We’ve turned down opportunities in the past because they weren't right for us as an agency, if our teams don't feel comfortable working on certain types of brands we can say no.”
When asked why fewer media agencies might have achieved B-Corp status Martins points to the large amount of work and commitment the process takes. “B-Corp status is hard to achieve, it has to be something you put a large focus on.” He continues; “We believe in this, it's not just something we feel we should get. It was a matter of we already operate like this, it aligns with our values so let's solidify that and put our energy into it; any media agency can do it but you have to believe in the principals and the five key areas.”
The journey is different for media agencies and creative agencies, as Martins explains; “For us as a media agency, it's slightly different in the sense that for a creative agency you are in control of the creative concept and building that out, for a media agency it's more about living the principles you believe in. We decide which companies are right and which are right for us; it's about connecting with brands that we feel we are aligned with.”
In Martins’ role he oversees Total Media’s Carbon team, something of growing importance for the agency. Where the IPA initiative Ad Net Zero has set the goal of Carbon Neutrality by 2030, Martins shares Total Media’s ambitious goal of Carbon Neutrality by 2025. It is his belief that for true improvement the industry needs to work together and Ad Net Zero should be looked upon as a benchmark; “There’s pressure on the whole industry to meet carbon neutral goals but we won't get anywhere unless we work together as an industry. It's a good pressure.”
He also talks of a responsibility to educate clients and Total Media’s work in “developing a system to allow clients to offset their media plans; we do green media planning and buying with partners and we are looking at how we can bring it to the UK.”
The response to Total Media’s B-Corp status has been overwhelmingly positive from both clients, staff and people on a personal level. More tellingly, Martins shares that Total Media hasn't “just had positive client feedback but has also seen opportunities.” He explains that “lots of brands come to us and talk to us because they want to work with an agency that supports their values. Not only has it helped everything; our community, our people, our clients, but it's opened up a new avenue for brands to connect with us on.”
This overwhelmingly positive response is reassuring amid recent arguments about placing purpose over profit. Yet, Martins does warn against purpose for purpose sake sharing his own definition of good purpose; “I think purpose is about aligning your brand values with your customers brand values. That's fundamentally it. You need to understand what's important to the customer you’re trying to connect with and what's important to you as a business. Once those two things rightly marry you have something.”
We’d moved to a brand new office in Soho right before it started which had to close and stood almost empty for the best part of 2 years. But the pandemic has reset the balance of presenteeism - you can work from anywhere and we’ve been able to offer more options to our employeesPedro Martins, Chief Growth Officer at Behave, part of Total Media Group
As the pandemic continues to bring with it challenges, Martins considers how it impacted Total Media and its B-Corp journey. “We’d moved to a brand new office in Soho right before it started which had to close and stood almost empty for the best part of 2 years. But the pandemic has reset the balance of presenteeism - you can work from anywhere and we’ve been able to offer more options to our employees.”
In the midst of the industry’s talent crunch and the ongoing ‘great resignation’ placing people at the heart of the business was a key part of the agency's commitments. For all the hardships of the pandemic, Martins remarks fondly that he “gets to take the kids to school” and sees “them way more than I ever used to.”
In the battle to retain talent and create a positive culture Martins explains that “people want to work for a company that embodies what they believe in.” He continues: “As an organisation we want people to feel that, to feel empowered, to say what they feel right, to bring their authentic self to the business and share ideas. We haven't got it perfect but we are constantly trying to evolve.”
The B-Corp journey has put a renewed focus on the ethics and values of the organization with staff embracing the process and the notion of striving to do better. Now, Martins hopes to “encourage more people to look beyond and think what we can do to give back to the environment, people and to the world; then as a sector and as an industry we’ll be in a much better place.”
As the advertising industry fights to show that it can be part of the solution to the climate crisis progressive agencies are rightly placing purpose at the heart of their businesses, embedding ethical practices that reflect positive steps forward for the industry as a whole.
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