Sustainability communications: How NOT to engage stakeholders via email

Stakeholder engagement, as we know, is as much an art as a science.

It is as much about relationships, (in fact more) than it is about process.

Email is a lazy way to engage your stakeholders.

But many companies use it. I can understand why. Email is still effective as a communications tool.

Quite how effective it is for stakeholder engagement that drives business value and reduces risk, I don't know.

Here's an example how NOT to engage stakeholders via email.

I've anonymised it. Underneath I will talk a little about why it's poor.

"Subject: Reminder to Provide Feedback on the XXXXXXX Brand

From: XXXXXX Council
   
18:41 (13 hours ago)
       
to Toby.Webb

Dear XXXXXXX Stakeholder,

We’d like to invite you to give us your honest feedback on the XXXXXXX corporate brand. We have engaged the XXXXXXX  to collect and analyze opinions about our XXXXXXX corporate brand and the corporate brands of several of our competitors. XXXXXXX is an independent company that provides best-practice research, benchmarking and diagnostic services to hundreds of leading organizations around the world. We’re also asking many other people from around the world – our business partners, investors and financial analysts, government officials, news reporters, and representatives from key NGOs – to take this same survey.

Your candid input will help us better understand how key audiences perceive our corporate brand. We’ll use that information to improve our communications and help us identify ways to differentiate the XXXXXXX brand in the marketplace. Your participation will help us tell our XXXXXXX story more effectively.

This survey will close Friday, August 9th. We encourage you to take this brief survey by clicking on the link below.

XXXXXXX

This survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. Your individual survey responses will be kept strictly confidential.

Thank you in advance for your participation."

Hmm.

So what's wrong with this as a piece of sustainability communications?

Here's a few things:

1) They have my name, but didn't bother to mail merge and personalise the email. That's really sloppy.

2) The email looks as if comes from the company, but also it's clear when you read it, that it has not. It's from the research service company. That's inconsistent. So they seem to think I won't realise that, not a great start.

3) It's arrogantly written. It assumes I have the time and interest, just sat at my desk eagerly awaiting their request, to jump on this and provide them with feedback. I don't, and neither does any other stakeholder worth their salt. Why assume I want to help them "differentiate their brand". I don't really. Why would I?

4) There's nothing in it for me, as a stakeholder. Where's my incentive? I don't want to be paid, but how about promising to share some findings with me, anonymised of course, in due course, by a particular date?

5) It's a sales pitch, in part, for the vendor. That puts me off even more. Why do I care who they are and how great they think they are? That's some nerve: Getting paid to promote your services to stakeholders in the guise of stakeholder engagement.

6) They want me to fill in a survey. Yawn. That sounds like multiple choice questions designed to create charts to put in a report and impress the client. But we all know multiple choice is a very dangerous methodology. That alone does not get me clicking and becoming willing to waste 10-15 minutes of my time on what will probably be a bad quiz that may deliver the wrong results for the client in the end. Not only would my time be wasted, but chances are the paying client's time will be too.

I'll stop there. This kind of approach really annoys me. It's lazy, sloppy, arrogant, ill-thought through and largely pointless.

The company in question is a good one. They've done great work on CR and sustainability, they have good people. They should know better than this.

Importantly, their research company should know a LOT better than this. They are being paid to make their client look much worse than they actually are traditionally, at proper stakeholder engagement. That's not good.

There's a key learning here: Stakeholder engagement is pointless as tick box exercise, think it through and it's an incredibly useful way to glean insights no consultant could deliver for you.

Use it badly though, like this, and you just irritate stakeholders, who then begin to doubt your commitment and credibility.

There are useful lessons above, we all learn more from failure than from success.

(To learn more about how to get this right, take a look at this)
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