Climate change, resource depletion, globalization, technological innovation. These are among the global forces that are changing how we protect and restore our planet; they’re also reshaping how corporations think and operate when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. But while companies are starting to respond to stakeholders’ cries for more transparency and standardized disclosure, they don’t have the information needed to understand, manage or report on the risks and opportunities. They don’t need more information; they need better information. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (The SASB) is the first to deliver it.

However, The SASB’s first-of-its-kind solution – standardized sustainability accounting standards – can only be as successful as the corporations that adopt them. Stern Strategy Group knew exactly how to reach the right decision-makers and help spur them to action. Targeted, top-tier media relations played a decisive role.

Industry: Non-Profit, Finance/Accounting
Service: Media Relations
Learn morehttps://www.sasb.org/

The Challenge

On a mission to develop and disseminate sustainability accounting standards that help public corporations disclose material, decision-useful information to investors, The SASB completed and issued provisional standards for 79 industries across 11 sectors. It was in a prime position to establish itself as the standards bearer related to non-financial disclosures. But first, as it marched closer to codification of its standards, The SASB needed to encourage rapid adoption. And that meant engaging the “right” decision-makers in its standards development process.

At the time The SASB partnered with Stern Strategy Group, the standards-setting organization was at a strategic moment in its four-year history. It was well known and highly regarded in sustainability circles; likewise, its mission and related thought leadership was covered extensively in industry publications that reach like-minded audiences. Stern and The SASB knew, however, that adoption of SASB standards was in the hands of CEOs, CFOs, securities lawyers, institutional investors and asset managers.

Our two-pronged approach focused on helping The SASB’s leadership solidify their voice and message in mainstream media while establishing the organization’s industry analysts as go-to expert resources in their specific sectors.

Our Approach

Our public relations strategy was multi-pronged. Media relations alone wouldn’t deliver the impact our client needed to continue making significant progress toward standardizing sustainability disclosure for the capital markets. We engaged on numerous fronts, including strategic ad buys, Fortune 500 influencer campaigns, compelling annual reports, prescriptive and provocative messaging, and the marketing and media content that brought those “stories” to life. But media relations – primarily targeted at top-tier business outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Fortune, CFO, among others – was a key cog in the wheels of our success. We also placed a secondary focus on select industry publications, such as those tied to the sectors affected by The SASB’s standards.

First, Stern leveraged our proprietary, proven headlines framework – an intensive exercise designed to conceptualize media coverage outcomes while aligning The SASB’s expertise and insights with the most compelling and timely headlines we ultimately want to see in print or featured online. Then, we put our personalized, 1:1 approach to media outreach to work, connecting the organization’s narrative with timely news and journalists’ interests to secure interviews/commentary opportunities, opinion pieces and contributed articles.

Our Objectives included:

  • Hone and strengthen The SASB’s narrative – shifting its messaging from standards setting to standards adoption
  • Differentiate The SASB from its well-established competitors
  • Position The SASB’s executives and industry analysts as reliable, knowledgeable authorities and resources
  • Broaden The SASB’s circle of influence to include C-level leaders and investors – those with the power to put its standards into action

The SASB came to us at a pivotal point in its young history as it was shifting its strategy from standards creation to standards adoption. Until then, the organization had relied on coverage in environmental trade publications to build brand awareness and recognition for its standards. However, realizing this approach was “preaching to the choir,” The SASB turned to us to develop a more targeted communications strategy aimed at reaching a more specific and influential set of decision-makers.

Tara Baumgarten, Senior Vice President, Stern Strategy Group
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Results

Our team blew our anticipated media deliverables out of the water. In our first full year, we expected to secure 15 strategic opportunities; the results were triple that. The SASB saw its story told in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Bloomberg to name just a few – carrying headlines like, “Green Reporting Takes Root,” “Why Investors Should Care About the Next Generation of Accounting Standards,” “The Next Phase in Sustainability Reporting is Coming” and “The SASB Seeks Public Comment on Sustainability Reporting Standards.”

Such meaningful coverage was only part of our success. Through deskside interviews and engagement opportunities at key events like The SASB’s own annual Symposium, the organization’s leadership team and board members established and deepened their relationships with influential reporters, including David Gelles, Andrew Ackerman and Emily Chasan – ensuring The SASB’s mission and research have been recognized by the larger business community. Additionally, we secured a recurring column with Responsible Investor entitled “SASB Speaks,” providing the organization’s analysts with consistent exposure to an invaluable, targeted investor audience.

Today, with its standards nearly codified, The SASB has made tremendous progress toward realizing its mission. Its work, though, is really just beginning. We’re proud to have been part of its journey – and of sustainability accounting standards history.

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