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S3 E11: Commercial Brands in a Sustainability-driven Business World with Alexandra Dinita
Episode 1130th November 2023 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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Alexandra Dinita argues that ESG is not just a trend but a moral and business imperative. By embracing ESG, organizations can build trust, transparency, and peace of mind.

In today's world, plagued by crises and moral dilemmas, Alexandra higher moral standards and values are essential. ESG provides a global conversation that can address these issues and create a better future for businesses and society as a whole. It is time for businesses to embrace ESG and pave the way for a better tomorrow.

While ESG may currently be seen as a burden in countries like Romania, Alexandra emphasizes the need to view it as a moment of clarity and a wake-up call for companies. Organizations must understand that they have a role and a mission as economic and social actors, and they can no longer hide from their responsibilities.

The process of embracing ESG involves deep systemic changes, from due diligence to changing business processes and models, setting clear targets, and constant communication. Alexandra urges companies to start this transformation immediately, as it is a time-intensive process that requires careful planning and execution.

The road to ESG compliance may be challenging, but Alexandra insists it is the only way forward for achieving long-term values of transparency, truth, and building a lasting reputation.

Key Takeaways

  • ESG is not a trend but a transformation that can create a better future.
  • ESG compliance leads to more public trust, transparency, and influence for companies.
  • Companies cannot hide anymore and must embrace their role as environmental and social actors.
  • ESG requires a new mindset and restructuring of business models for long-term sustainable growth.

About the Guest

Alexandra Dinita is Founder & Managing Partner of Free Communication in Bucharest, Romania. After earning a degree in architecture and urbanism, she chose to take challenges of the communication field over 20 years ago. With extensive experience in PR & marketing, she has coordinated integrated communication services for large international accounts in challenging industries as healthcare, aviation, finance & insurance, automotive, retail, and construction. Alexandra also holds an Executive MBA from ASSEBUSS/Kennesaw State University.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Alexandra Dinita:

Hi, this is Alexandra Dinita. I am the founder and managing partner of Free Communication. This is a company based in Bucharest, Romania, with over 20 years of experience in integrated communication. We basically have a focus on, I would say, four areas, corporate and brand reputation, digital content and assets management, creative services and events. More than half of our team is with us almost from the beginning of the firm, which is quite rare in our local industry. And so we have a core of members that we can really trust. And this is very important because we have the same value on our client side. We have long-term partnership with clients for over 10, 15 or even more years. And again, this is not the usual in Romania. So this is who we are from the beginning. Thank you so much for inviting me here.

Abbie Fink:

Well, I'm excited to have you, Alex, and very intrigued by the fact that you've got a large staff, and a staff that's been with you, or team as you refer to them, for quite a long time. That’s not usual in your country, to have such long -term employees? I know we find turnover about every two to three years. We're seeing folks, you know, decide there's other opportunities they want to explore. But tell me about the market there and a little bit more about your country and some of the observations you're making there.

Alexandra Dinita:

Well, it's not it's not usual to have a long-term commitment with an employee here in Romania because as you might be probably aware, our industry here in Romania, it's much younger than in United States or other mature markets worldwide. So for us, basically this industry started, I would say, 30 years ago. At that time, nobody knew much about PR. It was something flying around, but not very clear for most of the people. And it was an accelerated learning, mostly learning by doing. Of course, now we are very much aligned with the world, but it was a very speedy process.

People were anxious to learn as much as they could. And I guess this is one reason why they jumped around everywhere trying to find, I don't know, better and better. It's, you know, the code to saying that the better is the enemy of the good. So that was an issue in our market, and I think it still is about the consultants. And you can also find it sometimes between the clients as well. Otherwise, it's what I would say, it's a very competitive market. It's very much aligned with the global industry. It's a creative market. We were in the position to be good enough to catch up with the rest of the world in a very short time, to be quite tough and to succeed. And I think this was very good for this industry.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and you came into the PR industry through a different path as well, as I understand your degree was in architecture and urbanism. And so what drew you to the public relations industry?

Alexandra Dinita:

Yes, that's true. This is my degree and it's also, you know, my, I would say, the advantage in this industry, as I feel it. I've decided to pursue this career. Okay, it was not a very clear decision in the beginning. I started to work in PR when I was studying in university. At the end of my studies, I was in love with this profession. It was a very tough decision for me because I was in love with architecture as well. But I chose based on my intuition about the future of this industry and I was not wrong. And since then, I worked in communication and PR. I founded Free Communication 22 years ago, because I really wanted a workplace which was based on my principles and values. And yeah, that was my path.

Abbie Fink:

Great. Well, and speaking of principles and values, I think is a nice segue into what we're going to be chatting about today, which is the concept of ESG, and social responsibility for the organizations that we represent. It's been a topic that we've addressed in previous issues and episodes of the podcast, but I feel like it is a ever -evolving conversation as global issues present themselves and have impact on our businesses. We have to spend a little bit more time in this conversation I think within our own organizations and certainly within those that we are consulting with. So can you talk a little bit about your approach to ESG and how you are creating the interest and need for organizations that you represent to really embrace what this is.

Alexandra Dinita:

Yes, I can speak for hours about this, but I will try to be short. Personally, I was very attracted to ESG since I first heard about this a few years ago in PRGN. Because I really think this is very much in line with my basic value as a communicator. I really think that we as communicators have the mission to help clients to build an honest and truth-based communication. This is highly important for any communication area and it's vital when we talk about ESG.

In this environment of today, with so many problems and crises, I really think we need higher moral standards and values. ESG is very much about this. It's conversation, it's a global conversation that has the potential to heal some of these issues for the business environment and not only. So that's why I decided this is a hot topic for us and it's a hot topic for Romania, which as you know, it's still a market with many problems and especially moral problems. So I think we really have a role and a mission in helping a better world for today and for tomorrow.

Okay, for the moment, ESG is a pain. This is very clear. In Romania, ESG is very much a pain. But I think, it can and it must be seen as a moment of clarity and as a wake -up call for the companies, because they have to understand that they have a role and a mission as economic and social actors and they are not anymore outside or besides the public zone. Actually, they are the public zone, so they have to behave accordingly. It's very difficult because ESG is still unclear. And as I said, it's very scary.

And in our agency, the main challenge that we decided that we have today is to make clients and companies aware of two main issues for the beginning, because we are still at the beginning. And the first one is that ESG is not a trend. So there is still a huge lack of understanding, in Romania at least, on how ESG can and will impact the overall business. So there is still a lot of distrust, ignorance, avoidance and the even fear when it's about ESG and all of this, they are like a dark curtain that actually blocks companies to see the benefits of the ESG because ESG has huge benefits, both business -wise and social -wise. So this is what we try to do now. We try to make them understand that they have a lot of benefits and we can split the benefits on several levels and the first level it's about social and public involvement because ESG being ESG compliant means more public trust, more transparency.

Means a peace of mind so you don't have to be worried anymore about what to, you know, hide under the table, you have more influence as a company and you have more power in deciding on different issues. Because as we saw in some recent research, it's more than 50 % of the global public that really believe that the companies and brands should stand up for social values and principles. So companies cannot hide anymore. So, as I said, it's a wake -up call for them to be aware that they cannot hide anymore. That's on the social level.

Abbie Fink:

Let me explore the social part a little bit more because I think that is... To me that one might present the largest challenge in that the social and being open and taking a stand on particular issues can be challenging in that you know you're not going to be pleasing everyone with your stance. And there has to be a understanding that for every social cause that you may support, you may have customers or potential customers that disagree with that stance. And so, I hope that we all can get to a place where we believe environmental sustainability in some of these things is important. The social causes part, I think, for me personally presents the largest challenge because we all do have our own views and opinions and based on personal or professional, which one do you, you know, which one comes forward? And so how do you have those discussions both internally with your team and so that they don't bring their own necessarily, you know, their own subjective opinions to the table? And then how do you guide the clients to a place where being public and taking a stand on particular issues is seen as a good and positive for their company? Because I think that's a very difficult discussion to have.

Alexandra Dinita:

Yes, it is. Well, internally, I would say it's a bit easier, not easy, but a bit easier for us because as I've mentioned in the introduction, I've tried, we've tried to build a team and a company based on some very clear values and principles. And for us, it was also a matter of choosing the clients and the industries and the projects in which we believed. Life is always a matter of choices. You can choose the money, you can choose the values, you can choose to sleep well with no issues and problems. So we really chose to work very aligned to our principles and this is why we have a team that believe in the same things.

So, for us, it's about the truth, it's about being free to voice our opinions, it's about supporting each other. The right values. So we are very much on the same page when we decide to support something or not to support something. So that's why we had clients over the years with whom we decided to end the cooperation, even big clients. So internally, it's not very difficult. Externally with the clients, yes, that's a tougher game.

Adrian McIntyre:

Well, let's talk about that specifically for a minute because there are very good, logical, well -articulated reasons and a lot of external pressures that are going to make ESG transparency and reporting just automatic at some point. There will be enough demands from the capital markets and investors and shareholders that this will just have to be the way it is. There are pressures against this movement in a world where you know people don't agree and there are strong pressures from different dimensions on the political spectrum, the social spectrum. Here in North America for example there is a strong backlash against ESG. It's become sort of a code word for woke liberal nonsense. And so how do you work with brands for example who may be feeling these pressures differently in different markets to align a communication strategy that, as you said, tells the truth when truth -telling is very contentious sometimes. Talk about that brand partnership aspect.

Alexandra Dinita:

Yes, the truth is very difficult. And at the moment, almost everybody's scared. Fortunately, we don't have this movement in Europe that you have in the US, not yet. So we have probably more strict regulations. And we have standards that companies have to meet quite soon. And this is kind of incentive, not necessarily a nice one, because they see it like a burden, so they have to complain, they are not happy that they have to disclose suddenly all of these issues. I think we all need time to adapt to a totally different mindset. So it's a matter of negotiation. We have many aspects, we have moral aspects, but of course we have financial aspects. How to leverage between these two, it's not so easy. It really takes time for everybody to adjust. You know, it's very difficult, it's really tough before being easier and nicer. I really hope it will become easier and nicer because we really have to acknowledge that there is no other way.

We really have to build a more sustainable business world. And transparency, it's the main ingredient. If we look back, there were so many cases that really didn't have anything to do with the good of the public, with the values that we most of the time talk about.

Everybody had the choice to either do what they say or not to do what they say. But now these are not possible anymore. We really try to explain to our clients that it's not about only complying in legal terms. It's about defining a new way of doing business and it's also with benefits because this is what I started to explain about benefits at all the levels, not only moral and social, but at the level of financial decisions, at the level of business efficiency, because ESG means to restructure your business in a more healthy way. So you have to, in order to be compliant, you have to find a new business model, more efficient, more stable. More environmental friendly. This is, on the long run, this will really build sustainable growth. So it will be better for all of us. But it's a long way to go.

Abbie Fink:

But we have to start somewhere, right? I mean, that's … the communicators, advisors in our role have such a powerful opportunity to change the dynamic, change the conversation.

And to me, it's not a new way of doing business. It's just, we should have always been doing things with transparency and in the best interest of our, communities and our organizations and public trust, all those things should have always been there. The world now demands certain things from the businesses that we do business with, and we have an understanding and certainly an opportunity to know these things. We didn't always have access to that type of information with the organizations that we work with, or didn't ask the right questions to find them out.

One of the things that you put in your notes as we were preparing for this conversation was that “ESG can and must be seen as a moment of clarity and a beneficial reckoning for companies.” That's such a powerful statement to me that it's a chance for us to be smarter and clearer about what we're doing and then tell that story in such a way that not only internally but externally everyone understands it. “Beneficial reckoning” is such a powerful word to me. That's a really powerful statement for businesses to understand, that it’s going to be good for you to engage in this type of work.

Alexandra Dinita:

Yes, it is. As I said, it is on all the levels. If we think about greenwashing, for instance, and other tactics that were used before, I guess we all had the case of clients. We advise, because you've mentioned that we always advise our clients to communicate in a transparent way and based on the truth. But this is not enough. We all had cases when clients were advised to communicate in a way, but they couldn't or they didn't want or they just chose to go on a different way. And it's very good that this is not possible anymore.

First of all, we have to move from, I would say, a state of being afraid to a state of being really free and understanding that transparency and truth are the only long -term values for our communication. And in this case, we are not vulnerable anymore to scandals, to being attacked or to being accused of tactics that are not good. And this is the only way we can build lasting trust and reputation. So first of all, we should move to a state where we really understand what's our mission.

Abbie Fink:

So if an organization is thinking about this for the first time, or maybe they are reevaluating you know, how they're addressing ESG within their organization. Is it better late than never? Can you start this idea at any time? Or, you know, are we past the opportunity for ESG to be important in our businesses? Or can we really get in there at any time and make this be part of our company mission?

Alexandra Dinita:

Actually, we don't have time anymore, but of course it's better to start it now than not start at all. We have this challenge here in Romania, and I guess it's the case everywhere. Companies think that they still have time because the regulation will be in place only in 1925, but the truth is that we don't have time because all this process is a very long and difficult one. It's about deep systemic changes. It's not just about a few things here and there. To name just a few, it's about doing the due diligence, doing the double materiality, then changing the business processes, then changing the model, then finding global standards to report and then setting clear targets and the strategy and meeting the targets and of course constantly communicating. This is our part and all these are not easy and really take time. We don't have many companies here in Romania who already start the process, but I hope we'll be able to help them to do it soon.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.