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Charming report – lots of positive but not enough impact

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on July 16, 2009 at 4:57pm.

Content: 

imc2 has graduated into the league of second time reporters after an impressive start last year. I restate my admiration for a small private business with a commitment to sustainability and a strong sense of role and mission to create change.

Last year, I sensed a gap between the aspirational "leading and transforming the market" vision and the actual account of positive impact this smart and sustainably-minded marketing agency delivers. I am not sure this report closes this gap. imc2's big material thrust is trust in relationships in the marketing and advertising sector. This is displayed nicely with a sustainable relationships matrix (modified vs last year), but the account of the "new approach" to marketing is reminiscent of the high level rhetoric in the first report, which is not followed through with performance detail. There is no doubt that the highlight of imc2's reporting is the long list of social marketing campaigns they work on : P&G's Iams Home 4 the Holidays, Diet Coke's Red Dress Campaign, J&J Sustainability newsletter, GSK healthier America website etc. imc2 is clearly associating itself with the crème de la crème of social marketing, and this is a core competitive advantage and has a very positive indirect impact. I would have liked to hear a little more about imc2's role and whether it includes a conceptual contribution or primarily execution of a designated campaign. imc2's reporting continues to lack references to stakeholder dialogue or materiality.

"Substantial progress" was reported against a target to roll out sustainability offerings. Two items are noted: an on-line carbon calculator and a piece of research on sustainability communications. I would have liked a sense of the positive impact these two initiatives had. I wonder if marketeers actually do calculate the environmental impact of their on line advertising campaigns.  imc2 shares their insight that "Care, Credibility and Congruency" is what it takes to maintain sustainable relationships. I would have liked to see some follow-through regarding how this has been applied in the business and the positive impact they have created with this insight. 

The financial crunch appears to have taken its toll on imc2. With 74% of their revenue spent on employee costs, restructuring goes straight to the jugular. The workforce reduced from 532 to 354 – a 33% reduction (though only a 17% reduction is reported at the end of the year – rather misrepresentative I feel). I would have welcomed a little more about the way in which a third of the workforce was released – for a company high on relationships, terminating relationships is an important element. This being said, I do like imc2's frank reporting of reduced employee programs during 2008: "We scaled back  many of our other 2008 initiatives in response to the shifting economic climate and our changing internal needs". Clearly this company has had to make some tough decisions faced with even tougher market challenges, and this is a sign of responsible management and a commitment to reporting even when the message is difficult. A new performance management system, the "Performance Compass" was introduced despite these challenges.

Community contribution is given some focus and a new tracking system shows type of contribution ($, time, gifts). There is no sense of scale. I again wonder why this fascinating company goes to such lengths to report and does not disclose detail. Environmental performance, as last year, is reported in more depth and shows a 20% reduction in carbon emissions (a significant achievement) which is a 13% per capita reduction.

Communication:

The communication style, as last year, is clear and readable. An overview page gives a headline look at where imc2 has performed against 08 targets. The language is highly aspirational and at times, philosophical. Clearly, this is a company that thinks deeply about the meaning of marketing, and has a strong sense of vision.
The opening piece by the Company CEO is a frank statement which appears to represent genuine and deep reflection about the company's role and making a difference in the world of advertizing. Visually, this report is pleasantly designed and maintains the color coding of 2007 for the different sections.

Credibility: 

Much, perhaps too much, of imc's report is forward looking . Many promises for 2009 characterize the 2008 report. In 2007, the Company promised a range of activities to improve environmental impact and all these are confirmed as actions and improved impacts in the 2008 report. This shows good commitment and consistency. However, aside from emissions, no other data is provided. I would find this report much more credible if imc2 would jump off the fence and report actual numbers for electricity usage, reduction in materials consumption etc. It is hard to find credibility in general statements. Numbers give credibility. 

For a report that’s about relationships I find this report rather distant. No employee profiles, no stakeholder quotations, no personal touch, except for the characteristically direct and informal language style. This leads me to think that it's time for imc2 to get clear where they are on reporting. Does the company want to show leadership or is this an effort to be in the popular sustainability space? Is it about imc2 branding or is it about performance? Is it about actions or is it about impact? I really hope that by the 2009 report, the management can resolve what currently appear to be conflicting forces – the desire to be sustainable, and the desire to be transparent. But if passion can bridge this gap, then certainly imc2 have plenty of that.

Recommendations

1. Be more transparent
2. Be more transparent
3. Be more transparent

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses. Elaine Cohen is an independent reviewer and has no relationship with the reporting company.