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IMC2 : Charm with outcomes

By Elaine Cohen (Beyond Business) on May 03, 2010 at 12:38pm.

Content: 

This third report by IMC2 is another impressive production by this private marketing communications firm, whose commitment and strong intention to advance on the path of responsibility, accountability and transparency does not waver, even in the face of significant economic hits as a result of the financial crisis in 08/09. This took a toll on their business, with reduced revenue for the second year running, driving employee numbers down from 354 in 2008  to 268 in 2009, about half of 2007 levels.  More encouragingly, IMC2 has taken a strong position in the health, pharma and wellness industry and boasts an impressive array of clients.

There continues to be a certain charm about IMC2 reporting, which is why I come back to review their "Positive Impact Review" year after year. Staying with GRI C level reporting once again, and structured along the lines of 2008, the 2009 report goes further in describing positive impacts. The report is set in the context of the inadequacies of the marketing industry, described in broad, rather philosophical generalities, claiming that the old way of marketing is unsustainable.  IMC2 claims the role of "pioneers of the digital frontier" and "thought leaders and trusted advisors" with clients and declares readiness to "lead the marketing industry" into a new era. This all might sound a little pretentious for this small private business, but you have to admire their will and actions to drive a positive way forward. There does appear to be a certain correlation between the dream and the delivery.  IMC2 made it their mission to "reframe" the issue of marketing into one of relationships and trust and set a target to make their clients aware of how this works, and even apply this methodology in their marketing approach.  In 2009, IMC2 published a booklet about "Winning in the Relationship Era" around their trademarked concept "The Brand Sustainability Map" which correlates the level of trust in the brand to the volume of sales generated by the business (transactions).  On this map, oops, Toyota shows up as the most exemplary company on both axes of trust and transactions. The booklet was accompanied by a blog www.relationshipera.com to reinforce this transformational thinking. IMC2 confirms that 64% of clients used their engagement approach in 2009, which they target to increase to 100% in 2010. Even more boldly, they target to have 25% of clients confirm that they gain financial and non-financial impact from this approach in 2010. This is an improvement in IMC2 reporting versus previous years – the focus on a deliverable outcome of their efforts.

There is strong overall environmental performance (18% overall reduction in carbon footprint), which includes an impressive "Commuter Challenge campaign", encouraging employees to take alternative commuting methods to get to work, resulting in a 33% reduction in carbon emissions from commuting. IMC2 led what looks like a very worthy community involvement effort called "Weekend of Love", in which IMC2 employees assisted a range of non-profits with business skills that are core to IMC2. Eighty-five percent of employees are reported to have volunteered in the last 12 months.

Internally, IMC2 demonstrate evidence of branded culture with elements such as the Performance Compass (performance evaluation and development programme), the Culture Club (to support positive organizational culture) and a Leadership Advisory Board.

Communication: 

The IMC2 report is well structured, as in previous years, and being fairly short (35 pages), it's easy to find what you need. The report does include 6 pages of GRI index against which most indicators are not reported as they are "not material", which seems to me to be rather a waste. Core elements of CSR are covered, though a more structured approach to materiality wouldn't go amiss, after three years of practice and reporting. It would be interesting to see, for example, how IMC2 fares on their own map of trust and transactions. Data is sometimes reported across 3 years, sometimes not. It would be clearer if IMC2 would show performance data relative to previous years, now that this is available. Outcomes of stakeholder communication are not covered in great detail, and this would be an interesting step-change to consider in future reports. Having said this, IMC2 make good use of the GRI framework as a backbone to their reporting, without allowing it to cramp their reporting style.

Credibility: 

It seems clear that the IMC2 reports with a mission. Reporting is probably one of the most important marketing tools that IMC2 has in communicating its philosophy and uniqueness as a marketing and brand agency. In this respect, the report cannot be seen as a modest reflection of their position, but rather as a very sophisticated piece of PR. It is not called "Positive Impact Report” for nothing, and in that sense, it is hardly what I would call a "balanced representation", though it does report on missed targets. What makes the report credible are the good performance outcomes reported this year, which are evidence of maintained focus, their consistency of reporting and determination to make a difference. However, given that the core theme of IMC2 approach is about trust and relationships, it continues to surprise me that we see no contribution of any employee or external party in the report (with the exception of a video referred to covering the community involvement project). It also surprises me that we see no case studies or people talking about practical examples of activities substantiating the claims made in the report. In future reports, I would like to see more specific evidence to support IMC2's claim of being  "thought leaders" and stronger evidence of stakeholder engagement. Also, perhaps, a bolder level of transparency on matters such as the high levels of employee turnover (45% men, 55% women, 69% executive team members). Nonetheless, there is clear year on year progress, and this is very commendable.

Recommendations:

1. Develop greater transparency levels with each subsequent report.
2. Make the report part of IMC2's relationship and trust building – involve employees, customers, suppliers.
3. Think about some level of assurance to add credibility.

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.