"The stronger the bonds companies build with their customers and their investors, the bigger and better that they will be."
ClientSide’s latest episode features Ayelet Mavor, Head of ESG for Minute Media, a global content technology company. Ayelet’s experience is far–reaching across tech and media industries in both the public and private sectors. This week’s episode focuses on her experience of companies becoming socially and culturally involved players, and how authentically incorporating ESG can enact real change whilst generating commercial value for businesses.
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Nathan Anibaba: Ayelet Mavor is head of ESG for Minute Media, a global content technology company. She heads the company’s impact efforts as a socially and culturally involved player. Ayelet also leads on design and measurement of the ESG goals for the company, as well as oversees stakeholder management and government affairs for the group. Her career spans between media, arts and technology in the private sector. She also works within UK government creating tech hubs in Israel, around the world. Ayelet Mavor, welcome to ClientSide.
Ayelet Mavor: Thanks, Nathan. Great to be here. Thanks for that nice intro. I’m looking forward to this chat.
Nathan Anibaba: Super excited to have you on the show. Let’s start by defining what we mean by people, purpose and profit?
Ayelet Mavor: Well, I think it’s interesting because many people think that there’s a contradiction between people, purpose and profit. And I think there isn’t. People today are talking about the fact that the purpose of business has changed because private sector has to take part in society. Companies don’t live in a silo. And this just isn’t a topic anymore just for business analysts and consultants, it’s coming from customers and employees too.
In the US, millennials and Gen Z control over 40% of American purchasing power, 60% of them say that they want jobs with social impact. They want to work in sustainability-related businesses. So that means that businesses that apply strategies that embrace a wider purpose are more attractive to these customers and they’re more attractive to future candidates.
And that means that these businesses will show growth in the longer term. So that’s profit, purpose and people for you. So the stronger the bonds companies build with their customers and their investors, the bigger and better that they will be.
Nathan Anibaba: And the reason why people think it’s a contradiction, I guess, is because in the early days of capitalism or probably even 10 years ago, the reasons why we did work were very different, the reasons why we did work, presumably, was for a paycheck and a sense of purpose. But the societal changes that are happening now, as you say, younger people are far more driven by socially-driven purposes and they see private business as a route to solve some of the challenges that we have that we’re facing in the world.
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, he has an annual letter that he sends to his CEOs and he sent his 2022 one just last week. And he was talking about stakeholder capitalism. So that means that you’re not just working for your shareholders any longer as a company, you’re working for the whole map of your stakeholders.
So in that, you’ll find the customers, employees, investors, clients, suppliers. So that whole map is something that is redefining the relationship between companies and society because in that stakeholder map, you need to think about the wider society because that already reflects the wider society.
Nathan Anibaba: We’ll come on and talk about the greenwashing element of this a little bit later as some people are quite cynical, especially, about big businesses doing this because a lot of people still have the possibly mistaken idea that public companies and large enterprises are still beholden to shareholders, and they need to make sure that they deliver a quarterly return and that always doesn’t marry with other social purposes.
So we’ll come back and talk about that in a moment. But you head impact in ESG at Minute Media, a global content and tech company, as we said in the beginning of the show. Tell us a little bit more about the company and why do they need an ESG lead?
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. So as you said, we are a content and technology company with a focus on sports content. So we have platforms where we enable story-tellers, passionate story-tellers, and we always have a different angle. So we have the fans’ perspective on our group of websites under FanSided, our brands; we have the athletes’ perspective on the Players’ Tribune; we have our brand, Mental Floss, shares strange and interesting facts about the world.
So all these platforms though have been… Well, we’ve been using them to also talk about social issues that we care about, and that’s something that we’ve been doing for a while now. There have been dozens of initiatives throughout the years, supporting causes around Black Lives Matter, around mental health, around climate change, which we’re increasingly focusing on. But my role as ESG lead is to have a more strategic approach so that we can focus our efforts and be more proactive about building impactful programs that our people and ours stakeholders care about.
Nathan Anibaba: And could you give us an idea of what some of those examples are? What are you using to measure your impact here? What’s the goal that you’re trying to achieve?
Ayelet Mavor: So as I said, we’re a platform. So we are a media company and we enable these stories. So in terms of what we would like to achieve, we want to get stories out. I think that’s our responsibility. And one of our core values in the company is make an impact. That’s a strategic goal for our CEO.
That’s something that he has always been on board with. And Minute Media is 10-years-old, it means that it’s still kind of a startup. And every startup is meant to make an impact. That’s kind of what entrepreneurship is about. But even 10 years in, this is a core goal for us. So what we measure is readers and audiences that we reach and we believe that if we are sending messages through our platforms and if we’re using these platforms to talk about issues that otherwise are not talked about, then I think we’re already making the impact that we can be proud of and filling in our responsibility.
But the point is also tackling those issues that are not just popular but rather those that need attention. And we did a lot of that around mental health when COVID was at its… hit. And on our platform, Players’ Tribune, athletes were talking about their struggle around mental health, which has proven is very impactful for sports fans around the world to listen to their role models, if you like, sharing their personal experience and being very vulnerable.
Nathan Anibaba: So how much of this was driven by the CEO founder from the top-down? And how much of this has been driven from the bottom-up from employees?
Ayelet Mavor: Well, I think both. It might sound like a cliché but we are quite a transparent company. There’s not a lot of hierarchy. Yes, a lot is driven from the CEO, but that’s always through listening to people in the company. There is over 500 people in the company now, each of our people has a family, it has a community that it belongs to. So that’s circles of people that we touch upon.
So our CEO is a strong believer, saying we have to take part in society. Yes, we have revenue targets and obviously we have a business model. But we wake up in the morning and we touch these communities that surround our companies. And if you think of a company, you add clients, partner, suppliers, investors, the whole stakeholder. Each of them also have their circle of people. So you are a player in society when you lead a company like this. So he’s very, very focused on saying impact is a strategy for us and it’s part of the core business.
Nathan Anibaba: Maybe you can tell us the differences then between CSR and ESG because I think there’s still some confusion out there. Where does CSR end and where does ESG begin?
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. All these acronyms, right? So listen, CSR has always been amazing. It’s been built with the best intentions, certainly of those that have been leading these initiatives over the years, building impactful programs for society and the communities that we just mentioned around companies.
I think what ESG has done is first of all, it added a risk mitigation mindset, right? So ESG is about measuring and combating the risk that a company faces in terms of its environmental, social and governance issues. And when you say risk then you start to get the attention of financial markets and management boardrooms. So because risk is associated with the potential growth of the business and risk is measurable, financial markets are used to measuring risk rather than measuring positive impact, which is what CSR wasn’t originally doing.
So basically, ESG has created a new understanding that the company’s involvement in social and environmental issues will have a direct impact on the company’s growth because as we said, it is perceived among its stakeholders more positively, which means that it has more potential to growth. So all that to say that these initiatives are now higher on the company’s agenda than ever before and they’re getting more bandwidth on the company’s daily operations.
Nathan Anibaba: Whenever there’s a commercial impact on the business, senior leaders sit up and take notice, don’t they?
Ayelet Mavor: Exactly. And back to our original point of profit and people and planet. So what I love about ESG is that it is talking positively about the ability of companies to affect people and planet rather than saying if we don’t do this then we might affect our profit. But whatever gets management’s attention, we’re all for it.
Nathan Anibaba: Definitely. So as I said earlier, there are lots of companies out there now doing ESG or are trying to do ESG, but don’t want to be labeled as greenwashing because that comes with a whole lot of negative connotations and bad press, which can also be damaging. How do companies that are really genuine and have the best of intentions do this properly? How can they talk about their activities in a way that isn’t perceived as greenwashing and isn’t disingenuous in any way?
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head there. There’s a paradox of brands that don’t talk about what they do for the fear of being perceived as greenwash, but then there are the ones that only talk and don’t do, which I’m a big believer in doing first. It’s, again, the entrepreneurial mindset, just run off and do stuff. But we all know that if you don’t communicate what you’re doing, you’re missing on half the value that you create, right? Because talking about it is what creates more impact.
And even a good internal communication plan of a company’s impact activities can go a long way in building their employees’ trust as well and the sense of purpose. But that’s even more true when you talk about external communication. I think the key is in vulnerability. It’s okay not to get everything right. Most companies do make mistakes and are getting a million things wrong. But companies should be proud of trying because if anything, it encourages others to try as well. So I’m all for talking about what you do and not being shy. But only if you do something.
Nathan Anibaba: You did say before that, “The approach businesses should take to ESG should be the same that businesses took to innovation 10 years ago.” Explain that.
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. This is a lot from my personal experience, but I just see a lot of equivalent. So I worked in innovation and tech for the last 10 years, and I see so much similarity today around impact to what we all saw around the trend around innovation and emerging technologies that spurred after the 2008 financial crisis.
I was part of London’s Tech City when it was born in 2010, where corporates were hiring chief innovation officers who were trying to figure out what that title even meant. And we saw back then, and definitely since, that it is the companies that were willing to take risks and that weren’t afraid to fail.
Those were the companies that made the real leapfrogs. So the companies that took time to build five-year strategies, get their board sign-offs, get everyone on board, they were left behind. Those that acted quicker, even if they made small experimental programs, they were the ones that attracted the best talent, got to work with the most innovative startups that tried and failed and then they were part of the company culture to try and fail. Companies that understood that if they failed quickly, pick themselves up and they will learn from their mistakes.
Great example is ASOS. Someone might remember amongst your listeners that they used to be a small e-commerce startup but today they’re huge, right? They just bought Topshop last year. So companies that were agile and nimble and weren’t afraid of making mistakes, took the high road and succeeded. And all that to say that I think it’s the same with impact now. No one has really figured it out and there’s no one day to do sustainability. It’s a process that we’re all learning. The point is to try different strategies and to see what works best for your business and what brings the most impact to your stakeholders and to your communities.
Nathan Anibaba: What have you learnt about how to deliver impacts for an organization that aligns with their value proposition and what they do best? I would say it’s a relatively straight line between what you do at Minute Media creating sports content and communicating about all of your ESG activities. But it may be slightly harder for businesses in other industries, in other sectors to draw that line. What’s your advice there?
Ayelet Mavor: Well, I’m a big believer in using your assets as a company to do good beyond your core revenue. I think that goes a long way. It’s my favorite kind of philanthropy because it uses people’s creativity and uses the day jobs basically, so it’s probably using what they’re best at. And it also brings activities closer to the businesses day-to-day. So back to that management attention that you want to keep management with your eyes on the ball.
It takes community involvement out of the hands of company’s volunteering committee and into the company strategy department. So it becomes a strategic agenda for the company. And this could mean providing a customized version of your tech platform, but for NGOs, right? Or as you said, in our company, that means creating content which we do anyway. But we dedicate editorial efforts around social issues we care about. I think that if it’s done well, it can lead to more commercial business too which is a nice added bonus. And it also feeds into the company’s purpose.
Nathan Anibaba: Really, really interesting. And what have you learnt so far at your time at Minute Media about how best to implement and orchestrate an impact strategy?
Ayelet Mavor: Well, the first thing we did is that I interviewed I think everyone in the company to see what they care about. So I wanted to drive whatever we choose to stand behind really from the bottom and see that this is not just a CEO agenda, but rather reflects people’s daily purpose.
And then when I took all those opinions and tried to put them in some kind of coherent strategy, it wasn’t actually very hard to find common differences because we are a group of people with shared passion already. So that allowed us to focus on some specific topics that we will be focusing on, amongst with our racial equality and women’s participation. We’re going to do a lot around climate change because I think it’s time for us to play our part too when it comes to the climate crisis and this is something that we will be doing a lot on.
But then the point would be, when I say doing, is also to get different parts of the business engaged with an impact strategy so that it’s not just a comms spin but rather, as we said, using our assets correctly. So in our case, that means our editorial teams will be on board and our commercial teams will be taking us out to client pitches, and our operations team will be working to monetize that content in the same way that they would of any other kind. And I think that that’s really inspired by companies that just have impact in everything they do which is something to aspire to.
Nathan Anibaba: And what do you do with those people who say that these issues, for whatever reason, isn’t a concern for them, isn’t a priority? Maybe they’ve got other priorities that maybe are quite niche and aren’t as mainstream as the ones that we’ve spoken about so far. How do you still involve those people, get them on board, because the worst thing that we can do is sort of ostracize other people in the company because they don’t share our view of the future?
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah, sure. In that sense, that’s why it was important for me to lead that review and ask people what they care about. But you’re right, there will always be those that it just doesn’t touch upon them in the company. In that sense, what I try to do is have more than one issue that we stand for, if you like, so that people can find what they like to do.
But at the end of the day, even the issues that we will be treating as under impact, will mean that there will be other ways. So part of our work will be on the core business but then another part would be on community involvement. So if we will be tackling climate change on an educational level to reach sports audiences on details on the crisis and what they can do about it, we will also be running community events and volunteer activities for people in the company that might like to participate in another way. And those who don’t, is fine too. They won’t get less management attention. This is about creating purpose for the company, but it has to be on a positive way, so it’s very voluntary participation.
Nathan Anibaba: What’s the most inspiring impact story that you’ve heard from a company who has delivered this well? What’s a great story that you can share with us?
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. Wow, there’s so many that I look up to. Well, a good example that I just saw recently is for a company called AccuWeather, which many people know, provide details and data about weather. And I think as a good example of a company that used their assets so well because they took the data that they collect on weather, but launched it into a docuseries which they called Our Changing World, and used it to build a narrative around the consequences of extreme weather and connected that to climate change.
And I found it to be a really impactful way to tell the story which I’m looking at because that’s just kind of our business too. Another great example is PANGAIA. So PANGAIA are fantastic. They’re an e-commerce business that sells clothes. But they have taken every opportunity they could to build their impact story. So everything they do is impactful. So they make clothes out of recyclable material, they use color for their threads which is eco-friendly. But then they also built a whole platform to educate, fundraise, build awareness. It’s just really beautiful work where they took a product and managed to spin it in so many ways to create impact.
Nathan Anibaba: Love that.
Ayelet Mavor: Well, sorry, my favorite example must be Warby Parker. So they’ve been around for a while.
Nathan Anibaba: What do they do?
Ayelet Mavor: So they sell glasses. So they have a model where you can order glasses online and try them out. And their claim to fame is that they have a buy one, give one model. So every pair of glasses you buy, the company buys another one. But one other thing that people don’t know about their model is that they also train ophthalmologists in third-world countries to give eye tests at companies such as India and others in Asia. And that way, they create new jobs and income streams for those people. But by the way, they are also creating a new distribution channel for their own product. So it’s kind of a win-win for the business and the planet.
Nathan Anibaba: Really clever, really clever. What I’ve taken away so far from this conversation that’s been personally impactful for me is making your impact strategy part of your strategic initiative. So everyone at board level, at the senior level is tasked with the responsibility of doing this. And then also, the approach to innovation, the whole idea of iterating there is no plan, there is no outline strategy for this that people can look at a 10-point checklist. It’s a case of kind of iterating, seeing what works and then revising that.
What parting words of wisdom would you give a senior executive that’s listening to this now that is probably slightly earlier in their journey? What parting words of wisdom would you share with them about how best to implement an impact strategy?
Ayelet Mavor: Wow. So yeah. Not trying to be the wise man in the room but I had some experience in impactful programs. I worked for government in the last 10 years, and everything we did was around choosing areas to focus on that would make the most impact because that’s what you do in government. So even before impact was a sector, that’s kind of what we did.
But what we did, and this is also relating to your question, what I would advise is, is to really spend time to find areas that you would make the most impact. So finding those market gaps rather than hopping on trends is really worth the effort because at the end of the day, your bandwidth is limited and we’re in the business of impact, you might as well choose areas where you will have the most impact in. It might not feel very popular maybe at first, but it’s worth the work.
When I was in government, we worked with banks before even somebody… even people said fintech. We worked with clean tech startups. Before there was breakdown to water tech, clean energy, electric cars, food tech, it was just clean tech. So it was before it was trendy but we took the time to identify that there is opportunity and I think that that’s worth spending time on.
Nathan Anibaba: Love that. And just last question before we end, what are some of the causes that are most personally impactful to you from an ESG perspective? What are the things that you’re really, really passionate about that you can share with us?
Ayelet Mavor: Since COP 26, I’ve been obsessed with climate crisis. I think that had a huge impact on me, especially when it clicked for me where I understood that the world of sports fans… What is it? 1.6 billion sports fans around the world. These are audiences that are probably not really paying attention to green policy campaigners.
And I’ve just been obsessed with trying to find a way for our company to use our platforms to reach those audiences and talk about the severity of the climate crisis. So I will be spending a lot of time this year to talk to our audiences or to help our company talk to our audiences about this, especially because when you think about climate crisis and it might affect the world of sports.
Sports is an outdoor activity, so if that is not clear enough, then you can just start imagining snow melting, ice breaking, stadiums flooding, long summers that will push leagues into later in the year, games canceled, fans not being able to reach their games. So there’s a lot to be cautious about if you’re a sports fan. And we will be talking a lot about that in Minute Media this year.
Nathan Anibaba: And look, by the way, COVID-19’s had a huge impact on sports, events being canceled, sporting events being canceled. Aside from understanding the origins of COVID-19, but the fact that we’ve had to experience this has meant huge disruptions with sports fans all over the world.
Ayelet Mavor: Yeah. And everybody wants to see us on the other side of COVID-19. And I think many of us are starting to understand this is something to start to live with. But the consequences of that mean that many things that we were used to might not come back. And if you’re a sports fan, that is unacceptable. Sports has saved us in so many ways. We have to go out and save sport. So if we can do something about the climate, that’s more than we could’ve done for COVID-19, then I think people should wake up and do something about it.
Nathan Anibaba: Ayelet, thank you so much for doing this.
Ayelet Mavor: This was really interesting. Thank you so much for having me.
Nathan Anibaba: If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The people that make this show possible are Jennifer Brennan, our booker/researcher, David Clare is our head of content, Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba, you’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.
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