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New report from PM Forum and ELE Global finds a mixed bag when it comes to people, priorities, and transparency of CSR and responsibility programmes

LONDON (8 November 2021) – Almost a third (31%) of UK professional service firms say that they are working on corporate responsibility-focused issues but less than a quarter (24%) have stated that ‘purpose’ is directly linked to their firm’s organisational identity, strategic planning and growth, according to a new report from PM Forum and communications consultancy ELE Global.

Based on a survey of members of the PM Forum, the leading UK body for professional services marketers, the research indicates that firms still have quite a long way to go on the journey from pure CSR activity to true adoption of a more strategic, ‘purpose’-oriented approach.

When it comes to their organisation’s responsibility strategy or policy, issues such as the environment (77%), diversity (75%), social impact (67%), recruitment and retention (65%) and modern slavery (63%) were the issues most often reflected and addressed. In contrast, only about half (51%) of respondents said that sustainable procurement or human rights were considered, and even less for issues such as fair dealing (33%) or taxes and financial practices (31%). Nearly one in 10 of respondents didn’t even know if their organisation had a responsibility strategy or policy in place at all, and only about half (45%) of respondents said their responsible strategy or policy was published in the public domain.

Perceptions of how firms are performing in CSR-related areas is also mixed, with significant majorities saying their firm performed well or very well when it comes to ethics (86%), modern slavery (80%) and taxes and financial practices (76%). Diversity lagged considerably, with nearly a quarter (22%) saying that their firm performed poorly.

Among the other notable findings of the report:

  • Firms’ CSR-related activities appear to be largely focused on charitable donations (77%), pro bono work (75%), paid volunteering time (69%), education mentoring (67%) and community partnerships (61%)
  • Annual reporting of responsibility-related activity or progress is mixed, with only 51% of firms saying that they reported against either Gender Pay Gap (GPG) or environmental performance, and even less (47%) reporting against wider equality and diversity measures
  • 42% of respondents said that ownership of CSR-related activity sat with Senior Management, but only 10% said that it was at Board level – suggesting that it is still viewed as tactical rather than strategic, with limited perceived relevance to a firm’s growth, profitability or success
  • In terms of people, nearly half (47%) of firms reported that they had a specific role dedicated to Equality & Diversity, but 14% said that they had no one dedicated to either equality, environment or CSR more broadly within their firm

Helen Foord, Founder and CEO ELE Global, said:

“Unlike the many other businesses adopting ethical business practices, professional services firms occupy a unique position as trusted advisors to CEOs, businesses and individuals. Not only do professional service firms have the power to change their own ways of working, they hold the power to create a fundamental, systemic change in the way the business world operates, through the advice they give. Clearly though there is still a long way to go until the actions start to truly match the rhetoric when it comes to CSR and purpose in the professional services community.”

Nadia Cristina, Co-Founder of PM Forum, added:

“In the wake of COVID-19, stakeholder pressure around ethical business practices and corporate responsibility has continued to grow, and the time was right to better understand where professional services firms were at on this journey. The findings of the report indicate that most firms are taking steps forward when it comes to corporate responsibility and, in many cases, professional services marketers serve as key instigators or drivers of the responsibility and purpose conversation within their organisations. That reality is only set to intensify as we look to the future.”

The full report can be accessed on the PM Forum website.

Notes to Editors:

About the research

The research for this report was conducted via an online survey of PM Forum members in early 2021. There were 51 total respondents, representing firms from all areas of the professional services market including law, accountancy, marketing services, management consulting, actuaries, architects/town planners, financial services and property.

About PM Forum

Founded in 1996, PM Forum is the world’s largest and fastest growing community for professional services marketers. The Forum is dedicated to raising the standards of marketing across law, accountancy, property, management consulting and other professional sectors, and to enhancing the credibility of marketers.

About ELE Global

Founded by Helen Foord, ELE Global is an international strategic and tactical agency empowering people to make a commercial and professional difference, in a socially, environmentally, financially and communicationally responsible way. They are the first responsibility-focused strategic communications agency for the legal sector, advocating the Triple Bottom Line, recording and reporting on performance across economic, environmental and social measures.