Media agencies should treat sustainability with the same vigour as they did data and tech

Updated: May 21, 2021

Media agency staff must learn to speak 'sustainability' to align conversations with the new breed of customer, writes Erin Ewing, co-founder of Greener Matters

It has always been the role of an agency to drive value for clients across media spend to drive effective customer engagement resulting in sales. But with a changing climate, comes a new type of customer who are not only demanding more from the brands that they buy from but who are also coming to the realization that over consumption is directly driving a warming planet and environmental breakdown. This puts the agency in a bit of a conundrum – where do they strike the balance between driving client value whilst also delivering a message to buy smart and less? The answer is simple – innovation.

Let us go back to the late noughties when innovation within data and technology was booming. As these trends advanced, agencies responded quickly with specialist teams to seize the opportunity to add client value. This strategy attracted highly skilled talent and they grew their businesses exponentially, and continue to do so, but how long will this trend last? I am not here to give the answer to that, as I am unclear; however, I do know what the next big thing for the agency is and that is taking the driving seat in creating a global sustainable business ecosystem. This must be accomplished the same way agencies harnessed tech and data, but with a difference.

The specialist teams agencies built to meet the data and tech demand, worked at first. These teams sat at their ‘trading desks’ endlessly speaking esoterically, riddled with acronyms and expected everyone in their innovation meetings to understand it – and for the most part, why wouldn’t they? Most meeting attendees nodded their heads in agreement, too embarrassed to say they did not understand, which fuelled the problem of this siloed approach even more. It was soon realized that everyone across the business had to have a baseline working knowledge of data and technology in order to integrate their respective channels, so this was addressed through the integration of teams, digital learning days and several other initiatives to ensure a digital first approach. So, we now have an opportunity to learn from this approach to drive a more efficient roll out of sustainability knowledge. To be frank, sustainability is currently suffering from this same specialist and elitist position both within organizations and publicly, resulting in the same nodding of understanding as with data and tech with businesses and dinner tables everywhere (all on Zoom obviously, which making it even easier to hide) – where people are too embarrassed to say they do not know, and it is time to do something about it.

This is where easy to understand aligned learning and development of sustainability comes in. It is time that agencies arm their entire workforce with a working baseline knowledge of sustainability, both on a global level – e.g., what the Paris Agreement really means for business, and more importantly for them, what it specifically means for the industries that their clients operate within to assure they seize this opportunity the same way they did data and tech. It is time for their client services teams to drive intelligent conversations on sustainability to help drive innovative media solutions to move the dial to net-zero, ethical supply chains, etc.

It is key to effectively arm your agency teams with knowledge of sustainability and the nuances of multiple verticals of your portfolios. This does not mean just having a green champion across each team who can talk about net zero, recycling and plastic free days, which although important are not going to add client value. This means arming each layer of your client services team to talk sustainability intelligently by understanding the risks, how it is going to impact your clients business, what progress is being made in a particular industry so they can start coming up with innovative solutions to meet the challenge. This is not only advantageous to your client, but also to your organization.

Would you like some help in making the transition from ‘business-as-usual’ to a 21st century sustainable business strategy in line with the world’s race to a decarbonised economy? Get in touch with the Greener Matters team at or email hello (at)

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