How global agency group Dept has used its B Corp status as a differentiator

There’s a noticeable ebb and flow to matters of environmental, social and governance (ESG) in the world of marketing and media. While some companies and brands burn hot with a desire to make the world a better place through their own actions and services, others appear to place a lower priority to these matters, focused instead on growing value for themselves and their shareholders.

Within the agency world, it’s a little harder to distinguish between the true believers in ESG and those that pay lip service to promoting matters of equality and environmental responsibility.

One standout on the positive side is Dept, the Dutch-based global agency group (backed by private equity firm Carlyle Group), which has gone so far as to become B Corp-certified. B Corp certification essentially means being a good corporate citizen in achieving environmental goals, offering transparency around operations and maintaining a diverse workforce. 

Missy Foristall, Dept’s Americas CEO and global COO, said a big draw for her when she joined Dept in 2021 was the focus on both internal and external efforts to be better global citizens. “It tipped me over to take the job,” she said.

And though she added it took a little getting used to, Foristall has accepted that all Dept staffers fly economy class rather than business class, as a means of minimizing their impact — and the trip only happens once it has been justified, with the total carbon footprint factored into that justification. 

Foristall works closely with Pooja Dindigal, Dept’s global head of impact, who leads all sustainability and social impact strategies across the company, which has over the years acquired and absorbed other agency brands including 3Q Digital. Dindigal had worked at the non-profit that hands out B Corp status to companies, but joined Dept at the tail end of the yearlong process to achieve the certification.

“For me personally it’s a security blanket that we are a certified B Corp because it is such a very clear way to build accountability towards those commitments and to those goals,” said Dindigal. “That’s the standard we assess against, asking ourselves the questions of do we continue to walk the talk. And as we acquire new businesses, are we trickling those into them as we grow? So that’s our sort of like guiding light.”

That ethos trickles into who Dept does business with, explained Foristall, who noted that the move to get B-Corp certified was employee-led. “There’s companies like Patagonia who is also B Corp, that we would of course want to work with,” she said. “And then there are companies that you would absolutely never work with. But then there are some in this gray area where … [our] people have on their mind, ‘Is this right? Is this kosher for us to do?’ And then I pick up the phone and call Pooja [Dindigal] to give us some guidance. It’s not all black and white.”

Some of Dept’s clients feel some measure of alignment with the agency on this part of its mission, even if it’s not the reason they chose to work with the agency. “This did not influence our selection, as Dept’s people and work product are what instantly won us over,” said Mark Brutten, divisional lead in marketing for Evrnu, a textile recycling supplier that’s worked with Dept for more than a year and is also B Corp-certified. “But in retrospect, I believe part of our attraction was the like-minded nature of our two companies, so it is no surprise that we both embrace the tenets associated with being a B Corp.” 

Likewise, risk assessment firm Moody’s felt “the company you keep matters, whether that’s business or just life in general,” explained Christine Elliott, its chief corporate affairs officer. “For Moody’s, we definitely strive to do business with companies that share our values. When we’re working with partners like Dept, the influence and support components of our corporate sustainability strategy is really critical. And that’s where I think the partnership with Dept makes sense, given that we can be really confident that they are clearly aligned with our corporate sustainability strategy.”

Still, North America (where Foristall said Dept generates about half its revenue) is a different world than Europe, pointed out Jay Pattisall vp and senior agency analyst at Forrester. He argued that Dept’s B Corp status has more of an impact overseas because Europe has more generally incorporated environmental thinking into its business practices. 

“This is an Amsterdam-based organization, with a large footprint in Europe. And the European Union [countries] have stronger consideration for things like B Corp and corporate responsibility and sustainability in business,” said Pattisall, who cited Havas as another agency group that incorporates media responsibility into its practices — Havas also happens to Europe-based. “It’s less so in North America. You don’t hear of that frequently as a top consideration for partner selection. It matters in the markets that it matters.” 

Still, Foristall said it’s taken very seriously on this side of the Atlantic. “It’s literally woven into our fabric,” she said. “This wasn’t the executive team beating their chests that we wanted to do this. So it really feels like it comes very naturally to our teams.”

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