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How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I’ve always been fascinated by the persuasive power of words and the ways they can be used to express ideas. At the University of Michigan, I completed my Bachelors in Creative Writing and Literature. Although I learned a lot about writing and analysis, I ultimately sought to pursue a career where I felt what I did had more real-life implications. This led me to study a Masters’ degree in War Studies at King’s College, and now to financial communications at JPES Partners. I love educating myself about often complex topics and relaying that information to others in a way that helps them understand, so communications has been a natural fit for me.

How have you found hybrid working over the last few months?

I’ve been really enjoying hybrid working, much to my own surprise. Prior to joining JPES, I had a strong bias against working from home, due to spending much of 2020 in one of the world’s longest continuous lockdowns in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, I’ve actually come to appreciate the flexibility and quiet that comes with working from home.

At the same time, the days I spend working in the office are definitely the highlight of the week for me. Seeing people face to face is so important for sharing ideas, learning from one another, and getting to know your colleagues. I feel being in the office in person helps collaboration and inspiration flow in a much more natural way.

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

Because what happens in emerging markets impacts the global economy as a whole, I believe the future development of EMs merits increased attention. On a personal level, living in Argentina allowed me to practically see how macro events like IMF bailouts and elections can have consequences on the day-to-day purchasing power of a currency, and thus daily life.

Simultaneously, the war in Ukraine has brought an acute awareness to the fact that we live in an interlinked, global economy. Overdependence on Russian energy and rising prices of Ukrainian commodities such as wheat are putting further pressure on Western economies which have suffered under Covid-19. Events in Emerging Markets are compounding inflationary stress around the world, leading to a diverse range of approaches by central banks in an attempt to combat this, and also affecting all of our lives on multiple levels.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to go running and play football. I used to run semi-competitively for a number of years, but it is something I now do for my own peace of mind. In addition to providing an outlet for my competitive streak, I find playing football a great way to make local friends. More generally, I always make a lot of time in my schedule to catch up with friends and family, both in here in London and abroad.

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I recently finished The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo which I really enjoyed, as it combined several of my interests. The book weaves together Italian and South American 19th century history, and deals with some of challenges particular to women of the period.

My favourite podcast is called Throughline, which explores current events through a historical lens. The podcast links issues contemporary issues including politics, economics, and the environment to past events, really contextualizing and unlocking hidden layers of meaning in our modern world.

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months

One of my priorities at the moment is improving my Italian. I previously spent a semester of university studying in Venice, Italy, and focused on Italian history and security in my masters’ degree as well, but I’ve unfortunately lost some of my speaking skills over the years. I’ve been meeting with some other Italian learners and a native speaker for informal classes over the past few months. I see this as both a professional and personal goal because further language skills and culture awareness of course benefits clients as well as myself.

In the second of our Urban Capital podcast series, the author of Transport for Humans: Are We nearly There Yet? considers how the process of moving people in, out and around urban environments will evolve following the pandemic and what opportunities this may create.

In the same way as I did with my daughter, I now enjoy reading to my grandchildren. It is wonderful to see the awe on their faces in response to simple pictures and messages. Admittedly this often leads to them wanting to hear the same story several times in a row, but it is an important part of how they learn and understand things.

Storytelling is a skill and, when done well, people have the ability to educate, influence and motivate others. After all, if good storytelling can have such a positive effect on children, why not adults? Some of the most famous names in history owe their prominence to their ability to tell a story and bring people along with them.

Good storytelling also tells an audience as much about the messenger as it does the message. Done well, it not only demonstrates that the person knows their subject; it shows they have taken the time to think about their audience – what their needs are, what is most likely to resonate with them as a result and how, in a commercial sense, the person telling the story can meet those requirements.

One of the best presentations I attended over the course of my career was a discussion on liability-driven investment (LDI) around 20 years ago. As an investment approach, LDI was in its relative infancy and it would have been all too easy for the presenter to explain the concept at length using a lot of technical terms. Instead, that person focused on the challenges asset owners faced and the client problem that LDI solved. It was a well-told story that showed understanding of and addressed the needs of that audience. As a result, the audience went away wanting to hear more and so were much more likely to engage with that business in future.

Today, however, good storytelling feels like something of a lost art. As we get older, we have a tendency to want to make things more complicated – to make ourselves look clever; to believe we have knowledge (and hence power) that others don’t; to cover up the fact we actually have less knowledge than it might appear; or because it is just too hard to keep things simple. The result is often something overly technical, complicated and laden with jargon or language that others don’t understand.

Today, we are bombarded by information from endless different sources and channels. There have also been numerous studies showing that our ability to retain information has decreased. In this context, the art of storytelling is more important than ever. Yet it is something that too many people either overthink or overcomplicate.

We have to remember that people won’t necessarily take on board or retain everything we say. They are much more likely, however, to respond to how we make them feel. They are much more likely to respond positively if things are kept simple and are made to feel special by messages which demonstrate an understanding of their needs (rather than get lost in complex language and jargon).

With that, I am going back to my storytelling and am looking forward to reading the Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury classic, “We’re going on a bear hunt” – a simple story with a clear direction and simple message.

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I’m interested in where economics, finance, politics and media overlap – and that’s here at JPES Partners!

Originally I studied science before briefly working as a civil servant, so I’ve always been interested in the facts ‘behind’ the news. After that I found myself more interested in where the real decisions often seemed to take place, which is a matter of media and debate and communications in some form.

In my current role as Head of Data and Insights, I can pursue both my research specialism, and then alongside my colleagues, apply those insights to campaigns.

 

How have you found the return to the office over the last few months?

First of all, it’s been great to meet some new colleagues in person for the first time!

It’s also wonderful to have a chance to discuss, teach and learn about other specialisms in the relaxed and friendly environment of our offices. I still don’t always like the return to commuting – but as soon as I’m back through our familiar front door (and properly caffeinated) the company of the JPES family can overcome the stress of that rail journey in a minute, which probably says a lot about how much I love our team.

 

What areas or trends interest you the most at this time?

Climate should still be at the top of everyone’s agenda. I hope to draw my state pension on time in 2058 and I hope there’s an economy and an atmosphere worth living in by then. In the words of one client expert, “you can’t persuade water not to melt at zero degrees”, but we can persuade people to care about it and we must.

Complexity is another side to this, made all the more relevant by the recent outbreak of war in Europe. When do free markets end, when actual freedom ends? Are weapons sustainable? Are your clothes made by slave labour? Our job as good consultants is to ask clients for answers to these kinds of difficult questions – and help to explain the connection between your pension and a company, commodity, government or ecosystem. That’s difficult but if done well you’re on the right side.

Division is the third big trend I keep puzzling over. I’m just about old enough to remember when we could almost describe a unified national or international ‘news agenda’. But now the economy, internet and society are so much more fragmented. Division makes communication far more complicated – and far more important.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

I have two cats, one wife and about ten thousand constituents in my other role as a local Borough Councillor. So my evenings and weekends are usually spent either in the Council chamber or out and about at various local events.

If I ever get some real free time, I have been known to bake (see JPES Instagram for the occasional cake creation) or more realistically crash in front of the TV. There’s also about a hundred half-read books around the house, usually non-fiction but I have recently finished Hilary Mantel’s epic Thomas Cromwell series which is only ‘mostly’ fact-based and a masterpiece.

 

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I’ve also recently got into Kleptopia by Tom Burgis and it’s a real page-turner about the true story of unexplained wealth in London, America, Russia and beyond. Any book that a month ago might have been considered controversial, but is now scarily universal… is probably worth you reading too!

 

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the rest of the year

I want to spend more money on clothes and more time with friends and family. The lockdowns of past two years have been difficult, but hopefully this summer can be a good opportunity to catch-up with loved ones and make up for lost time.

Time and time again, we have all seen examples of companies (and, in some cases, governments) seemingly getting their wires crossed, releasing contradictory statements, and generally making a bit of a mess of their external comms. Whether you’re a consumer or a pension scheme trustee, no one likes being told one thing one day, and then another thing the next without good reason.

If speed isn’t everything, what is?

Anyone who has ever been media trained by me (and there are a few of you!) will know that I always stress the importance of preparation. And why should communications on a company scale be any different? The same pitfalls that apply to an individual not preparing ahead of a media engagement exist for companies, albeit on a far larger scale.

One criticism I often have of business’ communications practices is that it is often clear various channels are not aligned. Haven’t we all seen instances of a CEO being critical of a certain asset class in the media, while the business has promoted that very same asset class in ads splashed across the internet? Or perhaps a fund manager reassuring the media that all is well, only to have their letter to clients leaked to the media which essentially says “Oops. That didn’t exactly go to plan.”

In the grand scheme of things, these examples may be considered by external onlookers as relatively minor, if entirely preventable, snafus. So, what about when something really important happens? Take for example, the war in Ukraine. Asset managers have been keen to fly the ESG flag in recent years, but events over the last few weeks have the industry wondering if it’s been looking at the topic in quite the right way, and whether a significant rethink is required. Here we have seen many businesses hesitating. After all, it isn’t just a matter of greenwashing – people’s lives are at stake, and if a business wants to criticise Russia while simultaneously holding Russian state-backed securities, it’s seen as being hypocritical at best, and immoral at worst.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Businesses that are looking to assert themselves as leaders on a topic often hit the media earlier than others, but those who do so successfully, are only able to by preparing in advance. How could one prepare for a situation such as Ukraine, some might ask? And herein lies the difference between the ESG wheat and chaff.

A true ESG leader does not look at issues of this type in isolation; they have already engaged in a large-scale ESG integration plan which has looked at key issues in great depth, and have a clear understanding of how it affects each of its asset classes and how it conducts business (preferably with case studies available to give tangible examples of what it is doing).

It’s not just about making sure the PR team has shared its key messages or reactive Q&A document with other teams. It’s about driving the agenda from the top, and getting key stakeholders and decision makers in a room regularly to discuss key topics, such as (but not limited to):

  • Is the current model of ESG fit for purpose? If not, how does the industry need to change and where does out business fit?
  • How can our business be advocates for change, not just withing the scope of our own investments, but more broadly across the industry?
  • Where does our business draw the line between engagement and divestment?

More specifically, within these questions there are deeper questions, such as:

  • Is what we deem to be “ESG friendly” correct?
  • Where are the fatal flaws in the current ESG framework?
  • Where are the (next) ESG risks to look out for?

 

Make no mistake, these are difficult questions to answer. And, crucially, it’s okay to not have all the answers, but it is essential that a business continues to challenge itself – because the media certainly will.

The last two years have brought numerous unforeseen events that, in their own ways, have really shaken society.  By no means will these events be the last global shocks that we see in our lifetimes. Businesses must therefore learn from the experiences of navigating these issues or, rightly, risk being questioned and criticised by stakeholders.

In the first of our Urban Capital podcast series, Dr Walter Boettcher –  Head of Research and Forecasting at international property consultants, Colliers –  talks about how cities are emerging from the pandemic and what the future holds for them.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Duncan Lamb, Walter reflects on the seemingly unstoppable trend towards urbanisation, his own experience as a private landlord and why the asset classification ‘Other’ may be where investor value can be found.

 

 

 

 

It certainly doesn’t feel like the first time we as a nation have reached the end of the pandemic, only for a new challenge to present itself such as the rise of the Omicron variant late last year.

But aside from the fears, the latest developments will give many people hope that the coming months may see a return to some kind of normality.

Be it in our personal, family, or work lives, adaptability has been key since the start of the pandemic. Technology has played a huge role here, and has allowed us to communicate with colleagues and loved ones in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. In 2019, Zoom’s average daily meeting participant figures were around 10 million. By the end of 2020, that average daily figure had increased to 350 million. There was a huge communications gap created by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but video conferencing services stepped in to fill the void and keep us connected.

In a professional capacity this has also brought efficiencies for many. An investment manager recently noted that virtual meetings have allowed them to interact with the management team of a company it had invested in, and extract the required details without having to travel across the world to speak in-person. Journalists have also expressed their satisfaction with the increased flexibility that virtual meetings and events have provided, particularly under the pressures of impending editorial deadlines.

That said, it does seem that fatigue with virtual meetings has crept in over the last year. While most would acknowledge that video conferencing services have been crucial to ensure business plans stay on track over the last two years, the flexibility of taking a meeting from home has meant for many that they spend their days in back-to-back calls.

As such, with the lifting of restrictions in the UK, 2022 may finally provide a platform for hybrid working to truly come into force after so many false starts in the last year. While many have already returned to offices, in-person meetings and interviews may start to become slightly more common over the next few months. This will also bring with it new opportunities, and the chance to further build relationships with industry peers that have been confined to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or similar platforms for the last two years.

From a personal perspective, virtual media interviews and events have worked really well, and it seems a safe bet they will continue to play a major role in media relations for the foreseeable future. However, the chance to shake someone’s hand (or tap elbows as was suggested at the height of the pandemic) cannot be replicated online, nor can the more informal conversations had before and after meetings. Similarly, there seems to be a greater degree of spontaneity in in-person meetings, and something that we have perhaps missed out on over the last few years.

Humans are social creatures and hopefully the ability integrate in-person elements into the working environment will allow us to learn more from each other and gain a great understanding of each other.

JPES Partners’ 2021 Asset Management Trends Report outlined that 91% of communications professionals from asset management firms believe hybrid/remote is here to stay, and this should be seen as a positive. It should mean we can continue to make use of the efficiencies gained throughout the pandemic, and work ‘smarter’ as opposed to harder.

 

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I’m certainly one example of the many different backgrounds we have at JPES Partners!  Fresh out of university with a bachelors’ degree in Economics and Finance I joined one of the major television networks in New Zealand. After three years I brought in several innovations including a ground-breaking Market Analysis Division, providing a unique market perspective. In terms of communications, my calling for this industry was my excitement for JPES’ business initiative developing a data & business intelligence division. I enjoy learning about the impact communications strategy has on the bottom line and business profile, and bridging this with data to  enhance strategy.

 

How have you found the return to the office over the last few months?

I’m based very nearby to the office, meaning that luckily travel has never been an issue for me during the pandemic. Having expressed desire to not work from home, I was lucky to return to the office earlier than most this year and found this really helpful in separating my work life from my social life. I totally enjoyed the return of the team, and this definitely crystallised the shortcomings of virtual working – even if this is to play a significant role moving forwards.

 

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

From the daily dose of financial news headlines, I am very interested in ESG, particularly the issue of “greenwashing”. In my opinion, there is a lack of regulatory oversight on what markets do best: measurement. Until the day the financial, environmental, and social impact can be accurately measured, the inertia of greenwashing continues. I’m interested in how financial institutions will react or change their participation in the market after actions made (if any) by regulatory bodies.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m a huge fan of travelling, which provides me with an opportunity to absorb a foreign culture and add amazing stories to my already full cache. My most recent trip was a road trip with my mate James from Riga Latvia to Gdansk Poland. Nearly 2000 kms over 6 days. Poland has many hidden gems of wonder and rich culture. Highlights were staying overnight in a castle 800 years old, Wolf’s Lair, and the food!

I also enjoy my commitment to following the US political landscape through news channels, twitter and TV shows.

 

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

Having quirky tastes, I got into the Radio Diaries (a.k.a Teenage Diaries) podcast which interviews interesting personalities in the 1990s. The first episode was on the daily life of a man named ‘Josh’ who suffers with tourette syndrome. I found it riveting and learned a huge amount about the struggles and silver linings of his condition.

 

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months

One major goal of mine is to roll out a social media coverage program to enable JPES to monitor each client’s social media footprint. You cannot just rely on traditional media to assess a communications strategy. Everybody is on social media, but is it beneficial or is it detrimental to our client’s brand?  Soon we will be able to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns and engagement, and to augment this datapoint to our client’s overall strategy.

 

 

 

 

Instead of sending Christmas cards this year, we held an online auction to support our chosen charity, Maggie’s. Many thanks again to everyone who bid in the auction. This enabled us to make a substantial donation to the charity on your behalf.

With a team of Support Specialists, Psychologists and Benefits Advisors play, Maggie’s provides free support and information to cancer sufferers and their families from both its centres across the UK and online.

For more information, please visit https://www.maggies.org/.

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

Like many people, I went to university unsure of what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I dabbled in a few sectors through internships, but it wasn’t until I interned with a communications consultancy that I found something that felt right for me.

Communications in financial services presents its own specific challenges depending on what you’re trying to say, which audience you are trying to speak to and how you actually reach them. The way we communicate with each other is constantly evolving, which means that we as communications professionals are always learning and adapting. The discipline has already changed a fair bit since I started my career!

 

How have you found the return to the office over the last few months?

I’ve always seen the benefits of the occasional day of working from home, though, like everyone else, I never expected it to become a (temporary) full-time affair! The time and energy saved from not commuting leaves space for greater work/life balance, whether that means having more time to cook dinner, exercise, or to self-study.

That being said, there is nothing that can replace face-to-face interaction with colleagues and clients, so I enjoy having the flexibility to work from both home and the office. As great as technology is in allowing us to keep in touch via video calls, nothing beats being able to spontaneously start conversations with colleagues. Being in the office also enables us to organically learn from each other ideas constantly being bounced around.

 

What areas or trends interest you the most at this time?

The world of pensions is a passion of mine, whether it’s from a consumer perspective, or that of an asset manager or asset owner. In fact, in 2019 I joined NextGen, the industry body which promotes new talent in pensions, and I sit on its media and comms subcommittee.

The future of pensions is really exciting. Many workers today will never experience DB schemes and therefore need to be more engaged with their savings and investments. Moreover, we are seeing a large drive from this group towards sustainability as climate change concerns grow. Meanwhile, trustee boards are evolving to become more representative of their scheme’s members, and the industry itself needs to continue improving on diversity and inclusion.

All of these themes, and more, need to be communicated in a compelling way and through channels that aim to reach all target audiences. Just as the industry itself is changing, the way it communicates must develop too.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

Outside of work I’ll often hit the “rock gym”. When things started opening back up again some friends and I took up bouldering (indoor rock climbing). It’s a really challenging sport where you not only have to have the physical strength and flexibility to climb and the mental fortitude to push through the fear of falling, but it’s also a bit of a puzzle to figure out the best route to the top.

While you climb solo, it’s often a collaborative process and it’s great to work with others on a tricky climb, trying ideas for routes and techniques.

 

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I picked up the reading bug again ever since I read “Pandora’s Jar” by Natalie Haynes which questions how women were treated in Greek mythology, for example, does Pandora really deserve the blame for what happens with the jar? (It’s not a box in the earliest versions of the story as it turns out…)

More recently, I adored reading “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, which explores the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in an interesting retelling of Homer’s “Iliad”.

Greek mythology has captured my imagination since childhood and it’s always fascinating to see how these stories have persisted over the millennia, and how they evolve with new iterations.

Tip: If anyone reading is looking for a light-hearted, fun podcast on Greek and Roman mythology, I recommend “Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby”.

 

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the rest of the year

Earlier this year I started learning Japanese with an online tutor. As a linguist, I find learning languages a rich and rewarding experience – it’s particularly gratifying when you can start to understand things without subtitles! Taking the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has not been possible due to the pandemic, but it’s something that I would like to pursue later, so I’ll be working towards that.

Languages are extremely useful in our line of work, and I regularly use French to speak with media contacts in the French-speaking world. Who knows, perhaps I’ll start speaking to the Japanese media and/or clients too!

 

 

From politics to cooking, there is a niche topic for everyone – and yes, there are even plenty of podcasts on investing. Podcasts have steadily become an important and highly sought-after form of media.

But with thousands of podcasts already out there, why is it important for investment managers to jump on this particular trend?

Clients ultimately want to hear direct from their managers. As such, podcasts can help address some key content challenges asset managers face. In our recent Asset Managers Trends report, we noted that, while the volume of content produced by investment firms has gone down across the board since the pandemic, managers still plan to produce a plethora of material going forwards: 68% of managers expect to produce the same amount of content in 2022 as they did in 2021, with the largest firms on average churning out 21 pieces per month.

There’s no question that content is extremely important to keep clients informed, but podcasts can help to distil messages and break down that still-looming wall of content. But how?

  1. Content is too long: In his recent Readability Report, The Limitation Game, David Butcher found that investment thought leadership pieces are comprised of, on average, 1,782 words., That is nearly three times longer than that of a typical media article. This is, Butcher notes, too long and likely too complex. The podcast format, which forces you to talk through and explain specific concepts, helps to focus on the key elements. Podcasts aren’t about reading through a whitepaper. They’re about having a pinpointed conversation and educating audiences on what is most important for them to understand and think about.
  2. Audiences are time-poor: When speaking with clients, it shouldn’t take much more than a 10-minute conversation to get the main points of any whitepaper across. Conveniently, some of the best podcasts are 10 to 15 minutes long. While audiences may not be able to take the time to read a 20-page paper during their commute, they can listen to a short, engaging podcast that digests the key takeaways for them. They end the podcast more informed, their interest peaked and with any luck, eager to engage and find out more.
  3. Third-party endorsement: Podcasts are more fun and easier to listen to when there are a few different voices chatting through a topic. It brings personality and depth. It also allows for outside voices to shed light on new tangential ideas. Podcasts allow for dialogue – and having a second or third voice coming from a different perspective will help audiences understand ideas more fully from multiple angles.

Podcasts are part of the vast and growing avenues to get messaging across. Done correctly, they are an excellent addition to any asset manager’s communication toolbox and can help further synthesise ideas for an ever-growing and changing audience.

The Air That We Breathe report, explores how the issue of air quality is impacting the UK property sector; reports on research which shows how attitudes to the quality of the air that we breathe have changed substantially following the Covid-19 pandemic; and looks at what this means for property asset management and occupier engagement.

Stephen Collins, who authored the research, comments: “Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) poses an undeniable threat to the long-term success of commercial buildings. This report seeks to highlight the scale of the problem, and where the real estate industry is in response to this”.

For more information, or to get a copy of the report, please contact stephen.collins@jpespartners.com 

 

 

 

 

Every day seems to bring an announcement about a new BTR fund or mega-development. Recent converts include Lloyds Bank which has announced its entrance into the private rental market with its Citra Living BTR brand while Canary Wharf Group – a business almost synonymous with office development – is looking to develop a 60-storey build-to-rent skyscraper instead of a 1m sq ft office project.

With £2bn-plus already invested in the UK BTR sector this year, there’s no sign of the flood of cash abating. However, generally all of these proponents are looking at creating tall buildings in urban locations (mostly major cities) as this is the only way to get a catchment and scale which enables viability. At present, the early entrants to the sector such as Grainger plc, Legal & General and Greystar are enjoying relatively low levels of competition with many schemes either still on the drawing board or under construction. But, in due course, every UK city will offer an increasing range of private rental product to choose from. As this situation evolves, it may become similar to the student accommodation market which when it boomed left students typically able to pick and choose between half a dozen competing schemes. No landlord wants to compete on the basis of lower rents as this simply chases the market down so the long-term challenge will be how to differentiate your BTR product from the competition?

Access Self Storage has just secured a planning consent in Hackney for 138 flats and also an 86,300 sq ft replacement storage facility which cannily complements the living space they’re creating and also represents another income stream which is far less management and capital intensive. As someone, who has recently moved into a modest London flat I can certainly see the attraction of this synergy.

And, of course, we have the, as yet unanswered question, as to how much the working from home trend will become a permanent aspect of life. This poses a ticklish question for BTR developers as to the extent of co-working space they might provide or how they can make individual apartments more amenable to ‘WFH’.  It’s a scenario which will most likely play out at ground level as this is invariably where the ‘amenity space’ of a BTR scheme is positioned.  Developers will face the choice of installing everything from convenience stores to co-working space; and storage to swimming pools. They will need a deep understanding of their target markets and the wider economic and demographic characteristics of their locations.

Having previously been viewed as a predominantly high-end product, BTR will inevitably begin to embrace more utilitarian developments with appropriate pricing points. However, it may be the ability to ‘be different’ which is the most important factor for many BTR schemes in the battle to attract residents.

Almost 90% of asset management firms have said they are planning to launch new ESG-specific products during the next 12-months, all of which may lead to an even deeper mistrust of the broader industry regarding claims around responsible investment.

This is according to JPES Partners’ latest study, the Asset Management Trends Report 2021, which is based on in-depth interviews with senior in-house communications professionals at asset managers who collectively manage €12-trillion in assets.

Alongside this expected surge in green products by many industry players, 76% of these same firms surveyed said they still had serious misgivings about greenwashing by the wider investment industry.

Yet even with a complex, multi-layered topic such as ESG, there is still one theme that appears to have cross-industry support. When asked what subset of the ESG debate they were most focused on, climate was overwhelmingly the top response given by over 40% of asset managers, with other popular themes including broader environmental issues, impact investing and diversity.

If climate, or decarbonisation, is linked to the new product development plans, then caution may need to be exercised in some cases though. Recent analysis by InfluenceMap found that 71% of funds specifically marketed using ESG and climate-related key words, had a negative Portfolio Paris Alignment score.

Whether it is climate, broader environment or impact-focused, all of this may provide some indication of the topics that we can expect to see content on from asset managers in the next 12 months, for there is near-unanimous certainty that we will be seeing far more ESG material on the horizon, as 82% of firms expect to produce more ESG content in the next year.

For those who are planning to do so, it is worth keeping in mind that a recent JPES Media Audit found that the amount of ESG content journalists are receiving has soared by over 150% in the last 24 months from an average of 32 pieces of content per month to now over 90, the majority of which will never be used in a published piece.

As more and more questions are being raised about what impact or benefit all of these ESG products are truly having on the issues they purport to be tackling, further scrutiny can be expected of even the brightest green stars, particularly those with brightest, loftiest, claims.

Other notable findings:

  • Two thirds of asset managers expect to use some form of virtual event post-pandemic
  • Nearly 60% believe there is a greater need for digital expertise in a communications role
  • Over a quarter are actively recruiting to fill this digital communications gap
  • 41% of firms think they are an early adopter of ESG, with 23% citing their pioneer status
  • Most managers are now producing less content overall than they were two-to-three years ago
Download our report

Download our report

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

Communications may seem like an unusual pick for me. I started out as a Latin teacher before becoming a ‘career academic’ and several years in Israel doing archaeology and research at universities, collecting a PhD along the way. While my research was always fascinating, the long hours spent in libraries made me miss working closely with other people. I enjoy collaborating with intelligent people, presenting ideas, plotting out projects and bringing work to fruition. When I realised that I needed to move away from academia, I found that communications was surprisingly a perfect fit for the majority of my favourite aspects of work – and a bonus that I had a team to work with.

Relaying ideas and helping people bring their insights to those who should hear them is at the core of what we do. I find this kind of work incredibly satisfying, and it brings together core skills that I gained as a researcher.

 

How have you found working in lockdown over the last year? How have you found the return to the office?

I never expected to grow quite as much as I did during lockdown. One of things I love about working at JPES is the ability to call across the room to a colleague and ask any question. But lockdown forced me to figure things out for myself in a lot of ways. I went into lockdown with a solid knowledge of what I needed to do and gained the confidence to just get on and do it.

We were lucky to have a such a strong team going into lockdown. Adjusting to the home office took patience, especially for those of us who ate, slept, exercised and worked all within several square feet! But the knowledge that you had a team at your back who would always help, and were experiencing the same things you were, ultimately made the situation that much easier.

After all this experience working from home, coming back into the office, especially with our hybrid schedule, has still been a welcome shift for me. Being able to collaborate face-to-face with colleagues is invaluable. But having quiet time at home to put my head down and get things done a few days a week makes for an excellent balance.

 

What areas or trends interest you the most at this time?

The world is unquestioningly running – or being dragged – headlong into a sustainable future. At this point, we really have very little choice. I am interested in how the financial world will cope with this sustainable transition – as well as how it will encourage companies and governments to rework our entire way of life. I am keenly observing those that are taking this challenge squarely by the horns and see the unlimited potential within this trend.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

I have discovered the English countryside in my spare time. I grew up in suburban Connecticut and while we had breathtakingly beautiful forests and mountains, I find the gentle hills of the country serene and embracing. I like to take my bicycle out for long rides from village to village – with an inevitable pub or two along the way.

But London still captures my imagination – wandering the city centre, recognising layer upon layer of history carved into every alley way. All my favourite museums are also finally starting to open new exhibitions after a long hiatus, and I could not be more thrilled to explore them all. And of course, discovering new places along the way. But I still have a soft spot for the British Museum. Even after hours poring over artifacts in their basement and walking the familiar rooms, I still find myself drawn to their lectures and exhibitions – permanent and new.

 

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I’m on a Kate Atkinson kick and I’m not ashamed to say it. Thanks to one of my JPES colleagues who introduced me, I can’t get enough. I’ve devoured nearly all of them at this point and have really enjoyed just being able to be fully engrossed in the lives and times she creates.

Podcasts, however, are my go-to entertainment. My commute is filled with all my favourite daily podcasts: FT Briefing, The Indicator, Up First, Consider This, The Intelligence – seriously, I could go on. But lately I’ve been going through a series called Planet Money Summer School, which is 7-8 shows long, and which finds creative and entertaining ways to explain the forces that move our economies. It’s excellent for those who want to understand more about index funds, risk, bonds and yields.

 

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the rest of the year

On a professional level, apropos my interest in sustainability, I would like to improve my own understanding of ESG and have a more in-depth knowledge of the challenges our clients are facing and overcoming. I would like to know more about the research and regulation around ESG standards and how to weed out the true priorities.

On a personal level, I am looking forward to improving my recently acquired garden – there’s so much to learn! I am currently putting in raised beds and am eagerly picking out what veggies will fit into them for next year – when they need to be sown and how to get produce out of them with every season. I am also finding ways of creating less waste. I finally have a wormery! Those little guys eat up all my fruit and veg waste in mere days – they are inspiringly efficient, and I would recommend them to anyone interested in improving their own sustainability. I think the worms are pretty cute too, but that’s probably just me!

 

This week sees the resumption of two in-person events that would have previously been firm dates in many property calendars. Property Week’s RESI convention returns to the Celtic Manor resort in Wales while MIPIM – the grandaddy of all real estate shindigs – edges back with a two-day meet-up in Cannes.

Although catering to very different audiences, both events take place between September 7th and 9th so should be a good litmus test for how willing the industry is to get out and about.

MIPIM is expecting around 5,000 delegates– coincidentally about the same number they got for the inaugural show in 1989 – while Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, will be among those travelling to Newport for RESI.

The future for MIPIM is particularly intriguing. Across more than three decades, the show had become one of the first items on hundreds on the business development budgets of property companies, consultants and the sector’s long tail of product sellers.

Nothing about the show was ever described as economical: Cannes doesn’t ‘do cheap’ and a delegate pass into the exhibition would previously set you back the best part of €2,000. More recently, the show’s legendary amount of corporate hospitality had come under scrutiny following the ‘President’s Club’ debacle of 2018. There was also the – actually incorrect – perception that it had become more of a ‘jolly’ than a place to do business. The truth about MIPIM was always that if you wanted to park yourself in a Croisette watering hole in a rosé-induced haze you could, but a serious amount of dealmaking was always being done around you.

Now, MIPIM event will have to find a way back into those BD budgets and also consider its credentials in a much more ESG-conscious world. A business’s carbon footprint in just getting to the event is an obvious starting point to ponder, and also the myriad of exhibition stands – some of which are re-used but many of which are not – will have to be addressed as we journey towards a net-zero world.

For the present, Reed Midem’s MAPIC – the retail property ‘sister’ show to MIPIM – will also be back in Cannes at the end of November. Meanwhile, another fixture in the property calendar, the altogether more sedate Expo-Real will take place again in Munich next month.

So, throughout this Autumn, as property businesses of all types are preparing their business development strategies for next year, they will be able to start taking an informed view of what events make it back on the budget – and which do not.

The recent news that UK real estate firm Cromwell Property Group and Finnish real asset manager Dasos Capital have joined to launch a pan-European wooden building property fund could prove to be a significant milestone for adoption of a construction method which is seen as answer to many of property development’s sustainability challenges.

Trees ingest carbon while they grow and a primary source of this are the decayed limbs of dead trees. Once a forest is mature, it essentially sustains itself. Suffice to say, the sourcing, development and lifespan of wooden buildings is much, much closer to carbon neutrality than steel or concrete.

In the UK, between 15%-30% of new homes built annually use timber frame construction. This captures more than 1m tonnes of CO2 a year. Sustainability experts are now excited about the potential scale of carbon benefit if this is extended to the commercial real estate sector.

And scale is not a problem for wooden buildings – or more accurately, cross-laminated timber (CLT) – which layers strips of wood to create an extremely strong and, perhaps surprisingly, very fire-resistant material.

The trend is spreading worldwide: at 29-storeys, the playfully named, WoHo tower, designed by the Norwegian firm Mad Architects, will be one of the tallest wooden buildings in Europe, rising 98m over central Berlin (pictured above). Over in Japan, by 2024, Sumitomo Group hopes to use CLT to build a 70-storey wood skyscraper in Tokyo.

The concept is also being looked at in the UK. Architectural practice, PLP, has produced conceptual proposals for a 1m sq ft mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces within the Barbican complex in central London that would rise to around 1,000 ft.

Of course, the resilience of tall buildings remains a sensitive subject in the UK following the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. In what has been an unfortunate reaction, the Government has mooted proposals to restrict the height of wood-based buildings to just 36 feet tall. This might be understandable in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy but is actually contrary to the facts about CLT. When exposed to fire, it chars and actually becomes stronger – unlike steel which warps and loses its tensile strength.

The sustainability benefits of creating a virtuous construction circle are clear and it would be a missed opportunity – from both a sustainability and safety perspective – if this mode of creating buildings was not more widely embraced.

The Financial Times reported last month that investors poured $54bn into ESG-focused bond products between January and May, with this year’s figures set to eclipse that of the $68bn of inflows seen across the whole of 2020.

However, with the vast growth in ESG investment practices, there has been an increasing concern amongst the industry that this trend could bring about substantial challenges, most notably that of greenwashing. Some in the industry believe that many funds are not as sustainable as they claim to be, whilst it has also been noted that the management of these strategies, specifically the application of ESG credentials, can also be difficult. A notable example of this is labelling of government bonds, which remains a challenge with no industry standard in place.

At JPES Partners, we always seek to be at the forefront of understanding the investment media’s sentiments towards key industry trends. To this end, we will be releasing our 2021 ESG Media Audit in the coming weeks, which outlines leading financial journalists’ views towards the quality, quantity, and usefulness of ESG content they receive from investment firms, along with who they believe are the current leaders in the ESG field.

As part of this, we asked journalists to rank their views on how concerned they currently are by the issue of greenwashing, ranging from ‘very concerned’ to ‘It isn’t an issue at all’. The results are outlined in the graphic below, and it is clear to see that on the whole, the media’s sentiment remains that of concern.

 

Indeed, over 72% of respondents in our audit stated that they are either ‘slightly’ or ‘very concerned’ about the issue of greenwashing in the investment sector, while none of the participants we spoke to claimed to be ‘unconcerned’ or that they ‘don’t see the topic as an issue’ at this time.

In particular, one contributor noted that for the most part, “the proliferation of content on the subject has not helped matters”, while also adding that the sheer volume of content received now makes it even more difficult to decipher whether a manager / fund is delivering on its ESG objectives.

More worryingly, this seems to be an issue for the media that will not be going away. Investor appetite appears undampened, and while it is certainty positive that investors are becoming more concerned with environmental, social, and governance issues, the increase in the volume of ESG products and content could continue to increase the media’s already existing concerns.

This is a trend that all investment firms must be aware of when communicating with the media around the topic of ESG, presently and moving forwards. More than ever, there is a need for clarity around managers’ investment philosophy, practices, and commitments when communicating externally. Failure to do so runs the risk of adding to uncertainty that already exists in the space.

Journalists want to hear what managers are doing right now, not what they potentially plan to do in the future, and when they speak on this, they must provide clear evidence and data to back this up.

“The debate has moved on, now is the time for action”, one journalist outlined as part of the audit. This certainty appears true, and managers that do not adhere to this as part of their ESG communications run the risk of being alienated and left behind.

For more information or to discuss the findings of JPES’ ESG Media Audit 2021, please contact tom.green@jpespartners.com  

 

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to pursue either journalism or communications as a career. The writing and storytelling aspects have always appealed to me, and it is probably the part that I enjoy most about the job to this day. Communications had the edge for me though, I wanted to be the person behind the stories and to be that link between the client and journalist as I’ve been known to be quite personable which is a key trait in this job.

It probably comes as no surprise given the above that I studied Media & Communications at London Metropolitan University. To this point, I wasn’t sure which area of communications I would move into, but when I took up an internship at a PR firm and worked on hotels, I became very interested in how you could take a bricks and mortar building and activate it with an effective PR strategy. It is this interest and passion that has carried through my years in real estate.

 

How have you found working in lockdown over the last year?

I was surprised at how well I acclimatised to it. There were some initial concerns over if we would still interact as well as a team but honestly, I think it has strengthened us. We all made a point of checking in on each other, with regular calls where we didn’t discuss work and it was nice to feel like that support was there. We also had a regular Friday Zoom call drinks with all the team where we could all meet, which was nice.

Professionally, I would say that being able to support clients as they navigated their way through the pandemic has been one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of my career to date. It has been an incredibly educating experience – nothing says crisis comms like a global pandemic! I can now say I can handle anything that comes my way in terms of the job, which feels hugely comforting.

 

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

I’m very interested and passionate about ESG issues, diversity, and emerging themes that go beyond those of traditional real estate. I think we are at a very important time in our industry where what we do, and how we address these topics, will reshape its future. I’m pleased to see the real estate industry, and in particular the property press who have done an incredible job of moving them up the media agenda, driving these issues forward.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

This is the question that everyone always struggles with! Well, I would say that I’m very into cooking; I get a weekly Gousto delivery, which challenges my culinary skills on a regular basis. More recently, I’ve started to get more into cycling. I bought a bike during lockdown as I live in Hackney and it’s a great way to get to all the parks and markets. Aside from that. I’m also a huge TV fanatic, and I love a good BBC drama. I, like most of the nation, was hooked on “Line of Duty”.

 

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I love the “Grounded” podcast from Louis Theroux. I think Louis is one of the best journalists of our generation. He has an incredible way of being both warm and awkward at the same time and asks the questions that others might shy away from. In this podcast, he interviews famous faces that have always been on his list but would have never materialised without lockdown. He often focuses in on a topic or theme with each subject, so that it moves beyond the realm of a traditional celebrity interview. I can’t wait for the next series.

 

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the rest of the year

This might sound a bit cheesy, but my goal is always to be happy, positive and to be the best version of myself. I’m approaching the dreaded 30 this year, but I can honestly say I know and am far happier and more comfortable in myself than I ever was in my early to mid-twenties. I really got to know myself over lockdown, which I think has a lot to do with where I am now.

It truly is important to keep a positive mindset, treat people how you would like to be treated, express gratitude every day (even when you don’t feel like it) and good things will flow back to you – I’m a huge believer in that.