Good Business Campaign – Adam Jones Q&A

For the seventh interview in our Good Business series, I spoke with Adam Jones, marketing consultant at commercial property and building consultancy firm Workman LLP. Adam discusses ESG and how marketing can help to drive the conversation forward.

Tell us about your role at Workman LLP.

I’m a former partner and now marketing consultant for Workman LLP, the UK’s leading specialist commercial property manager with key marketing and business development responsibilities. I created the marketing function during a period of considerable growth for the firm and collaborate with partners and other senior colleagues to produce winning bids for a range of institutional real estate clients and overseas investors.

What’s the business case for companies to think more about the impact they are having on society and the environment?

For Workman, the business case is that you cannot sell a property management service without a strong ESG story. Several years ago, it was a ‘nice to have’, something you spoke about to certain clients. Now it’s a core element of service delivery. Clients interrogate organisations about their ESG efforts in bids and tenders, and on an ongoing basis following appointment – as they should.

There was clearly always a case for ‘good business’ but it’s gained momentum in recent years, and the commitment to doing the right thing has evolved – it’s now a huge part of recruitment and the employer brand. Arguably, the most important business development person is the head of ESG. A business is not going to win any work unless it can demonstrate a significant part in protecting the planet and the people on it.

And what’s marketing’s role in this?

ESG is not a marketing campaign. If you treat it like that, it will fail. It’s either part of the service you deliver to clients, part of what the firm does within its own operations, or both. Marketing should reflect that, of course, but it doesn’t start with marketing. It starts with what is happening operationally. There can be the temptation or knee jerk reaction from management to see ESG as an opportunity for a great marketing campaign, rather than to see marketing as a mirror of a firm’s ESG efforts.

How should a marketing and communications team work alongside HR and ESG to ensure that purpose and values are embraced across an organisation?

Marketing, HR and ESG needs to be joined up – in terms of how we talk and listen to existing and future employees, as well as the market. Those disciplines interlink when it comes to defining and driving an employer brand. Often this can be a dysfunctional relationship, where divisions work in silos. Marketing, for example, can find its focus is on communicating around the service delivery for clients, as opposed to the messages that will speak to potential recruits. But you should treat marketing for employees the same way you treat marketing for clients. You need to speak to them in a way that will resonate to build a positive perception, in the same way you would with a group of target clients.

How do you build trust with your target audience, without letting “vanity comms” creep in? What’s the balance between celebrating the good and calling out the bad?

Given what Workman does – predominantly either managing or refurbishing commercial buildings – it’s easy to focus on the good stories, the tangible stuff, the examples that showcase environmental sustainability or social value in action. We’ll shine a light on the people- and planet-first projects that support local communities because we want to see more of that happening in our industry. To that end, it’s not just about sharing stories across channels, it’s about running community events and getting experts on event podiums, to make sure there’s a listening and feedback loop, rather than a one-way dialogue.  

We don’t try and amplify the case studies to suit our agenda, rather it’s a way to celebrate and promote the good. However, it’s how you communicate about what isn’t being done that’s trickier and more delicate. For every refurbishment project, you’ll hear about the ESG credentials of the finished product, but until recently you wouldn’t hear as much about the embodied carbon footprint, or the problems that we don’t yet have the answers to. As an industry, we’re as guilty of focusing on the good and not shining the same level of light on the projects that did not achieve best in class good environmental performance for whatever reasons.

How could marketing change that?

Marketing could do more to push the conversation and the debate forward. We don’t always have to have the answers, but we can call out the questions and highlight the issues. Let’s take heat pumps as one example. Everybody wants to get rid of gas boilers and fossil fuels. Heat pumps are bandied around as a simple solution. But in a lot of commercial buildings, it isn’t physically possible or financially viable to install them. To stick a heat pump in, you may have to rip out a load of pipework which has its own financial and environmental costs. Even if it is feasible, the supply chain may not be as robust as it needs to be for the rate of change needed across the UK’s building stock.

There’s a lot of communication around this in the residential sector – more debate about why there’s a slower take up of heat pumps compared to countries in Europe, more cognisance that the government grant scheme isn’t being used, more awareness that there’s a lack of labour and trade skills to make it happen – but until recently similar issues in the commercial sector haven’t received the same attention. That’s how marketing can play a bigger role. Let’s call out the challenges. Let’s admit when we don’t have the answers. That will drive the conversation forward.

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More information the Good Business campaign is available on our website.

The previous six interviews in the series are available to read on our website:

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Jo Sutherland