ESG is often seen as a tool for communicating with investors and customers. But increasingly, it’s also a tool for building strong relationships with employees.
Jeonghyun Janice Lee, the winner of the first Ragan Research Award, given in conjunction with the Institute for Public Relations, seeks to better understand how ESG influences employees, and how they go about telling these stories on social media.
“Almost every company should have in mind ESG topics,” Lee told PR Daily in an interview.
A former PR pro turned doctoral candidate
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Lee spent nearly 10 years working in both PR agencies and in-house functions in roles including PR manager and online marketing communications manager.
It was during this time that her interest in ESG was piqued as she worked as a representative on an employee engagement committee.
“I had a kind of a failure at this experience to get outcomes from the committee,” Lee recalled. “That marked me that oh, this ESG topic could be brought into PR, employee engagement would be a great idea to research.”
Lee came to the United States to study journalism and mass communications at the University of Georgia, eventually completing her master’s degree and is now just a year away from submitting her doctoral dissertation. That piece will focus on the importance of societal intelligence for employees.
“I created some novel concepts of societal intelligence, which a communication professional has to have to deal with social and political issues nowadays,” Lee said.
After completing her doctorate, Lee hopes to stay in academia as a professor.
But first, Lee will be completing her original research for Ragan and the Institute of Public Relations.
How do employees talk about ESG?
Since her early interest in ESG during her time in Korea, Lee has continued to keep her eye on the topic. Every morning as she browsed the news articles of the day, she saw the term popping up again and again, gaining interest and intensity over the last two years.
“I found out that though ESG could be … not just the investment factor, but also communicated with employee engagement. And then that could be one of the elements of ESG,” Lee said.
Lee will study this in two ways: First, by “clustering” social media conversations between users online to see how they discuss ESG and draw patterns between them. Secondly, she’s examining the reports of top ESG companies listed in the S&P 500 to see how these documents addressed employee engagement through an ESG lens.
Lee’s research brief will be published through both IPR and Ragan in the fall of 2022. Lee will receive her award at the 2022 IPR Distinguished Lecture and Awards Dinner in New York City on December 1.