Cognito research highlights challenges that booming media coverage of ESG poses for asset managers

Cognito, the specialist communication and marketing agency, today released a report on how the booming interest in green investing is being covered by asset management media and how asset managers are communicating their ESG strategies.

“Time for a temperature check: ESG Communications in Asset Management During the Boom” analysed ESG coverage from 16 leading financial media outlets in Europe, North America and Asia over the last two years, alongside analysis of outbound communications (including press releases and insights) undertaken by 35 leading asset managers – to see how supply and demand compare. The report found total media coverage on sustainable investment rose 75% from 2019 to 2020, with thousands of articles written on green investing. Many publications – such as the Financial Times, Handelsblatt, Ignites, and Citywire – doubled their coverage in just one year.

A key finding is that media outlets are focusing on broad stories around ESG investing – such as portfolio composition, performance/risk and regulation – that involve commentary from a range of managers. Outbound communications by asset managers, however, skews towards the types of news that are only relevant for the minority of media stories that are based around a single firm. Cognito’s analysis showed that up to 46% of asset manager output falls into this category, compared to only 35% of the media coverage it examined that were “single-firm stories” (and only 17% in the business press).

Cognito also interviewed a range of specialist reporters and asset management communicators. While there was consensus about the ESG news agenda, interviews disagreed about how ESG investment should be covered. Journalists are looking for more forward-looking opinions and especially for greater clarity on ESG standards. They remain extremely concerned about greenwashing and the perceived paucity of ‘real thought leadership’. Asset manager communicators, in contrast, said that media outlets should take more interest in ESG integration strategies, as well as in engagement and stewardship, and recognise that the issues are more nuanced than simply whether a fund should be holding a specific equity.    

Based on the findings, Cognito recommends communication around a firm’s overall ESG brand rather than the nature of specific funds, so that asset managers can differentiate themselves more decisively as institutions, building a credible profile as the media covers ESG in increasing scale and detail.

Other key findings of the report included:

  • Sharp differences in areas of focus in different types of outlets: the trade media are much more likely to run stories on specific firms, while major publications largely, and increasingly, want to cover thematic stories featuring multiple firms.
  • Interest in ‘greenwashing’ is deep rooted, though greater in continental Europe and the United Kingdom than the United States.
  • The debate about whether ESG funds can perform as well as ‘mainstream’ investments is diminishing – partially because so many investments are now in some way considered ESG-aligned.
  • A widening divide between journalists who fully appreciate the complexity in the sector and those who cover ESG sporadically and want more packaged content.

Lead author and Cognito Vice Chairman Andrew Marshall said: “Our research suggests asset managers need to align better with the media agenda. Often that means matching the intensity of product specific and investment strategy media relations with stronger overarching messaging to achieve the brand differentiation that makes a firm stand out. Most firms can’t be famous for everything, but you can pick credible ‘lanes’ and deliver quality insights around the big themes that our research shows command the most coverage.”

The full report is available for download at

Cognito represents clients across the financial, professional services and technology sectors from six offices around the globe. The firm has a growing group of clients in part or entirely dedicated to the development of the sustainability sector in finance.


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