A Lesson in Walking the Talk

As a communications agency, we do a lot of talking. And, we advise our clients on how, when, where, and with whom they should talk specifically about issues of corporate social responsibility.  In an effort to ensure we were walking the talk, we turned the lens on ourselves to address the areas of our business where we could have the greatest impact on the environment and the communities in which we do business. We realized that we were doing some things well but there was a lot more we could do.

Our agency, DDB Brand Integrity Group, has a long history of caring about our employees, helping nonprofit organizations, and being tuned in to the environment. But our efforts weren’t necessarily organized, consistent, or very strategic to our core business. Over the last year, we took ourselves through the same process we take our clients: identify our Citizenship Position,™ the overarching statement of values we try to live every day and reflect in our work; benchmark our existing green and social efforts; and set some goals for the next few years. While our CSR program covers multiple efforts in three core areas—the environment, communities, and employees—this article highlights a couple of key initiatives.

The Human Part of the Equation
Our agency was raised on the values of having fun and giving back. Almost 20 years ago, someone in our office thought it would be fun to stage a miniature golf course throughout the halls and conference rooms of our office (yes, 18 holes), invite all of our clients and business partners, drink a lot of beer, and raise money. Since then, we’ve held the Charity Golf Classic annually, selecting a different, local, nonprofit organization each year as the recipient of the funds. It’s grown from raising a mere $2,800 in 1988 to more than $45,000 in 2007. While the event raises a nice chunk of change for small organizations and it’s an important part of our culture, we weren’t very strategic about it. To put it simply, we hadn’t done a good job of aligning the program with our core business or made sure that it reflected our agency Citizenship Position, celebrating human expression without censorship or judgment.

The 2008 Charity Golf Classic will embody our Citizenship Position in at least two different ways. First, we’ll select a beneficiary whose work encourages and enables creative expression in all forms, from people who may otherwise not have the opportunity. Second, we’ll produce the event so that all our employees, from the creative department to the accounting department, can participate in ways that demonstrate their individual creative expressions, from costumes to music to visual theater. The primary goals of the event, however, won’t change—to have fun and raise even more money.

The Environmental Part of the Equation
Given the nature of our business, we don’t necessarily generate a big environmental footprint. But as Seattleites, the environment is very near and dear to our hearts. So we looked at how we could reduce our energy use, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from employee commute and travel, and finally, admitted we still had a problem with paper.

We created initiatives to address all three areas and found ourselves specifically able to use our agency talents to address our paper addiction. We created a simple but edgy communications campaign (see examples) to get employees to use less and recycle more paper in the office. The campaign consists of a series of posters and signs asking employees to be part of a Recycling Revolution. Che Guevara, a true revolutionist, is featured as our icon in the anchor signage. Supporting pieces highlight individual employees and green behaviors. The signs, made from scrap cardboard, foam core, and paper retrieved from trash bins around the office, are posted in the kitchen, copier areas, and bathrooms. 

The campaign seems to be working. It’s created a great deal of positive buzz throughout the office and many employees have commented how much they appreciate a company-led effort to address an environmental issue. It’s still too early to quantify actual paper reductions, but we’ve already seen our paper supplies last a little longer.

The Charity Golf Classic and the Recycling Revolution Campaign are just two individual efforts within a much broader, more robust CSR program for our agency, but they’re important examples for a few reasons. They embody our core business—the creative expression and delivery of ideas that drive business results. They touch and involve multiple audiences who are important to our agency—employees, clients, business partners, and community organizations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they help us reach our objective of helping to create thriving communities and a sustainable environment.

This article was excerpted from PR News' Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices Guidebook, Volume 1. It was written by Arlene Fairfield, senior vice president, DDB Brand Integrity Group (DDB BIG). To order this or other guidebooks, please visit www.prnewsonline.com/store.