Phil & Courtney Talking PR: CSR: Good Works, Good Business


(This week, PR News editors Phil Hall and Courtney Barnes consider the ABCs of CSR.) PHIL: A lot of people view Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the same way they view eating vegetables. Some people grudgingly do it, because they were told it is "good for them," despite personal preferences to keep it off the plate. But others go full-throttle into it because they know it is good for them - and good for their companies. But here we are in 2006 and there are still too many people and companies who view CSR like a finicky eater wincing at a serving of boiled cauliflower. Am I reading things incorrectly, or are too many people still out of the loop when it comes to the benefits of CSR? COURTNEY: There's a lot of truth to what you're saying, though as CSR transforms from a "nice to do" to a "must do," many PR practitioners are jumping on board - now it's just a matter of catching up. Many corporations are taking the lead and setting great examples to follow: General Electric's Ecomagination campaign is a sturdy role model to emulate, as are Office Depot's efforts. And while both are archetypes, they take very different approaches. Ecomagination is a sweeping national campaign featured front and center on GE's Web site; Mary Wong (director of community relations for Office Depot), on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of partnerships with nonprofits at the community level. But these companies are clearly ahead of the game - that is, already well-established in the CSR world. What needs to be done is helping a company that's falling behind to start making steps in the right direction. PHIL: The secret to CSR is this: People remember those who support what they believe in. Empirical evidence would suggest that individuals who are passionate about a particular cause or charity are also extremely brand loyal. If I am a volunteer for, say, a pediatric health center and Bank X not only provides corporate sponsorship but also a small squadron of employees to provide volunteer assistance for special projects, can you guess which bank is going to get my respect -- and my business, especially if my current and less-than-passionate bank continues to foul up my checkbook balance and stick me with parasitic fees? COURTNEY: True, and many companies that provide or promote controversial products - alcohol, for example, as we discussed in our December 21 and November 23, 2005 issues - must use CSR to back up their corporate messaging. If alcohol is associated with drunk driving, then alcohol distributors should aggressively pursue efforts that encourage responsible drinking. If oil companies are still associated by the public with environmental hazards (such as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill of yore), then said companies should be enthusiastic about the environment (look at BP's campaign encouraging people to measure their "carbon footprint"). These conditional statements can be applied to any corporation; just identify a cause that compliments (or, perhaps, contradicts) your business and pursue it with due diligence; others will take notice. PHIL: And if you support a cause, stick with it. There are some sanctimonious and self-serving advocacy groups that love to call attention to themselves by attempting to disrupt a company's CSR activities because they disagree with the social mission of the nonprofit receiving corporate support. (Comments? Questions? Share your opinions with the editors: phall@accessintel.com and cbarnes@accessintel.com.)

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