Integrate IR and CSR Communications

Investors are increasingly beginning to see CSR as a form of risk management; it’s up to communications executives to bridge their IR and CSR messaging. The following tips serve as a guide for how to do just that.

•    Form internal committees to discuss CSR. Often, you’ll be surprised by all of the good work that is already being done by your company. Corporate communications or IR can serve as the consensus builder to bring everyone together to collectively form a CSR strategy and to make sure that all efforts are being accounted for. Departments such as corporate development, supply chain, legal and human resources should all be actively involved in the CSR discussion.

• Don’t limit CSR to just environmental issues. CSR includes initiatives such as community relations and outreach, employee benefits and development, volunteerism and diversity. Make sure your company is proactively communicating about its efforts in all of these areas.

•    Realize that CSR is in different stages around the world. Global audiences have different needs in regard to CSR, and it’s a challenge to reach everyone. Consider regionalizing CSR communications and recognize that different global regions have different needs.

•    Realize that you can’t be all things to all people. It’s important to be able to state your CSR objectives upfront and have the discipline to stick to those objectives. Having this focus will allow your company to make better progress in the areas that are most important to your business.

•    Remember that CSR reporting is no different than financial reporting. In both cases, it is important to be completely transparent and honest about your progress. Most stakeholders are understanding of today’s many business challenges and first want to see that your company is willing to proactively address CSR issues.

•    If you’re just getting started, you don’t need a whole CSR report. Consider starting with just one page in the company’s annual report, or by devoting a few minutes to CSR discussion at the annual meeting and analyst day.

•    Know your investors and their agendas. Each investor has different needs and different priorities in terms of CSR. Do your due diligence so you are prepared to respond to each investor’s questions and requests for information.

•    Realize that CSR is not about perception building. CSR is also about reducing business risks, as well as building credibility with stakeholders.

•    Use your stakeholders as a sounding board. Friendly analysts from the buy-side and sell-side, and NGOs such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Ceres, can offer constructive feedback and tell you if your efforts are headed in the right direction. This is your audience, so make sure you understand their needs and realize that you can learn a lot from these stakeholders.

•    Know what your peers are saying so you are consistent with industry standards. Although its great to know what the leaders in CSR such as General Electric, BP and McDonald’s are doing, use your industry group as a starting point for benchmarking when first formulating your CSR communications strategy.

•    Ensure that CSR is consistent with your business strategy. For CSR initiatives to stick, they must be relevant to your overall business and conducive to the achievement of long-term organizational objectives.

•    Quantify results whenever possible. Investors are most interested in the effect that CSR initiatives will have on EPS growth and on your bottom line. Try to quantify the results and expected outcomes of CSR initiatives whenever possible.

•    Have a long-term perspective. Investors are focused on the effect that CSR initiatives will have on your business for the next few years and decades. Make sure that your strategy and communications is consistent with this long-term focus to show that your company is able to foresee future CSR challenges. Your focus should be a cumulative positive effort.

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