CSR Soars in 2011; Look for Better Integration With Biz Units in 2012

In 1929, the dean of Harvard Business School, Wallace B. Donham, said in a speech: “Business started long centuries before the dawn of history, but business as we now know it is new—new in its broadening scope, new in its social significance. Business has not learned how to handle these changes, nor does it recognise the magnitude of its responsibilities for the future of civilization.”

It’s safe to say that more than 80 years later, business has recognized its responsibilities, through the evolution of corporate social responsibility programs. And in 2011, the progress made in CSR has been significant, says Larry Parnell, associate professor of strategic PR at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management—great not only for businesses and communities, but also for PR professionals.

“I continue to believe that CSR is the best route for PR pros to get the proverbial seat at the table—provided they employ best practices that became more prevalent in 2011 and will be even more common in 2012,” says Parnell.

CSR’s rise in 2011 is also noted by Dave Stangis, VP of CSR at Campbell Soup Company. “I’m seeing CSR leadership everywhere—from the world’s largest companies to those privately held,” says Stangis, “I’ve been preaching CSR integration since the ’90s and it is great to see it coming to critical mass.”

What Stangis can’t stand are pundits who question the value of CSR, saying it’s a fad and a waste of time.

“Would someone please let them know we can’t hear them because we left them at the station years ago?” says Stangis.

Pundits aside, CSR is looked at positively by consumers, as a Cone/Echo CR Opportunity Study released in October 2011 found 81% of consumers worldwide say companies have a responsibility to address key social and environmental issues—and beyond just their local communities.

And just how did public relations do in communicating CSR issues in 2011? PR News got the CSR communications highlights and lowlights—as well as top trends to look for in 2012—from a variety of CSR executives.

Their verdict? Corporate social responsibility’s reach is spreading throughout more organizations, and the programs are being tied to product launches and the business bottom line. Now that’s progress. PRN


Larry Parnell, lparnell@gwu.edu; Dave Stangis, dave_stangis@campbellsoup.com; Bill Morrissey, c/o simone.seeley@clorox.com; Carol Cone, carol.cone@edelman.com; Tara Greco, tgreco@apcoworldwide.com; Jonathan Yohannan, jyohannan@coneinc.com.