Integrating CSR Messages Into Your Business’ Communications Plan

Communications professionals don’t necessarily lie, but they sure can be deceptive—especially when it comes to messaging surrounding corporate social responsibility (CSR) and green initiatives. And who can blame them? Consumer skepticism of green advertising abounds (a recent Burst Media survey revealed that 88% of respondents sometimes, seldom or never believe green claims made in advertisements), and devious practices often classified as greenwashing taint honest efforts to positively contribute to communities around the world.

Nietzsche might have appreciated this nihilistic state of CSR communications, but public relations professionals certainly shouldn’t. After all, it requires their redoubled efforts to make these messages an integral, integrated and imbedded element of every communications initiative and strategy. So, what’s the best way to develop a framework for doing so? As it turns out, it’s just a matter of following the same steps that would be taken to achieve integration of … well, anything.
The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College hones this framework with this outline of integration strategies:

•    Leverage existing systems, processes and structures;

•    Leverage reporting of key non-financial issues;
•    Bring the outside in;

•    Establish a formal corporate citizenship position; and,

•    Focus on pockets of excellence.

This approach to integrated CSR (or whatever your label of choice might be) messaging is a great place to start, and John Gogarty, vice president of Coyne PR, gets even more specific with the following steps (supplemented by case studies and tips from other industry leaders) to achieving true integration:

Set clear objectives and measurable goals. It’s the first ep of so many communications-related endeavors, but (unfortunately) that doesn’t mean it is second nature to every corporate, agency or nonprofit communications team. “Causal initiatives should support overall business objectives,” Gogarty says. “[They must be] aligned with corporate messaging.”
To set objectives and measurable goals, it is wise to establish a mission and a vision, a la Pfizer, keeping in mind that these two statements are distinctly different. The mission is an overall approach to CSR/green/corporate citizenship.
For Pfizer, says Rekha Chalasani, manager of worldwide philanthropy, this mission is to “contribute to Pfizer’s value through sustainable programs that maximize social and business impact.” The vision, then, specifies an approach: “Strengthening communities by improving healthcare.” In Pfizer’s case, these statements apply to its worldwide philanthropy platform: “Pfizer Investments in Health.”

Research charities/causes. “Stand for one cause or multiple causes,” Gogarty says. “Every marketing initiative can have a different charitable component.” Pfizer’s philanthropic platform illustrates this, as it has eight current programs that all appeal to the overall goal over improving healthcare for people in need. Hard Rock Café also executes multiple initiatives under the philanthropy umbrella, allowing its PR team to keep CSR/philanthropy in all communications, be they internal or external.
Other tips for aligning with the right cause and/or charity:

•    Look for natural links between your core products and your charitable affiliation: For example, restaurants and hunger, cosmetics and women’s health, office supplies and education, pharmaceuticals and affordable healthcare.

•    Take on issues that touch all stakeholders. This makes an initiative more universally engaging.

•    Anticipate the perceived media value.

Create a calendar to plan out campaign. This can be executed best by taking the following steps:

•    Determine the ideal time to launch the campaign: If there is a timeliness peg, be it a holiday or a nationally recognized issue (Breast Cancer Awareness Month), then it will be more likely to get play in the media.

•    Define key messages: Chalasani notes that all of Pfizer’s messaging was customized to the various stakeholder groups: partners and beneficiaries, colleagues and senior leadership, and external stakeholders and media. Always have an overall mission, but direct specific messaging to each audience so they can clearly see how it applies to and impacts them.

•    Develop media strategies, keeping both long-lead and short-lead opportunities in mind: When developing media strategies, Gogarty emphasizes the importance of considering traditional and nontraditional PR tactics, including video news releases, satellite media tours, PSAs, photography, creative mailers, press kits and social media. “Capitalize on charity supporters and corporate employees to energize the online campaign,” he says.

Execute campaign tactics. This should follow a similar procedure for any public relations campaign execution:

•    Announce a campaign by targeting audiences through the most appropriate channel: Determining the best channel can be done through research, but it also largely hinges on common sense. For example, if you are looking to target a younger, more tech-savvy audience, digital platforms are the way to go, as is the case if budget is an issue (and when is it not?). This also increases the likelihood that your messages will go viral and be spread through word-of-mouth evangelism.

•    Launch event: Gogarty recommends creating a compelling media-driven event that can be replicated on a smaller scale to sustain interest.

•    Program extensions: These can include consumer calls to action, staff involvement, volunteerism and celebrity spokespeople.

Publicize results. Communicating the results of the campaign to all stakeholders, from employees to customers to investors, is mandatory; otherwise, no matter how positively the effort impacted audiences, it may not get proper recognition. However, this publicity must be handled carefully, as trumpeting success could be seen as being in direct conflict with the entire purpose of “doing good.”
Jill Allread, principal of Public Communications Inc., identifies annual reports as one way to convey CSR messages to all stakeholders in an integrated manner without coming off as bragging. Another option? A shared value report. Allread commends Nestlé for its shared value report, which includes figures on the impact of its business activities on societies and issues worldwide.

Ultimately, when integrating CSR messaging into all communications strategies, it is essential that an organization lives and breathes its philanthropic mission. It can’t be a silo of the business that operates in a bubble.  PRN

Contact: John Gogarty,; Jill Allread,; Rehka Chalasani,