Consumers are demanding that businesses contribute more to society. While research reveals that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) improves long-term business performance and that consumers prefer to patronize organization with strong histories of social responsibility and are more likely to buy from companies with strong ethical values.
Today, customers and employees are speaking with their values as well as their wallets. They still care about cool features and great customer service, but they also care about what matters. Trust is at stake for every organization.
Therefore, communications strategies must respond through authenticity. The demand for clear communications from trusted spokespeople is a must. Plus, businesses are now expected to have a position on political, environmental and social issues. However, engaging on these weighty issues can seem tricky and even risky. Brands must stand for something because consumers demand it, but they must also live it.
Nielsen annual Global Corporate Sustainability Report, reveals 81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. Therefore, it is important for all brands to make the most of their CSR activities by publicizing them. Ensure that customers, suppliers and the local community know what you are doing. CSR lends itself to good news stories and is a source of positive Public Relations (PR).
Publicity can be a key part of using CSR to win contracts. People want to buy from businesses they respect. CSR can be particularly effective for targeting ethical companies, the public sector and not-for-profit organizations. But CSR is not a publicity tool!
Gaurav Dwivedi, CEO of MyGov, the Indian government’s innovative citizen engagement platform, said in 2017 at a CSR Leadership Conference in Delhi, “CSR is not PR, you do good because you want to do good. […] CSR has to be a part of one’s business.”
Only when an organization recognizes its responsibility for doing good, the ability to make a difference, and fulfilling this obligation, can the organization can reap the rewards CSR offers – positive image, customer loyalty, and trust. The role of PR in this process is to ensure that customers, along with internal and external stakeholders are aware of the organization’s commitment and efforts. But can only happen if a PR strategy comes after the CSR initiative.
PR should give companies a voice to inform and inspire people about their CSR efforts. Done successfully, PR is the vehicle that enlightens and shares with the world the progress made by companies who are successfully embracing the strategic and integrated nature of CSR. You need to be careful that you don’t make CSR a marketing tool.
Brands always need to be authentic and not claim to care about something that they don’t care about. Companies have a history of manipulating the public by claiming that they are leaders in an issue that people care about. Fortunately, many times these companies get caught in their lie. While in the internet age, it is much harder to hide company errors and controversy.
A good example of a company that has owned its mistakes is Nike. In the 1990’s Nike was confronted about the working conditions of their factories in Asia. Their shoes were being created by employees being underpaid, and the pressure was mounting for Nike to address the issue.
Nike did and acknowledged that they had to change. Since that time forward, Nike has continually been a leader in human rights and has been the standard in their industry. They release a report every year of each factory they partner with around the world and report on worker’s conditions.
CSR is a continuing process of building long-term value. Everything you do should help improve your reputation and encourage customers and other stakeholders to stay involved with you. A business that buys recycled paper – but exploits its customers and ignores the community – has missed the point.
My book, The PR Knowledge Book looks at PR and how to create an authentic brand, where in the book I explain how PR is not about spin. At the heart of PR is storytelling, it builds trust, reputation and brand recognition. When your story is driven by your passion, it will directly speak to your audience and that means success.
The relationship between PR and CSR is strong, as CSR gives you the opportunity to tell your story. Put your core values at the heart of your business and brand. Your core values are what you really care about – build your company around those things and don’t waver from them. If you can’t be authentic about social initiatives, choose not to do so.