Tag Archives: community

CSR (corporate social responsibility), is not only for large companies.

CSR - hands

CSR is for SMEs also but, it is not sponsorship or philanthropy.

First of all, let us outline what our understanding of what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is. We believe that it applies to any company’s activity where they assess and take responsibility for their effect on the environment and their social impact.  It is not a regulatory function and therefore is an entirely voluntary route that a company, big or small, may choose to follow.

Yes, we are all aware of examples of companies that describe marketing activity as CSR, in an attempt to enhance brand reputation with the media, the public and their stakeholders. That being said, many large companies do devote real time and money towards environmental programmes and social initiatives that benefit staff, customers and the communities in which they operate. Here is a list of good examples and winners from the 2014 Chambers Ireland Corporate Social Responsibility Awards.

CSR activity is usually associated with large companies, but it shouldn’t be – it is the motivation for undertaking the CSR activity that counts – O’C&K.

Usually, large companies can run high-profile CSR programmes because they are probably better resourced to do so, in terms of people and funds. We would be of the opinion that size shouldn’t matter as to whether a company invests in CSR or not. The real considerations should be the why and how it can do so.

Whatever size it is, a company has an impact on its local community, be it through employment, purchasing power, sustainability or just social. Accordingly, a company can decide to integrate local concerns into its business activities in order to ‘play its part’ in addressing societal needs. Some might consider this to be a ‘good deed’ strategy, but in fact it is a sound business strategy of being relevant to customers. At the end of the day, it might well become a competitive advantage.

CSR is not sponsorship or philanthropy.

As referred to on many previous posts on this blog, sponsorship is a joint marketing activity between a rights holder and a sponsor (usually a company). There is a mutually beneficial ‘value exchange’ for the benefit of a defined audience. It is a planned business transaction with all that that entails – goals, audience engagement, objectives, communications, milestones, measurement, reviews etc.

A business will use sponsorship as a marketing tool and will expect a return on the investment. It is not a ‘tool’ for looking after the needs of a local community, contrary to popular beliefs.

On the other side of the coin, there is a popular belief held by companies, which is that CSR is associated with philanthropy. We acknowledge that the precise meaning of philanthropy could be argued ad infinitum, but in our opinion, it is definitely not corporate giving or corporate citizenship.

In its simplest form, we take it to mean, the desire to increase the well-being of others, expressed by a donation of funds to a cause. No return of monetary value is expected, by the philanthropist. Without appearing pedantic about the description, we believe that under no circumstance can CSR be seen as philanthropic activity.

By confusing a CSR strategy with philanthropy, businesses automatically presume they will gain an enhanced brand reputation and increased trust from customers and employees. However, it may be a waste of time or it might even backfire on the brand because these benefits are not automatic. It is the perceived ‘fit’ and impact of a partnership with an NGO that earns these benefits.

Other benefits might include, improved risk management, increased staff motivation or even the provision of new business opportunities. But our point here is, if you are going to implement a CSR strategy as part of your business, make sure you understand what it is not.

What could NGOs bring to the corporate table?

Sometimes non-governmental organisations (NGOs) get caught up on fundraising for their cause and neglect fundraising for their own financial sustainability. Because of this, they don’t do the homework in order to find a commercial partner. As a result, they often don’t appreciate what value they can bring to a company.

Also, because companies (especially SMEs) will not have the time to think about and plan for CSR activity, they don’t see an NGO as a potential business partner. For example, here are some elements that NGOs might take for granted, and that companies don’t consider.

  • NGOs have an existing stakeholder group (potential audience for a company)
  • NGOs communicate in human language using stories (the audience believes in them)
  • NGOs can provide an element of ‘trust’ (in doing the right thing by society)
  • NGOs can bring new experiences and ideas (that relate to a company’s business)
  • NGO’s beliefs can intersect with a business (and may resonate with a particular audience)
  • NGOs can provide the vehicle for a company to impact positively on society

SMEs might use CSR differently than larger companies.

The majority of SME founders also manage the business, on a day to day basis. Because of this hands-on approach, they can be more in touch with the needs of their immediate community. So it is probably fair to say that they might have a different commitment to impacting on society, than that of a larger company.

Often this manifests itself by donations to local sports clubs, art societies or charitable groups. In fact they might not even call it CSR, but they do because they can react quicker due to their size and flexibility. Often, therefore, they can appear to be more ‘responsible’ than larger companies. SMEs might even argue that CSR is a license to operate a business in a local community.

Also, from an SME point of view – CSR can be much more of a personal experience. Being a smaller entity, relationships are key to an SME’s success, both internally and externally. It’s the usual ‘everybody knows everybody in town’, story. Obviously, the majority of employees are going to be local and they bring a further network of relationships to the table.

In such scenarios, you can imagine that the SME owner / manager has more opportunities to be more in touch with societal needs than his/her larger counterparts. It is also in their own interest that the local economy is vibrant and projects such as infrastructure improvements are undertaken.

Of course, it is also a factor that SMEs will have less funds to make available. However, in their own small way can play a positive role in the community e.g. allowing staff to volunteer, offering a premises for meetings, providing transport solutions etc.

In addition, as larger companies undertake a programme of CSR they might well insist that suppliers adhere to sustainability standards and measurements. In this way, reputational pressure on a larger company might well translate into pressure on a SME (supplier), whether they like it or not.

Tips and Timesavers.

Last year, O’C&K had the pleasure of contributing towards a publication written by Sandra Velthuis on behalf of The Wheel. The publication is called ‘financing your future – a guide to building a sustainable income for community and voluntary organisations’. In the preface, Deirdre Garvey, CEO refers to the funding challenge that organisations are experiencing, nowadays.

We received a copy last week and I am going to summarise a 10 step framework for action suggested therein, which is excellent. It is part of ‘doing the homework’ mentioned above and is the professional way that companies would expect an NGO to go about raising support.

  • Have an active board and articulate the organisation’s purpose clearly
  • Analyse your current resource profile in detail (income, expenditure, assets etc.)
  • Calculate how much you need, what you need it for and plan to make savings where possible
  • Generate as many options for income growth and diversification as possible
  • Assess all options, decide on a shortlist and undertake in-depth research on them
  • Develop an action plan and monitor progress, adapting where necessary.

As we say on our own website, here, there is a growing realisation by the corporate and the social sectors that they need to engage with each other more, in order to ensure a positive impact on society.

We believe that this changing landscape of social responsibility will transform the relationships between social and business partners into the future. Businesses need to be a little more like NGOs and NGOs need to be a little more like businesses.

“We hope you have enjoyed our marketing tips and timesavers blog” – Aidan & Jim.

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Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we can grab a coffeet, cheers.   Jim – O’C&K


12 ways to start building authority, using your digital brand.

Digital Brands

“We want to create value for you by sharing marketing tips and timesavers” – O’C&K.

Why SME owners need to manage their personal digital brand.

Managing your digital brand is as much a part of building a competitive positioning for your business as anything else. You may have the best business on the planet, but if it is not online and differentiated somehow, from others in your niche, you will find it hard to attract new clients.

Our own company (O’C&K), is still in its infancy, being 18 months old, and quite often my business partner and I have long, meandering conversations about what defines it (us). Our conversations revolve around the fact that with our experience, in the area of marketing communications, we really can be all things to all people. More and more however, we are realising how important it is to position the type of business we are, carefully.

I mean, if you can’t describe your business then, why would you expect customers or prospects to engage with it? What we have learnt, in O’C&K’s relatively short existence however, is that whilst you do need to be definitive, so that your business will be understood, you also need some flexibility.

I suppose our tagline (if we had one) would be, your marketing outsourced in a smarter way. The ‘smarter way’ element allows us the flexibility needed to evolve with the demands and expectations of clients. So, I guess Aidan and myself have arrived at the conclusion that the art of brand positioning is a balancing act and one that does need to be re-visited from time to time.

What stands out will make you successful.

There are only two of us in O’C&K and we operate a hub and spoke business model. When required, we employ (from our community of contacts), the expertise needed to address client’s needs. Because of this we are conscious of managing our personal brands because, when you think about it, this is what can really set us apart from competitors. You might say that ‘we’ are the USP that makes us stand out in a sea of marketing sameness and we believe that what makes you stand out, will make you successful.

There are many benefits of personal branding in a small business like ours. We like to think that the main ones are:

a) competitors cannot duplicate the relationships we have built up over the years because they are personal and therefore unique,

b) whilst providing outsourced marketing services is not unique, our personal attributes, skills and experience are,

c) we can build on our reputation as we aspire to be thought leaders in our industry, and this makes O’C&K visible and relevant.

Build authority by knowing who you are and where you are going.

Fulfilling the aspiration of becoming a thought leader means building reputation and authority over time, across all touch points, including your digital brand, social media activity and offline channels. The rationale is that a thought leader is a trusted advisor who builds their credibility through authenticity and affinity. As they engage people either offline or online, those values accrue to the brand.

As alluded to above however, the first step is knowing who you are and where you are going. Questions like – why does your company matter or what your values are, need to be answered. Two initial questions we ask potential clients are, how are they unique and why should their customers care. Interestingly, the majority of requests we have received over the last number of months have been from businesses seeking to build an online presence / community.

For the rest of this post we are going to address how you might go about building your digital brand within an online community, by providing something of value. That way, you should attract the type of people that you are targeting. So I guess, asking yourself what type of community you want to build is the first question.

The answer may appear to be simple – to build a community people who are interested in what you are doing / saying / selling. The secret here is to remember that you want to build relationships with people that have something in common – it is not a numbers game.

Think about the groups who you, personally, like to connect with. Surely they comprise people who listen to each other and share information or at least provide entertainment i.e. real people. In our opinion, good communities are made up of people who want to be there not just a massive group of ‘followers’ that you have amassed by whatever means.

In O’C&K our values are Personable, Adaptive, Conscientious and Transparent. That’s our P.A.C.T (sorry – ed). Although we cannot hand pick our online community, we do follow people / brands that are aligned to these values. This overflows into part of our mission, which is to deliver a customer experience that creates a sense of community to our clients.

From an online point of view – we focus on quality rather than quantity as we strive to build a community that will help each other grow. For instance, we recently became a member of the Irish Business in Action Group’s (BAG) online community. We hope to grow with this community of small businesses that reflect who we are and what we believe in, as a company.

I am going to outline two important steps to follow when kickstarting your digital brand and then I will outline some tips on how you might go about building authority amongst that community.

The first step is not a repeat of what we mentioned above, although it is related. Have clear business goals. Yes, you should have goals for your digital activity but they should come from your overall business objectives. Too many small businesses think that social media is a strategy – it’s not, it is only one of many tools available. There are others that may be more appropriate for your business, such as, email marketing, PPC, SEO, content marketing or any mix of them. Whatever helps achieve the business goals, dictates what online community should be pursued.

So once you’ve agreed who you are, what you do and where you want to go – you can start on the second step which is identifying your community. If you are an existing business, with a client base, then you will know what type of community you should be involved with – more of the same. If you are working with a client, then here are some questions you could ask:

  • Who is their audience and target markets therein?
  • What is their specific niche and who are their competitors?
  • Are they already part of a community (Chambers, SFA, IBEC etc.)?
  • What existing influencers do they know (bloggers, social media, and offline networks)?

Answering these questions will give you a kick-start. For instance on Twitter, check out whom your competitors follow or include on lists – and you follow them. Join groups on LinkedIn and follow relevant brands on Facebook or Google plus.

Tips and Timesavers.

Earlier in this post we mentioned building your authority using a digital brand. Whether they are undertaken by you or a colleague, here are some practices that you can start immediately:

  1. Provide relevant written content. A blog, for instance, should give value to your audience that they might not get (or would have to pay for) elsewhere. Caveat – it must be constantly updated.
  2. Write blog content as a guest. Piggyback on an a respected blog in your industry.
  3. Host a webinar. Some people prefer to have the opportunity to talk through an issue with an expert.
  4. Join a conversation. Look for forums (Boards.ie), groups (e.g. LinkedIn) and communities (Google+).
  5. Research trends, news and issues. Share your thoughts and insights and answer questions (e.g. Quora).
  6. Write or co-author a book. Use it as a promotional tool rather than a revenue generator (e.g. eBooks).
  7. Create a podcast. Not everybody has time to read your excellent articles (e.g. free app Spreaker).
  8. Create a Slideshare or write a white paper. Offer insights and guidance to a specific audience relevant to your business (e.g slideshare).
  9. Public speaking. Present on a topic for local associations or be a keynote speaker e.g. conference.
  10. Conduct research. A simple way of sharing relevant knowledge with industry peers.
  11. Have a consistent profile. Use the same pic, the same bio and link everything to your website.
  12. Be a conduit. Be the liaison between suppliers and users within your niche / community.

Don’t forget to use offline activity in a way that reinforces what you are doing online. Use product launches, sponsorship, fundraisers and community workshops to convey your message also.

The essence of authenticity.

Most business owners will agree that there is absolutely no benefit in trying to be something online that you are not in the ‘offline world’. Not only is it a waste of time but it will not build a sustainable business either. Figure out who you are, what you do best, and be real. People like dealing with real people and real brands.

Be true to your own brand by having integrity. Find things to do and others to hang out with that ensure positivity, surrounds you. Don’t hide your flaws, nobody is perfect and are not expected to be. Live up to your (brand) promise and have fun while doing it – life’s too short.

Authentic people are exciting and refreshing and society nowadays is hungry for authenticity.

 If you have any other tips or timesavers please leave a reply below. If you’d like to receive similar content, just subscribe by clicking through the pink button, on this page.  Of course, if you want to get in touch, leave your details and perhaps we might meet for a chat, cheers.   Jim – O’C&K

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – it’s a cultural thing.

Love CSR

“We want to create value for you by sharing marketing tips and timesavers” – O’C&K.

7 tips on how to communicate why you make a profit, and how you make a difference.

When I mention Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) here I am not talking about the traditional activity of companies donating money to good causes. I am talking about how a company can run its operations, make a profit and impact on society.

In the 1970s, CSR was being talked about as a potential part of business culture. I didn’t personally encounter it until, the late ‘90s as part of my brand management role with my employers at the time. I was trying to get my head around how we could move it from an extension of HR to a stand-alone function of the Board. At that stage ‘corporate giving’, as it was known by us, comprised two elements – hand-outs to local charities and / or staff volunteering.

Slowly, an understanding of CSR evolved away from the narrow view of making stakeholders feel happy by using staff volunteering in media photos with BIG, promotional cheques. The move was from focus on the ‘community giving’ element only, to embrace the other three strands of CSR i.e. the environment, the marketplace and the workplace. Thankfully, many large global companies now claim to be committed to a triple bottom line approach – people, planet and profit.

In this day and age, for the majority, the time for equating CSR with a PR spin, is over. Businesses are realising that they can enhance their brand’s story whilst maintaining the economic and social health of their community and its people. The future, in our opinion, is that only those companies that genuinely reconfigure their operations and impact on being social and environmentally good, will be regarded as being meaningful brands to be admired and supported.

In O’C&K we believe that the time is right for CSR to evolve further into what we call ‘social partnerships’. Partnerships where both a cause and a business work together to make long-term, positive impacts in their communities. Companies will have to develop these partnerships as part of their business model and not just an extension of HR or marketing departments.

They could do this by ensuring CSR activities are included in business goals and measure impacts, just as they would their business plans. They could agree a long term mission instead of a short term goal / programme and focus their financial contributions on more substantive issues rather than spreading it across many ‘good’ causes.

Company Culture.

In large corporates, just giving the ‘social partnership’ programme its own department, is not the way forward. We believe that companies must reframe their culture to embrace the social partnership. To do this they could:

  • Define the purpose, hook it to the company’s beliefs and commit from the top-down.
  • Ensure the ‘partnership’ becomes an integral part of the culture. Engaged employees = better performance.
  • Build a teamwork ethic through collaboration. Allow employees learn and develop with the partner.
  • Simplify communication. Clarity of goals with effective communication is vital to maintain enthusiasm.

I read a good article by Debra Kaye, Brand Strategist and Partner at Lucule, here, where she suggested asking three questions when developing a new product:

  1. Can the product add to the well-being of untapped, under served or marginal communities?
  2. Can the item call attention to an issue associated with its production or use?
  3. Can the supply chain or manufacturing process be made more resource renewable?

These are good questions that we could probably adapt to services also.

As we allude to, elsewhere on this site, businesses are realising that their heretofore ‘giving’ budget isn’t cutting it as a PR exercise, with the general public anymore. They need to invest their money more effectively and creatively. This is because a) the public expects companies to do more good and b) employees want opportunities to develop and make a difference, as part of their work experience. A change in company culture may be required, as a result.

Communication of a CSR strategy.

In the middle of all this ‘good’ stuff that corporates are looking into though, sometimes effective communication is neglected. Many CSR departments get caught up in the myriad of compliance procedures, policies, regulatory guidelines and fighting the ROI case with the finance department. As a result, the communication usually ends up being a press release which, to be honest, is probably more like an announcement rather than content that would be of interest. There is also the danger that the ‘media relations’ or PR department will distribute the communication just as it would the financial results, advertorials or general news information..

It is our opinion that some root causes of ineffective CSR communication are:

– No specific communication strategy for CSR activity.

– Lack of in-depth knowledge of the cause / partner.

– Inclusion with all other ‘news’ items.

– Looking for the PR ‘plug’ for free.

– Unimaginative storytelling.

The lack of a communication strategy for CSR potentially means no target audience and no dedicated channels. With the astronomical amount of content being produced in today’s highly connected world, a standard press release about a company’s new initiative – is doomed to have no impact whatsoever.

Tips and Timesavers.

A really good communication strategy will be a structured exercise developed to inform all stakeholders about the company’s commitment, partnership and overall impact on society. If this is done in an effective way nobody will mind that it is part of a company’s business plan or branding exercise, because they understand the ‘why’. Of course, they will not appreciate the ‘why’ if it is not explained to them.

Here are some thoughts about developing a CSR communication strategy:

  • Ensure the ‘cause’ is meaningful and the partnership is working well.
  • Understand the different elements of your target audience.
  • Identify your message and ensure consistency across all platforms, (employ a good storyteller).
  • Identify the most appropriate platform.
  • Undertake an integrated approach using other marketing communication resources.
  • Use joint statements with your partner – testimonials etc.
  • Be authentic and real.

We all appreciate the modern realities of a more complex and cluttered business environment. It is because of this that businesses will need to find other ways of engaging their clients and prospects. We believe that Social Partnerships will provide an ‘other way’ to do this. Therefore, companies need to start preparing for the future by developing transparent partnerships in their communities. They then need to ensure that they are properly equipped to handle the communication challenges that go along with it.

There is no need to panic, whatever size your business is. The development of a CSR strategy and / or its communication can be outsourced – with a caveat. While it may be smart to outsource this element, to O’C&K for instance, it really is a decision for the business owner to decide where they want to go and how they want to get there. We are always available to have a chat with you, to help you to consider various options with regard to social partnerships.

To conclude, we highly recommend that social partnership be integrated into future business plans. With this in mind, our advice would be to – make it matter, do no harm, care about people, enjoy a profit and make a difference.

   If you have any other tips or timesavers please leave a reply below. If you’d like to receive similar content, just subscribe by clicking through the pink button, on this page.  Of course, if you want to get in touch, leave your details and perhaps we might meet for a chat, cheers.   Jim – O’C&K