Tag Archives: CSR

Should We Look At Brand Philanthropy In A New Way?


Whether brand philanthropy should be included as part of a marketing strategy has always been a contentious topic. Arguments from both sides can be valid and our opinion is that it really depends on a company’s intention in the first place. Part of my own previous work experience was managing the brand philanthropy for a large Irish financial company. As such, it was an element of our overall CSR Programme.

Part of my role was making sure that the general public knew about the good we were doing and as a result – how our brand was an integral part of the communities in which our people operated. At times, people would complain that we were focusing on promoting ourselves and wasting funds that could be donated.

My response was always that the awareness was mutually beneficial for us and the cause. Sharing information about what we did for the greater good worked both ways as the non-profit gained much-needed awareness of their cause and their impact. In my experience, many non-profits struggle with the communication of their impact on society which can cost them in the long-run.

A discussion about impact measurement that I had with a few fellow marketers recently has prompted me to write this post about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way.

First of all, let me say that I believe companies can reap the benefits of supporting causes without appearing to be self-serving by using community outreach methods. Ways to do this would include:

  • Considering causes that naturally align with the company’s core values
  • Undertaking initiatives that allow staff partake in the cause’s work
  • Developing internship programmes for local students to work with you
  • Assisting a non-profit partner’s operation through shared business learnings
  • Matching employees’ donations / time given to local causes

At the end of the day, it’s about a company being authentic. There are always ways to give back that does not look to be disingenuous – it’s about doing the right thing. If the public are prompted to talk about it, and do – all the better,

Good brand philanthropy means doing well and doing good.

The following might sound a little harsh but it is probably fair to say that brand philanthropy hasn’t really changed over the years for most companies. The model has been – make loads of money and give some away for reputational credit (and tax purposes) and get a photo in the press with a big cheque for awareness.

Unfortunately, at times, the business owner’s intention is not really to solve a societal problem but to look good, to optimise profits or just to ‘tick’ a giving box.. When the recipient is not measuring impact either – nothing is really changing.

Whereas one could argue that this is an acceptable arrangement between a local charity and a small business owner, the problem is whether it is really having a needle-moving impact on a societal issue?

Wouldn’t it be better if an SME owner, conscious that if the business is doing extremely well, they should be doing good on a larger scale? If so, genuine brand philanthropy would have a long-term impact on societal challenges, as the business grows.

How about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way. Imagine if companies focused on bringing innovative products to market that also reduced a social problem. For instance – could Tesla’s self-driving cars be seen as a social cause e.g. reducing accidents / road deaths. Could Apple use the iPhone for natural disaster alerts? Could these be seen as contributions towards societal welfare?

Here’s another idea for you. Look at TV stations – other than a TV Licence (in Ireland) most programming is paid for by advertising i.e. the viewer gets to see programmes for free. Would it be beyond the bounds of possibility for those advertisers to allocate a portion of their ad spend to promoting needy causes. It wouldn’t cost them anything extra and the general public would be instantly aware of the support given.

A new way of giving back through corporate citizenship

We all appreciate that brands today must try and communicate with their audience through a multitude of channels and try to maintain a relationship. More and more, people are expecting something in return for their relationship/giving their attention. A company, making a public commitment to good corporate citizenship is one way of doing that.

Another way for brands to give back would be to help others donate by harnessing the power of social media. What if a company, as part of a social media campaign, donated an amount based on the volume of engagement a message received online. Possibly in conjunction with the advertising idea above this is another way of bringing people the ability to make a difference – especially if they can’t afford to do so themselves.

By all accounts, the so-called millennials generation are forcing brands to focus on genuine philanthropy. As a result, we see evidence of more brands starting to focus on causes that matter. A win-win-win situation occurs as a result. A brand’s relationship with its customers is strengthened, the cause benefits financially and the public feel better about themselves.

If this is the case, then us marketers need to climb out of our regular thinking box of lead generation, social media, website redesign, offline campaigns etc. and try to understand our business’ impact on society better.

Tips for making philanthropy part of a business model

The future is bright for brands that make philanthropy (CSR) part of their business model and not just an element of marketing / HR. They could go about this by:

Aligning core mission and values

Simply put, companies can ensure that their product / service and their mission and values are aligned and can be measured from a societal point of view

Ensuring philanthropy is not a campaign

If you cannot measure the impact of your CSR activity then it is not worthwhile. Measuring the results of a brand campaign is not what is required by society

Not having a short-term focus on community outreach activity

Mutually beneficial programmes are just that – mutually beneficial for the community and the company. Making a lasting impact on a community will take a long time to reach an entire community so short-term blasts won’t achieve much.

Developing long-term budgets

Funding models that delve deeper and not broader will work the best. Grant giving that spreads the benefit across many causes will be less effective than one that focuses on lasting impact.

Creating a self-sustaining revenue stream

At least one goal of the collaboration should be to create a situation where the cause develops a self-sustaining revenue stream to ensure long-term impact.

Creating a workplace philanthropy programme

Give employees a say in what cause is to be partnered. Ensure the cause agrees transparency and accountability, agree a suitable project and measure outputs / outcomes separately.


Nothing has changed in that everything is in a state of constant change.

Wealth is being accumulated faster than ever, but also how it is deployed for social purposes is also changing. Brands are beginning to realise that they must contribute to solve societal issues if they are to survive. Donors are realising that new models are required to ensure that the impact from philanthropy is real.

A commitment to societal impact presents challenges for non-profits and for-profits alike and it needs to be tackled head-on, together. Not only will this benefit society in general but also the people that we want to help in the first place.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

 Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K

Does your business practise good corporate citizenship?


I encountered a bad case of cause related marketing recently in my local convenience store. As I paid for my purchases I was told that they “were supporting a local charity” and asked would I like to “donate some of my change.” My response was to ask if they would be matching my donation and the young man behind the counter couldn’t answer my question!

Obviously, his lack of knowledge / enthusiasm (maybe it wasn’t his fault) didn’t inspire me to donate so I left feeling a little annoyed actually. I mean, even if they were to match my donation, I still might not have donated but at least I would have thought about it more. As a result, everybody lost out and that experience prompted me to write this blog post.

So, I want to write about the topic of good corporate citizenship and the use of cause related marketing mainly. I will also touch on the topic of marketing and philanthropy in our tips section below.

Good Corporate Citizenship and Social Partnerships.

In a previous life, I used to manage corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities for a large corporate. Since then it has become an even more popular opinion that companies should become good corporate citizens. The public is beginning to expect businesses to do more good. Fair enough I say but what does that mean, really? How can they?

In simple terms, I would describe a business doing good, as having a positive societal impact, and not just economic stimulation. Think about my local shop experience above – what if the guy did respond that they would be matching my donation? What if he outlined the charity’s work and explained why the shop was involved? Then, more than likely, I would have donated funds.

The result would have been awareness and funds for the charity. I would have felt better about the shop owner (and myself of course). Consequently, the shop / brand would have reinforced its community image of good corporate citizenship.

The main point in recounting this story is that while being a good corporate citizen does work, it is up to the business (and to a certain extent the non-profit) to undertake formalised communications to make sure that the partnership is a win-win for both parties. This is what we refer to as a social partnership.

We will touch on communications later but at this stage, we should highlight the need for solid research before social partnerships are agreed. Ideally, businesses should choose a cause that is a fit with the shop’s business objectives, a fit with the charity’s values and one that fits with general customer sentiment.

Other considerations for businesses to bear in mind would be how closely a cause connects with their brand e.g. children’s clothes retailer and children’s causes. In light of some recent non-profit controversies in Ireland, it is important that the charity chosen adheres to strict governance and procedural guidelines.

This is a hard one but, I believe that businesses should really avoid personal fund-raising drives as in the absence of controls it may backfire and hurt the brand eventually. They should also be conscious of the level of customers’ interest in a particular cause – perhaps there might well be a popular local cause that requires support.

The biggest threat to a business practising good corporate citizenship is apathy. This may be due to lack of customer / public awareness, a weak link to the charity or worse – the business is only doing it to raise profits for itself.

Our attitude in O’C&K is that whilst businesses might proactively indulge in good corporate behaviour – by all means, let people know about it but care should be exercised that it does not become just another way to grow profitability.

Of course, let’s not forget the other partner – the non-profit. In an increasingly competitive and noisy world, they have to constantly devise new and innovative ways to raise awareness of and funds for their particular cause.

Unfortunately, their passion being focused on providing solutions to societal problems, at times they sell their soul just to source funds for their cause. However, one way that has constantly delivered for both parties, over the years, is cause related marketing (CRM).

Is cause related marketing good corporate citizenship?

In answering this question, we should probably differentiate it from philanthropy.

We outlined our definition of philanthropy in a previous post as being “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”.

CRM, on the other hand, is the coming together of a non-profit and a for-profit to raise awareness and/or funds for a specific cause. It should always have a communications campaign built around it so as such, it is a marketing activity and can be viewed as part of a business strategy.

So we can say that even as part of a business strategy, a non-profit partner can still benefit in ways that will help it pursue its cause. Therefore, yes, CRM can be included as evidence of good corporate citizenship.

Usually, philanthropy is associated with large corporates and CRM with SMEs but of course, a business should undertake whatever social partnership suits.

Because CRM must be understood as a joint marketing activity – both parties should benefit. The non-profit benefits from the funds / expertise / customer base of the business. The cause is promoted across a whole new set of people, across many communication channels and can even receive a % of sales directly.

Similarly, a business benefits due to exposure across a new audience and even a direct increase in sales. As long as the fact that it is a joint business promotion is understood by both parties then various types of CRM can be pursued. Here are some examples:

  • CSR, community element – community grant giving by business
  • Corporate Fundraising Events – third party events for mutual benefit
  • Employee Giving – salary deductions
  • Individual Giving – CEO using business to support cause
  • ‘Pin-Up’ campaigns – e.g. paying for a star on a Christmas tree
  • Point-of-sale donations – see my opening paragraph of this post
  • Purchase triggered donations – matching funds donated through purchases
  • Product licensing – placing a non-profits name / logo on a product
  • Message communication – business uses its channels to promote the cause’s message

As alluded to already in this post – the main challenge is to align the objectives of the cause and the business from the beginning. Also, it is really important that both parties choose the activity that makes the most sense for their organisation, resources-wise.

Based on my own experience in the past, here are 6 tips that businesses might bear in mind when undertaking cause related marketing:

  1. Align your business values with that of the charity / cause
  2. Involve all employees from the get-go
  3. Create relevant merchandise for the campaign, e.g. tee shirts, mugs, games etc.
  4. If successful, turn it into an annual event
  5. Make it social media friendly i.e. shareable
  6. Keep in touch with donors and communicate the impact

There is a caveat here that I should mention. Because CRM has been so successful and is so ubiquitous, it is almost becoming a victim of its own success.

The general public is becoming increasingly aware of the need for donation impact and a deeper level of engagement. There seems to be a move towards support for brands (e.g. TOMS shoes) that have a purpose rather than just a giving attitude towards the communities in which they operate.

The way we see it is that medium length social partnerships are the way of the future because they are based on relationships rather than monetary transactions e.g. charity of the year.

Tips about marketing and philanthropy

We mentioned at the start of this post that we would touch on the topic of marketing and philanthropy. You see, as philanthropy is the giving of funds to a cause without reciprocity, for most philanthropists, it can seem awkward to expose such activity. As a result, any form of communications / marketing is shunned.

This need not be the case.

If corporate philanthropy fits under the umbrella of a CSR programme then awareness can be generated under a marketing banner. This is because a CSR programme can help deliver name recognition, reputation management, improved staff relations and heightened recruitment efforts. The CSR programme may have its own communications campaign and central message.

If your philanthropic activity does not fall under a CSR programme then recognition for same is usually obtained in a more subtle way:

  • Increased audience reach – supporters of the cause may be different to your customer base
  • Seen as giving more than just money – recognition of time, energy and creativity inputs
  • Community appreciation– if not on the Board of the cause then definitely attending events
  • Online authority – promoting the cause online boosts both party’s visibility and recognition

The new consumer generation (millennials?) are definitely much more conscious of purposeful businesses than their previous generations. As a result, more companies are re-evaluating how they impact on society. Genuine philanthropy is one such method and seems to be working to strengthen the relationship between brands and their customers.


Yes, a business can still be a good corporate citizen using cause related marketing. CRM works but may be becoming a victim of its own success. There is a fresh breeze of doing good blowing through the corridors of business and social partnerships are becoming a reality. This is in response to people wanting to see more authenticity in return for their custom.

There is no doubt about it but when business and customers join together to make a real difference, positive change happens. Social partnerships can be a good and profitable solution for all parties involved.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

 Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K

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.

Would you like to be notified by email when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here.

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


Focused brand development leads to less stress and more success.

brand development stress

Does your brand help compliment what your company stands for?

Is brand development a marketer’s playground or is it an essential element of successful business growth?

There were over 185,000 active enterprises in the private business economy in Ireland in 2012, with over 1.2 million persons engaged (CSO – Ireland). This represented a 2% decrease on 2011, which I suppose is not surprising in the prevailing economic climate at the time.

The Small Firms Association (SFA) published its annual survey report (Small Firms Outlook 2015) earlier this month. In it, they showed that 66% of businesses are growing, 28% are maintaining their business at stable levels, and just 6% state that they are still seeing a decline in business. Good news for the 94%, I reckon.

In a press release in relation to the report, SFA Director, Patricia Callan, welcomed the results, stating “we predict that 2015 will see strong growth remain in the economy in the order of 4-5% GDP growth.”  Of course, there were a lot of positive statements in the report, but the finding that we were interested in was that, ‘Investment in brand development is the priority for 41% of respondents, with 26% planning to make investments in staff’.

“Small firms have now moved from survival mode, to focusing on how they can grow their market share. Brand development and marketing are key parts of this strategy and hiring and retaining the right people is already emerging a problem in many sectors”, commented Ms Callan.

The business landscape, in Ireland, appears to be changing from being dominated by large corporations to more SMEs and start-ups. Within this changing environment, as highlighted by the SFA, there appears to be a realisation that focusing on brand development is an integral part of SME growth and one which requires investment. It is not just for the ‘big’ brands.

More than likely, however, SMEs will not have the resources (time or people) to hire a large ‘agency’ to spend months working on their brand development strategy. They want a strategy ASAP, with a purpose, and to be flexible, creative, authentic and totally linked to their vision and business mission. If the skills aren’t available ‘in-house’, external experts can fill this gap, and usually, in a cost effective way.

Let’s face it, brands are commonly started as a small idea, by people with vision and a purpose. They appreciate that they have to be flexible with their business operations, based on customer demand. Equally though, nowadays the same flexibility is required with regard to a brand. SMEs have to allow their audiences shape their brand to an extent that they are seen as brand partners rather than financial targets.

Your brand development can be your competitive advantage.

We’ve said on many occasions in previous blog posts that brands that treat their customers as human beings, and not wallets, will be the ones that will survive. Many trends (driven by technology), reinforce the notion that people are becoming more values-driven and more empathetic in their consumption habits and in their choices of places to work.

In a previous blog, (here), we suggested that people want to work for a company where the motivation is more than a monthly salary. More and more people appear to want to ‘give something back to society’ or at least help in the local community in some impactful way. As a result, instead of believing the advertising hype, many are looking at what a brand stands for and whether it matches their own values in any way. Companies are starting to realise that despite our attempts to make purely rational decisions, we are primarily driven by emotional motivations.

In our opinion, the future drivers of competitive advantage are going to be:

  • Authentic values (brands that genuinely care)
  • CSR activity (undertaken with a measureable impact)
  • Employee trust (energetic and pleasant staff)

Tips and Timesavers.

When defining your brand, stay in line with who you really are. For SMEs and start-ups, in the absence of prior experience, establishing who you are, can be a difficult task. Many of the larger corporations have teams of people looking after brand management. My own previous experience was in this area with 26 colleagues.

Outsourcing to O’C&K (disclosure – our company) is an option of course, but either way here are six steps to take, that should form the pillars of your brand development strategy.

  1. Determine what are you trying to achieve? (have a clear statement of what your brand is trying to do)
  2. Create a persona for your brand (personality, positioning and a storyline)
  3. Decide who is your target audience? (by the way – it is NOT ‘everyone’)
  4. Establish your competition. (can you ‘do’ it better ?)
  5. Determine what is the end goal and how do you get there? (be there at all customer touch-points)
  6. Keep monitoring your brand (measure your effectiveness through engagement)



So, to finish off, I’d just like to draw attention to the notion that sometimes, people like to use the word ‘reputation’ instead of ‘brand’. Usually this is because they believe that a brand relates to ‘selling’ and one’s reputation is above that. We say – ‘whatever’ – just make sure that it is you that’s telling your story because if you don’t, others will.

Your brand (reputation) – what is left when all else is taken away.

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

Would you like to be notified by email when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here.

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


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