“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.
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:
- Can the product add to the well-being of untapped, under served or marginal communities?
- Can the item call attention to an issue associated with its production or use?
- 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