CSR: More than meets the eye

by Hope Peterson

I usually pick out cereal according to which brightly colored, sugar-packed, questionably nutritious snack looks the most appetizing. Like many others, I don’t normally make my decisions based on what kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) the brand I am contemplating has engaged in.

Is this because we, as consumers, don’t care about CSR? Or is it because CSR is already combined with public relations in consumers’ minds — a part of the total packaging we perceive?

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development CSR is defined by a business’s “continual commitment . . . to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

Wouldn’t that make CSR crucial to all public relations firms that need relationships to build communication?

In a Holmes Report article, Paul Holmes suggests that CSR is actually an integral part of public relations, that you can’t have one with out the other. This proves how important CSR is, even though it might not be recognized by consumers.

Holmes said, “An organization can’t have good PR without good CSR.” He explained if a company does not have good relationships, then its foundation won’t be solid or reliable. And to build those relationships with consumers, companies have to behave responsibly and ethically to gain trust.

This symbiotic relationship explains why companies that are not interested in “saving the trees” still valueCSR in their everyday business operations and, similarly, in their goals and mission statements. According to the Holmes Report, capitalists are even interested in CSR because it leads to happy employees, loyal customers and less strict regulators; CSR benefits the money-driven as well as the environment-lovers.

And the reason for these dual beneficiaries of CSR could be because CSR and public relations are often synonymous. Ogilvy Public Relations World Wide (http://www.ogilvypr.com/en/content/corporate-social-responsibility-more/) said CSR is the “ongoing process of aligning corporate behavior with stakeholder expectations.”

Ogilvy developed an eight-step process for CSR that even further supports the theory that CSR and PR are woven together.

The first two steps are conducted through the planning process and include “identification” and “prioritization/classification.” These steps involve research and gathering data pertaining to the issue or the company.

The next two steps are “monitoring” and “preparation,” both dealing with preparing specifically for the issue researched in the previous steps.

The next steps are “action to influence” and “issue/crisis response.” These two steps involve taking action to solve the problem at hand.

The last two steps are “evaluation” and “reclassification.” These steps force professionals to look over their work and make sure that the issue was handled correctly so that future situations will be solved more efficiently.

When choosing a public relations strategy, professionals often follow a similar multi-step process: researching the situation, forming a plan related to the specific target audience, using their research to carry out a plan through structured tactics and finally evaluating the plan’s success.

CSR is much more than just the pink cups companies use to promote breast cancer or the recycling symbol they place on bags; it is the continual relationships the companies are building.

For example, Nike has implemented its CSR plan, the Environmental Apparel Design Tool, that aims to decrease the use of scarce natural resources. Nike engages in multiple small campaigns, initiatives and ads to promote its overall mission but, ultimately, its goal is to build relationships with customers who value its same environmental interests. Nike uses CSR to gain consumers and build target audiences for its campaigns.

Although CSR is often only equated with environmental promotions, would effective public relations be possible without a successful CSR plan? The relationship building public relations relies on might be lost without a little undercover help from CSR.

2 Comments

Filed under Ethics, The Industry

2 responses to “CSR: More than meets the eye

  1. Jenna Snyder

    CSR is crucial for a company to have good PR. It provides an overall image of the company as caring about its particular environment or industry. It doesn’t have to just be “going green.” In fact the whole point of CSR in my opinion is to give back to the community through something related to the field of the company. But ultimately having CSR doesn’t automatically equal good PR. The Nike example given here says that Nike aims to decrease the use of scarce natural resources, however Nike had a very negative PR situation on its hands when it was found out to be using cheap outsourced labor. So CSR is necessary, but doesn’t necessarily mean the company will avoid all crisis or bad PR situations.

  2. Pingback: The intersection of marketing, PR and CSR

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