How to ear your Corporate Social Responsibility wings.
From a purely public relations standpoint, there are a few tips every company should consider when facing the CSR challenge: Be sincere If you are to build a reputation as a responsible corporation, you can’t do it with an ad campaign that doesn’t honestly reflect corporate culture. If you try, someone will wrinkle out the ‘dishonesty’ and you will suffer a worse PR nightmare than if you had made no effort at all. Tell your story And level with people – even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. Corporate responsibility – like good PR – is all about openness. Triple-bottom-line reporting means accounting publicly not just for your economic performance, but also for your social and environmental successes and failures. Do this in good faith and you will earn credibility. Do it when things are going wrong and you will shorten the length, and limit the damage, of a public relations disaster. Be modest Doing the right thing is no guarantee you won’t suffer an attack from an interest group that decides to upset your bottom line. Strutting around town declaring your company an environmental or social champion almost guarantees that the attack will come and come quickly. It’s partly a matter of managing expectations; if your customers or your community expect too much from you, it will be easier to fail. It’s also about human nature; a reporter looking for a balloon to puncture will always poke first at the ones that are over-inflated. Pick your friends wisely And work with them tirelessly; they are the only effective insulation against disaster. Reputation does not arise from what you say about yourself – although well-placed messaging can help. Reputation is all about what other people say about you. If you are respected in your community, especially by well-regarded people who will speak on your behalf when something goes wrong, that will provide the greatest economic dividend of acting responsibly. A survey last year by McAllister Opinion Research showed that the ‘best friends’ you can have on environmental issues are environmentalists and university scientists: these were the two groups with the most credibility in society, each having the confidence of 80 per cent of those surveyed. In the same survey, only 57 per cent of respondents said they trusted big companies, while the federal government claimed credibility only among 36 per cent of the people. As always in the public relations world, it you think you have an ‘image problem’ – if the public has a ‘perception problem’ – it’s always a good idea to check to see if you are really dealing with a performance problem. It’s easier to shape the right message when you are doing the right thing, and sometimes you have to amend your practices before you can effectively counter a negative image that you may have earned. Start at home Make sure your employees are your first audience. They can be effective advocates (or not); they can offer an efficient feedback loop if your message is off-kilter and they will work harder to help achieve your CSR goals if they are convinced the company is taking it seriously. Related stories: Corporate redemption Believe it