About a week ago, PR News held a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to honor those who had the best corporate social responsibility (CSR) communications in 2009. Some of the winners were Nickelodeon for Cause Branding Campaign, Puget Sound Energy for Corporate-Community Partnership and The Body Shop for Human Rights Communications.
This awards ceremony signifies the role of CSR in the business world and shows that it has come to be a top executive priority. According to Richard Edelman’s blog, 6 A.M., the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy’s Annual CEO Conference conducted a poll. This poll showed that 55 percent of CEOs believe that social impact is more valuable to their companies than business benefits.
Also at the conference, 62 percent of the CEOs polled said they want to take a leadership role in combating social issues. None of them believe they are at risk of job loss if they focus too much on these issues. Edelman, who is president and CEO of his self-titled PR firm, calls this kind of thinking “Capitalism 4.0.”
I think it is a great thing for corporations and companies to pay more attention to the effects they can have on society; we can wind up in a better place if CEOs and presidents make executive decisions that try to exert the least amount of negative impacts as possible.
However, when reading through some PR blogs and assessing bloggers’ thoughts on what CSR means for PR representatives, I started to experience some mixed feelings.
The first blog post I read that dealt with CSR was Tom Murphy’s blog, Murphy’s Law. Murphy currently does PR for Microsoft. He observed that there are not many conversations occurring online about how companies should focus on effectively communicating their commitment to CSR. He thinks a lot of companies are doing great work but are not sharing it with the public when they should.
Murphy went on to mention Kellie McElhaney, Corporate Responsibility Faculty Director at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He talked about her book, Just Good Business. In the book, Murphy stresses the importance of CSR. She says CSR should be part of a company’s core business strategy, and companies must efficiently measure and promote the impacts of their CSR efforts.
In a way, the idea of “promoting” the good a company does reminds me of people who only do generous things so they can brag about it later and create the image of a genuinely nice person. This defeats the purpose of giving and destroys the definition of a true “kind soul.”
To confuse my thoughts on the issue even more were Kevin Moss’s words at the PR News CSR awards. Moss, the person in charge of BT’s North American CSR strategy, said he thinks authenticity and company trust can be established if companies take CSR values and apply them to their broader business practices.
To add to that, he said authenticity can be achieved if inconsistencies within business operations are pointed out and addressed. (His example of an inconsistency was a business supporting organizations that try to end poverty and homelessness while paying workers minimum wage.) Basically, Moss thinks volunteering and other forms of engagement should be used to heighten awareness of business issues.
So, in the end, I am fighting an inner battle. It is wonderful that companies want to conduct business with CSR in mind. However, “authenticity” is not possible if a company is only doing it with the goal to create a sincere and wholesome image for itself.
This makes me question if it is ethical for a PR representative to push CSR to advance reputation goals. Perhaps the effect on company image is just an added benefit and not the entire motivation, making it okay to promote CSR decisions within a company. Or maybe too much good is achieved when CSR is practiced that it does not matter if PR people are using it to only achieve communication goals. It gets complicated.
I guess you and I have to make the socially responsible judgment call. So, in that case, I will say that if your heart is sincerely in the right place, then you should be just fine.