What is CSR and can I talk about it?

As communication practitioners, we’re constantly thinking about how best to position brands in front of the media and their stakeholders. From a corporate perspective, it’s essential to be proactive and transparent in communicating your business’ origin story, growth and new projects. It’s also important to convey your company’s socially responsible action, and this can be instrumental in building a profile for your brand and trust with your stakeholders. But, with social responsibility now a necessary part of corporate life, miscommunication can result in the reverse effect.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, keeps businesses socially accountable through philanthropic, environmental and humanitarian activity. Prior to the turn of the millennium, CSR was less defined and companies who embodied it were praised for their generosity and altruism. As CSR became more prevalent and increased in magnitude, business executives and PR professionals alike recognised its ability to generate positive publicity.

CSR is now somewhat regulated, with businesses required to adhere to ethical practices. Further, companies are often motivated to engage in CSR by a business advantage, tax offset, brand awareness objective or KPI.

Nevertheless, the expectation for CSR is no longer reserved for big businesses and major corporations. Nowadays, every business, large or small, is expected to stand in solidarity with the rest of the world on a number of issues, and put their money where their mouth is.

So, with CSR a ubiquitous element of corporate life, can we still consider it to be ‘PR-able’? The answer is yes; but the narrative surrounding CSR has changed and businesses must adapt their messaging if they want to continue leveraging it as part of their communications and brand strategy.

Here are three things to consider before you PR your CSR:

Authenticity is key

You know yourself, it’s easy to recognise when a business is disingenuous. Some estimate we’re exposed to more than 5,000 advertisements every day, and as such, we’ve become fairly adept at sifting through what’s real and what’s not.

Too often have brands been condemned for greenwashing or virtue signalling.

It’s vital that any socially responsible activity your brand conducts is unquestionably authentic. Invest in causes that your employees care about and align a socially responsible action with the values of your business.

Time it well

Understandably, you’ll want to tell people about the great things you’re doing as soon as you get started, and sometimes, announcing the commencement of your new sponsorship arrangement or environmental pledge can be effective. However, waiting to communicate the tangible impact of your investment or action can often resonate even deeper with your stakeholders and the media.

Likewise, don’t wait until months or years after the fact to tell people what you’ve done. Allow people to celebrate with you in the moment, because they likely won’t care as much after the fact.

Consider your audience

CSR action should be communicated on an appropriate channel to an appropriate audience. For example, an employee benefits scheme is best conveyed to employees via internal communications whereas your business’ large-value investment to rebuild the community sports field might best be communicated to the local paper.

Consider who you are trying to communicate with and choose a suitable channel to do so, whether it’s social media, an internal communication platform, EDM, the media, email or otherwise.

Elevate has been working with brands and communicating their stories for 12 years. We understand the minefield of media and stakeholder engagement and can help you to articulate the great work your business is doing and position you for success.

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