There’s been a lot of talk lately about corporate social responsibility and how it relates to your business’ public relations strategy. In fact, CSR (yes, it even has its own acronym) has been addressed more than once in this blog. In a Harvard Business Review article, February 2007, entitled “Redefining Corporate Social Responsibility”, Mark Kramer asserts that “many CSR campaigns are little more than PR campaigns designed to promote corporate brands–by creating the appearance of being ‘good corporate citizens’. Result? CSR investments that deepen public cynicism and fail to generate real social change.”
Talk about cynical. Kramer more recently co-authored another piece that further explores the idea that without social responsibility and a clear understanding of ‘shared value’, corporations are self-sabotaging.
While Kramer’s initial assertion seems convincing, in “Creating Shared Value”, January 2011, Kramer and his coauthor, Michael E. Porter, substantiate the short-sightedness of corporate policy around the effort and ideology of businesses defining societal obligations in terms of not just PR, but survival and necessity. The broadly, but clearly (and sometimes long-windedly), stated summation is that companies cannot continue to prosper at a significant pace without realizing the interdependence between society’s growing needs and a company’s financial and public relations success. The ongoing battle between society and business (and, yes, there is one) is counterproductive to everyone.
I believe it. Here’s why.
There is evidence that some big companies, like IBM and Wal-Mart, are doing the right thing not just because it makes them look good, but because it’s good business. Profits multiply when, for example, packaging materials are reduced dramatically thereby reducing everything from cost of distribution to cost to the earth. PR practitioners who don’t get the connection at the big-picture level are missing an important way to help their clients succeed. It’s no longer enough to simply get involved with local charitable organizations. Without proof of a core value at work, this “little bit” can come across as insincere and, in fact, can even backfire as a PR strategy. This has been seen over and over in corporate disaster PR management. Much like investing with your ‘soul’, not just your pocketbook, CSR must be embraced and re-identified around shared value; your business and your community and your world must all co-exist, or eventually, everyone and thing, including your profit margins, will suffer; not just your reputation.
Twenty years ago, requiring businesses to hire the disabled or tighten safety rules was often viewed as costly and constraining. To some companies, it still is. Societal needs define markets, and as long as each ‘side’ views the other as an obstacle, innovation cannot flourish and companies will continue to be trapped by their own, stubborn short-sightedness.
Furthermore, elective half-hearted CSR programs like having employees run/sponsor a charity race once each year are just band aids. A PR firm/practitioner who doesn’t understand this and who doesn’t know how to create an atmosphere for true CSR is not a PR team worth having.
Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. I’d love your opinion.