Corporate social responsibility is not just a buzzword.
CSR is a function in which public relations professionals can and should take center stage. However, to bring an organization success in this area, it’s important to first understand why the industry’s emphasis on CSR will only continue to grow.
1. Millennials are changing the game.
As consumer segments go, the millennial generation (to which most of us new professionals belong) is both massive and powerful in the marketplace. As a whole, we are passionate and globally aware.
We care about things like sustainability and the environment. Driven by our “citizen of the world” ethos, we champion humanitarian causes and labor to give a voice to the powerless. We are activists and change agents. We oppose gimmicks, wince at blatant materialism and see through marketing fluff. We look past what a product will do for us and ask who made it, how they made it and how it worked its way through the supply chain and into our hands. We want the organizations we support to have a heart and a conscience.
What this means for brands and organizations is that CSR is not some theoretical “guiding principle” hung in a boardroom. These millennial values are actually forcing companies to revisit their business models and CSR assumptions, and the smartest organizations will let social responsibility revolutionize and dictate the way they do things.
2. Social media is ubiquitous – and it’s making everything else ubiquitous too.
With LinkedIn replacing rolodexes and Twitter affirming the 24-hour news cycle, social media has broken through boundaries that historically had been untouched. Facebook, Foursquare and other platforms have fully transformed society’s view of privacy. As a result, the public now expects to be intimately involved in everything from acquaintances’ personal affairs to the business decisions of companies they like.
In healthcare, the parties who fund research grants demand to see the medical discoveries and solutions made possible through their support. In nonprofits, donors want proof that their contributions are enabling good things, preventing bad things or making some sort of societal difference. In big business, investors need assurance that their company is acting ethically and will not become the next ENRON.
In the midst of all this, an organization must be able to represent itself honestly and openly, knowing that it can’t afford to withhold information – especially from the parties with whom it shares a symbiotic relationship. It must be conversational and flexible. The worst offense is to appear to be concealing something; you may as well put out a call for public scrutiny, assumptions and attacks. This greater call for transparency means that CSR must be fully integrated into an organization. It cannot merely be a morale program that a company decides to roll out. It has to be the organization’s lifeblood.
3. People respect consistency.
One striking thing about the recent presidential election was that so many citizens who couldn’t even articulate their views on political issues could tell you what they didn’t like about a candidate – and that was inconsistency. A common complaint about both major candidates was a lack of consistency and trust in their message.
It’s interesting to note how closely this aligns with the need for any organization to have discernible values and a consistent voice, from its investor meetings to its employee communications to its marketing. Consumers want to know what beliefs an organization upholds, and they want to know that the organization can be counted on to deliver on those values.
Companies can’t postpone CSR anymore—with greater demands for accountability and transparency, organizations need to find ways to make CSR an integral part of their overall mission.
Why do you think social responsibility is such a crucial function? How do you think PR supports an organization’s overall CSR strategy?
Keri Cook works with Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ consumer marketing practice in New York. She graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and writes on topics ranging from media relations and marketing trends, to corporate strategy and crisis communications. While completing her undergrad, Cook was named PRWeek’s 2012 Student of the Year. She is also a member of the PRSA New Professionals Section.