To Get Real Results, Go Beyond Corporate Responsibility

November 7, 2013

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The ever-changing climate of corporate expectations today has redefined business’s role in society. The once intriguing social and environmental efforts that would set a brand apart have become the minimum standard in the eyes of customers, current and prospective employees, investors, and other stakeholders. At the same time, the potential to create value for a company and for society — by maximizing financial, human and natural resources for long-term success — is greater than ever.

This changing CSR climate is why we at FleishmanHillard are challenging our clients to do more than just “check the box” and go beyond responsibility to drive real reputational results.

FleishmanHillard’s CSR Practice approaches this work with the dual goal of demonstrating the value of our client’s programs to internal audiences as well as the social value of the company to external stakeholders. Our approach encourages companies to go beyond by:

  1. Taking a visionary view of the business as a citizen. Just as an average employee doesn’t get accolades for showing up to work on time, a company can no longer expect to receive applause, media coverage or reputational results for just being responsible. In fact, you are at risk if you don’t. Given the rising tide of expectations and a higher bar of dynamic programs across all industry sectors, simply “being responsible” isn’t enough. Reputational rewards come from delivering on a broad vision that a company and its employees provide social value in everyday business, and maximize that value through its CSR programs. Starting with this vision sets up our clients for success and results.
  2. Strategically allocating resources. Often, potential clients approach us lamenting the lack of credit they receive for their accomplishments and low awareness among key audiences – including their own employees. For the vast majority, we find that the financial and human capital to deliver a better ROI is already in place. The challenge is often where those resources are allocated. For example, one client is eager to drive consumer and employee awareness and engagement, but nearly all their resources go to CSR reporting. Another client was giving away millions via its foundation, but to causes important to executives rather than the customer base. Identifying the programs that “check the box” and those with the potential to deliver real results is one of the first tasks when onboarding a new client.
  3. Not just communicating — engaging. In our experience, the challenge with a PR-driven communications approach is twofold. First, many of our clients are concerned about signaling that CSR activities are only in pursuit of recognition. Second, there is diminishing interest in a company just talking about itself, making it harder to get audience interest and traditional PR coverage. The best way to increase awareness is to make consumers and other stakeholders experience the programs. So we design CSR programs and initiatives with engagement built in, which starts with programs that are relevant to the audience.
  4. Being a thought and action leader. While some of our programs are achieving consumer engagement through better program design, clients focused on influencers, governments and non-consumer audiences need a thought leadership platform to convene conversations and drive engagement. These platforms must be supported by world-class programs in order to be seen as credible. Without the ability to lead by example, clients will not inspire other stakeholders to take action.
  5. Avoiding prescriptive CSR approaches that don’t have a clear strategy around goals and audiences. We hear time and again that what makes us valuable strategic advisers is that while we have our finger on the pulse of the CSR landscape, we don’t believe that there is one right answer that applies to all companies. We avoid chasing the latest CSR tactic, because our job isn’t to mold clients to what’s trending in the CSR movement. Our passion is to work with a client to maximize its social contributions and achieve its goals. As a result, our programs tailor to the client’s culture, business model, goals, and the specific stakeholders they want to reach. We then evaluate, tailor further, and repeat.

The field of CSR is rapidly changing, and we expect our approach to evolve over time. This is FleishmanHillard’s current approach for CSR and communications professionals looking to make their personal mark on their company, and guide their company to make a lasting difference for the many pressing social opportunities awaiting leadership.