CSR 101 for PR Pro’s

Cynics argue that CSR is purely a PR stunt where businesses ‘greenwash’ consumers into thinking they are environmentally friendly when they aren’t.

What is CSR?

‘A PR stunt…’

‘Being environmentally friendly’

‘Selling sustainable goods’

‘Common Structural Rules?’

The abbreviation in this case stands for corporate social responsibility. Its definition is one amongst debate, but to put it simply CSR strategies are those that aim to show consumers and/or clients that the company is doing something positive for the environment and is taking responsibility for its actions. There is a spectrum starting from simply abiding rules and regulations and finishing at acting as part of the community and companies themselves decide how far they want to go.

Some companies are built on a strong CSR basis and instead of being supplementary to their everyday business practices they form the basis for business around being sustainable and ‘giving back’ to the community in which they operate.

Why is it relevant to PR?

We all agree that one of the roles of a PR professional is a responsibility for communicating a brands message to stakeholders. Therefore, if the brand you represent takes part in CSR then it is up to you to enter the balancing act that is telling consumers enough but not overloading them with information so that they question the company’s intentions.

What do the cynics say?

Cynics argue that CSR is purely a PR stunt aimed at ‘greenwashing’ consumers into thinking they are environmentally friendly when they aren’t. Agreeably they are brilliant media opportunities and look ‘good’ in articles and on the company website. Be warned, shallow intentions will be obvious and may do more damage to your reputation than good.

There are positives however…

As well as the benefits for the society in which you are operating, in a truly competitive market place a strong CSR focus could differentiate your business from competitors however it is essential to communicate the messages effectively and to ensure that you are taking part in CSR for the right reasons and not just because every other business is on the bandwagon.

How can it be integrated with the current PR plan in place?

The methods in place are already there to get your message out about your business. One of the easiest ways to get the message out there is to write a news story for your corporate website then tweet the link directing traffic to the website. If your CSR has a benefit to the local community why not approach the local paper? If it is on a national scale then approach the national papers. To communicate the message within the organisation, ensure to put an article into the company newsletter or magazine.

It doesn’t have to be expensive

CSR can range from employees giving up their time to volunteer at a local charity or helping out at a local school right across the spectrum to the company donating a large percentage of profits to a good cause. There are many ways for companies to be socially responsible and a large portion of them are free.

About the Author

Carli Ann Smith is an avid user of social media, a third year PR and Marketing Student at the University of Lincoln in the UK and a self confessed geek. Her blog ‘Scary World of Business’ can be found here and she can also be found on Twitter: @Carlir6


5 comments on “CSR 101 for PR Pro’s

  1. Great post, Carli! I work in PR/communications and am an advocate for CSR programs. Cynicism aside, I think CSR programs are a good way for companies to not only give back to their local communities but also strengthen their company culture by making it a part of what they do. I like that you point out that CSR doesn’t have to be expensive– most companies do this already when they support their staff in volunteer work.

  2. Hi Krista,

    Thank your for your comment – I am glad you found it interesting and insightful. I agree, CSR has wider impacts such as a postive effect on staff morale. By there being strong purpose within the organisation it promotes a team feeling and makes employees feel they are doing something worthwhile.

  3. I think CSR works when it is something that an agency can get behind. What I mean by that is there’s a difference between collectively finding a worthwhile project they want to contribute to means way more than one management person thinking that mandating a day of community service will create positive publicity.

    CSR should be something that can raise the morale of employees and get to know one another in a non-work environment. That should be more of the goal than trying to create positive publicity.

    To summarize, the project should be something people are compelled to do and not forced to do.

    All the Best,

  4. Hi James,

    I agree, it is important for employees to help decide what cause to support rather than feel an obligation to do it. I think it’s also important for the cause to be related to the business – for there to be a fit…for example when Fairy liquid supported a premature baby foundation.

    Thank you for your comment 🙂


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