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PR Journal


Special Issue: Corporate Social Responsibility in Public Relations

Guest Editor: Denise Sevick Bortree, Ph.D.

Co-published by the Arthur W. Page Center

Title: The State of CSR Communication Research: A Summary and Future Direction

Author: Denise Sevick Bortree, Ph.D., Associate Professor, College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University and Director, Arthur W. Page Center.

Abstract: This article introduces the special issue of Public Relations Journal on corporate social responsibility communication sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Center. Effective CSR communication is built on knowledge of audience interests and expectations, optimal channels of communication, impacts of communication on publics, and ethical practices for communicating information. The article discusses past and current practices of CSR communication as well as future trends for research and communication. It then introduces the four research articles in the issue which address timely and important issues of CSR communication.

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Keywords: corporate social responsibility, sustainability, public relations, CSR communication, Arthur W. Page Center

Title: Public Expectations of CSR Communication: What and How to Communicate CSR

Authors: Sora Kim, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Mary Ann T. Ferguson, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Public Relations, College of Journalism and Communications at University of Florida.

Abstract: This study examined what consumer-publics expect from companies’ CSR communications through surveying a representative sample of the general public. Our findings suggested that publics wanted to know “who is benefiting” from the companies’ CSR more than any other CSR information. CSR beneficiaries were identified as the most preferred communication sources, whereas CEOs and public relations spokespersons were least preferred. In general, non-corporate sources were preferred to corporate sources. However, the company itself was also preferred as a communication source more than activists, other stakeholders, employees, CEOs, and PR spokespersons. Finally, consumer publics tended to prefer company-controlled media to uncontrolled media.

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Keywords: CSR communication, CSR communication sources, CSR communication media channels

Title: Conceptualizing and Measuring “Corporate Social Advocacy” Communication: Examining the Impact on Corporate Financial Performance

Authors: Melissa D. Dodd, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Advertising-Public Relations, Nicholson School of Communication at University of Central Florida, and Dustin W. Supa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Communication at Boston University.

Abstract: This research takes a two-fold approach to understanding organizational stances on social-political issues (termed corporate social advocacy or CSA). First, CSA is conceptualized within public relations. Second, this research examines how organizational stances on social-political issues (gay marriage, health care reform, and emergency contraception) impact corporate financial performance.

This research uses an experimental methodology and representative sample of U.S. consumers to demonstrate that CSA has tangible outcomes for organizations. In short, the study finds that greater agreement with a corporate stance results in greater intentions to purchase; whereas lesser agreement with a corporate stance results in lesser intention to purchase.

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Keywords: advocacy, corporate social responsibility, public relations, purchase intention, strategic issues management, theory of planned behavior

Title: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Nonprofit Sector: Assessing the Thoughts and Practices Across Three Nonprofit Subsectors

Authors: Richard D. Waters, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Management at the University of San Francisco and Holly K. Ott, M.S., Doctoral Candidate, College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University.

Abstract: Scholars have increasingly been studying the impact of corporate social responsibility as a business strategy in for-profit institutions, and results frequently indicate benefits to the organizations such as increased reputation, sales, and reduced reputation damage during crises. Little is known about the impact of corporate social responsibility on organizations from the nonprofit sector, however. Using in-depth interviews with nonprofits sponsoring festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013-2014, this study examines how nonprofits representing agriculture, arts and culture, and sexual health view corporate social responsibility as it affects their communication efforts. Results indicate that nonprofit communicators downplay the corporate social responsibility behaviors in which they are engaged. When these efforts are communicated to external stakeholders, preference is given to less formal media channels.

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Title: How Corporations Manage Industry and Consumer Expectations via the CSR Report

Authors: Sarah Bonewits Feldner, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Communication Studies/Strategic Communication, and Kati Tusinski Berg, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Strategic Communication, Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

Abstract: The CSR report is the vehicle by which organizations communicate the breadth of activities they engage in to make a difference in society. We argue that the CSR report functions as a means by which corporations manage stakeholder expectations and seek to legitimate corporate behaviors. Our findings indicate that most reports are structured based on external guidelines but include the use of classic rhetorical strategies to establish the rightness. This study shows the value of moving past a catalog of activities, a consideration of channels, and a description of message attributes to focus on the rhetorical strategies employed by corporations.

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