Public Relations Tactics

Socially conscious: Companies share CSR best practices

July 1, 2010

Many companies are putting more of a focus on corporate social responsibility’s triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.  These economic, social and ecological values help measure an organization’s success and impact on its customers as well as the world.

Tactics interviewed communications leaders at a variety of companies to find out why CSR is more important now than ever and how they are conveying their socially conscious mindset to their clients and to the community at large. Here’s what communications experts from Ben & Jerry’s, Discovery Communications, Eastman Kodak and Microsoft had to say:

Liz Brenna, “PR Chick,” Ben & Jerry’s

Why is corporate social responsibility important for Ben & Jerry’s?
Ben & Jerry’s was founded on Ben’s principle “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community.” Giving back and being a company with values has been a part of  Ben & Jerry’s mission since day one. We have a three-part mission statement that encompasses our values and is a part of our daily business decisions.

How does your company display its socially conscious mindset to its customers?
Being an activist brand, we reach out through our campaigns, flavors, programs, values-led sourcing, social justice initiatives — leading with our values and the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation.

Why should organizations give back to their communities?
As Ben has mentioned in the past, business has become one of the biggest forces in the world, if not the biggest, and with that comes a huge impact on the world. Business needs to operate in a global society consciously and act as a responsible member of the world.  The real question should be: How isn’t it important?

Michelle Russo, Senior  Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Communications, Discovery Communications

Why should organizations give back to their communities?
The communities where Discovery has office locations are the communities where our employees and their families live and work.  Volunteering in schools, providing assistance to in-need individuals, promoting HIV/AIDS and environmental awareness, and supporting local community organizations and causes are ways that Discovery and its employees give back.  These types of activities are important to ensure that our employees live in thriving communities so that Discovery can continue to attract the best and brightest to work for the company.

Although our worldwide employees give back throughout the year, this year, in honor of Discovery’s 25th Anniversary, we are having our first global volunteerism day — Discover Your Impact Day — with 3,000 employees participating in 40 locations and 145 projects around the world.

What role is social media playing in your CSR efforts?
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in Discovery’s CSR efforts. Facebook, Twitter and the recently launched Discovery Blog provide additional platforms for Discovery to raise awareness about its CSR efforts, to generate discussion among viewers and to provide a community for those who want to get involved.

Karen Bergin, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs and Citizenship, Microsoft Corporation

Why is corporate social responsibility important for Microsoft?
It’s fair to say that Microsoft has a culture of social responsibility, which was ingrained by the company’s founders in 1975.

Since that time, the company has [had] a strong commitment to giving back both through cash and in-kind donations ($3.9 billion since 1983) as well as through technology, partnerships and our people.  There is no question that business today has a clear responsibility to participate and contribute in a positive way in our communities.

The key is to focus on ensuring that CSR activities are aligned with the business — this ensures that it is both effective and sustainable.  We recognize the importance of CSR: It contributes to our business by helping us learn more about how people all over the world use technology; it is demanded by our staff.

How does your company display its environmentally friendly and socially conscious mindset to its customers?
Environmental sustainability is a long-term business strategy at Microsoft and we are focused on creating software and technology innovations that help people and organizations around the world improve the environment.

We continually work to reduce the impact of our operations and products and partner with global environmental organizations, experts and academics to pursue ways to use technology to help accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more energy efficient economy. 

Why should organizations give back to their communities?
Fundamentally, companies have a responsibility to the communities in which they operate. First, a company’s most important asset is its people, all of whom are part of that community. Second, a company’s key stakeholders — including customers, partners and investors — expect responsible leadership and active participation.  And finally, companies can actively learn through corporate social responsibility.

For example, our products include direct feedback garnered from people in communities around the world.

What role is social media playing in your CSR efforts?
Social media is presenting exciting new opportunities for connecting and engaging with people. It is especially relevant for CSR [because] people like to have a direct dialogue with the company. It enables us to tell interesting and compelling stories in new ways. However, social media must be tightly integrated with traditional communications and directly aligned with core objectives. Rather than treating social media as a distinct activity, one needs to think about it holistically.

Christopher Veronda,  APR, Manager, Corporate Communications, Eastman Kodak Company

Why is corporate social responsibility important for Kodak?
At Kodak, we use the term “sustainability” and define it as encompassing the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental success. It’s about doing well and doing good. In other words, being a successful company and a company that contributes to the advancement of society should be viewed as complementary and synergistic goals.

How does your company display its socially conscious mindset to its customers?
Customers are increasingly bringing up sustainability in their conversations with us.  They want to know about innovations that make us better stewards of the world’s resources so that they, too, can become better stewards.

One recent step we took was the introduction of a green and yellow leaf logo to identify environmental improvements or programs unique to Kodak.  The logo will also appear in tandem with the tagline “Kodak Cares” in communicating about corporate sustainability and environmental initiatives.

Why should organizations give back to their communities?
Kodak has a long-standing tradition of giving that dates [back] to our founder, George Eastman, who gave away much of his fortune during his lifetime with a particular focus on higher education — including historically Black colleges. In our headquarters of Rochester, N.Y., he founded what has become one of the most successful United Way drives worldwide. Eastman established the tradition that giving to the community, especially to its youth, is an investment in tomorrow.



Making PR socially responsible and sustainable

Green Earth PR Network brings together consultants across the country who work with organizations to integrate green practices into B-to-B and B-to-C communications.

The consultants at Green Earth work with clients who are “committed to sustainability’s triple bottom line, whether they are leading or starting that journey,” says Nancy Rogers, founder, Green Earth PR Network. “Our portfolio and pro-bono work, along with our business operations and lifestyles reflect this position, as do our tweets, our blog and our daily business decisions.”

Social media plays a big role in the company’s CSR efforts too. These platforms can help expand messages exponentially to audiences that may not be reachable through traditional media outlets, says Louise Mulherin, founding consultant, Green Earth PR Network. “Such tools should amplify — not replace — those traditional forms of outreach,” she says, stressing that it is critical that CSR-related messages are authentic, transparent and supported by the organization’s actions.

“In an increasingly competitive marketplace, consumers are looking for companies that not only produce a quality product or service, but also reflect their own values,” says Mulherin. “CSR must be viewed as all encompassing — from the way a company does business to how it treats employees, the environment and the local community. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, not a PR program of the month.”

Mulherin adds that from the client standpoint, it’s important for B-to-B companies to have a presence in the local community. Clients should develop outreach programs and partner with local organizations to engage the local community, while reflecting the company’s overall ideas on social responsibility. Rogers agrees that it is important to give back. “As individuals and organizations, we are members of our community, whether at the neighborhood or global level,” she says. “We cannot forget — it’s one world and we’re all connected. We influence and impact the future both by the opportunities we follow and those we miss.”   — A. J.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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