Gimme That: Corporate Social Responsibility as PR Strategy

I’ve been handed a large new assignment. My CEO has asked that I come up with a singularly impressive philanthropic gesture for the company; one that will really cause our stakeholders to take serious notice of our overwhelming good will. As a professional public relations practitioner, this assignment is truly music to my ears.

To a degree.

It will truly be a melody I want to hear when I am able to nurture a broader appreciation that such gestures need to be ongoing and strategic, and not just a one-time, limited-time gesture.

Good PR involves charitable giving – corporate social responsibility – that is strategic, which means it isn’t giving just to give. We give, essentially, to get. And when we give strategically, we get more than we might ever imagine. And this makes the it all the more challenging. These days, many companies are expanding the scope of their responsibility – take the new Global Responsibility initiative from Starbucks as one example. And when your organization is a non-profit, the gift-wicket gets stickier still.

After all, what on earth is palatable about strategic goodwill? It sounds so … corporate.

There is an episode of the television comedy, Friends in which Joey taunts Phoebe with the challenge of doing something that is truly altruistic. (Not the vocabularly word used byJoey, but that’s what he meant.) Phoebe tries everything, including allowing a bee to sting her, before finally recognizing – to her utter dismay – that Joey is right. It’s impossible to do something totally selflessly, because it makes you feel good in response, and that means you have a motivation for the do-good-ing.

PR professionals face this paradox.

The place of corporate social responsibilty in a robust PR strategy cannot be overlooked. But there are key principles that need to be applied when making strategic decisions about where to do the most good – and generally, those principles are designed to make sure you get the most good for the good you … give. Let’s consider a few:

  1. Don’t avoid the obvious – yes, we are a company and our giving has to help us achieve (not our business/financial objectives) our mission – our very reason for existing! And isn’t it amazing that we can help some folks out in the process.
  2. Be committed to a long-term strategy that isn’t dependent (entirely) on good financial times or poor.
  3. Develop a well-rounded strategy that maximizes core competencies of your organization within its industry (a children’s literacy endeavor, for example, by a publisher makes a lot more sense than that same publisher underwriting a local senior center) and that touches a variety of giving opportunities: human care, environmental, crisis, etc.
  4. Make sure that at least one major corporate event involves physical effort – real sweat – by key corporate leadership.
  5. Cultivate an attitude and value for philanthropy organization-wide – from top to bottom – and offer ways for employees to be involved in personal and individual ways in giving back to their community.
  6. Coach senior leadership to express their desire for social responsibility in real terms that are personal, and focus on the good the company will give, not on the brand equity they hope to grow.

In the end, corporate social responsibility is about being an ethical, engaged, useful, and contributing force in a society. You need clear, strategic objectives in the program that fuel larger corporate goals. It needs to be well conceived, and not just an after thought. It needs to be a transcendent attitude that permeates all levels of the organization’s culture. And it needs to be genuine – and yes, that means admitting that it might “seem” self-serving (to a degree, and hopefully only to the most jaded critics).

Doing good to get a little good in return is certainly better than no good. Right? You betcha. So it’s to the drawing board for this PR girl – we’ll see what results.

One response to “Gimme That: Corporate Social Responsibility as PR Strategy

  1. JPMorgan and Goldman bonuses and risk-taking (i.e., ignoring the society’s criticism regarding the financial crisis) indicate the need for PR.
    Nice post!

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