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PR and CSR - How To Get It Right

Jack Quinney

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Jack Quinney

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You don’t need me to tell you that the last twelve months or so have been turbulent. Brace yourself. We’ve had a global pandemic to deal with, international protests sparked by police misconduct, and widespread economic uncertainty. The list goes on, but my keyboard can only take so much of my cathartic ‘key-slamming’. The silver lining is that as terrible as the various crises have all been, they’ve also inspired a surge in calls for sweeping social change. While many of the initiatives, protests and petitions that started in 2020 began at a grassroots level, they didn’t stay there for long. As people around the world passionately cry out for change, their attention inevitably turns to the companies they engage with, either as a consumer, an employee, or just as a fan. Companies can over and under do it when it comes to CSR. They usually know they need to be involved and be seen to be doing the ‘right thing’, but often they react too slowly, or they’re too cynical or half-hearted. So, let’s take a look at how companies can do better – PR and CSR, how to get it right.

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True CSR Must be Genuine and Impactful

The public can see through marketing guff when it comes to CSR. Poorly thought out, superficial nods to social issues from big organisations come across even worse than just lip-service, they seem opportunistic and cynical and they do nobody any favours.

I’m not saying that businesses have a duty to give staff a week off to join protests, or match employee donations to charities, but hollow words alone don’t suffice in today’s world if a business wants to adopt a CSR strategy. Words must be followed by action intent on moving the needle in some shape or form. Otherwise, the discrepancy between an organisation’s message and its behaviour can have serious reputational consequences once uncovered.

But CSR is no minefield, companies like Burger King understand this. Burger King has, in general, reacted in the right way in recent months. Understanding that lockdown restrictions in the UK are particularly threatening to the livelihood of small, independent businesses, the fast-food provider offered up its social media channels to help promote independent restaurants in need of support. It raised the issue and did something meaningful in response.

So how can your organisation do the same? Well, start with the golden rule…

Efforts Should be True to a Company’s Culture

What does that mean? Firstly, a golden rule doesn’t imply that there is a perfect, one-size-fits-all approach to CSR. In fact, statements and actions should be unique, reflecting the distinct culture of different organisations. But there are some basics to keep in mind.

A company’s response to today’s calls for reform shouldn’t come solely from the board. CSR initiatives that are true to a company should be broader in their scope – addressed from the CEO down to interns – and they should be ingrained across all business practice, from products being sold to the comms surrounding them. I would encourage businesses to ask their employees what causes are important to them in society, and what changes they’d like to see in the company.

Let’s take the example of the UK’s supermarkets offering NHS staff discounts on their shopping and an exclusive hour to shop without the rest of the public, back when people were panic buying last year.

Employees encouraged this and so, supermarkets were able to take action that both fitted their role and met a specific call for help from staff making their voices feel heard – a win, win as far as CSR is concerned.

You might ask, that specific example is very well and good, but how do actions like this actually benefit companies and brands? Well, hang in there…

Importance of PR in CSR

Is all CSR cynical? We don’t think so. There’s absolutely no shame in deriving benefit from CSR initiatives, as long as organisations truly care about their causes. CSR campaigns can provide a valuable boost to a company’s reputation, strengthening relationships with both employees and customers, especially when efforts are picked up in the media. And right now, as we’ve discovered in our report into media relations in a post-COVID world, the media are crying out for positive, feel-good stories.

The fact is that people want to feel that the organisations they work for and buy from also reflect progressive values. So, once organisations have prioritised the value of CSR initiatives, it’s well worth leveraging PR support to create some external buzz. The importance of PR in CSR should not be undervalued.

At Energy PR, we’ve recently published our Brand Love Report. It takes an extensive look at what drives consumer love for a brand and the value this love has for business. It finds that some of the key ingredients of brand greatness include how it aligns with consumer’s values, how it makes a consumer feel and how it is mission-based and driven. Clearly, if an organisation wants to be loved, just like everybody else does – Morrissey wasn’t wrong – then CSR programmes have an important role to play, as does PR in making the public aware of them.

One brand that features in the report and undoubtedly does its bit in terms of connecting with consumers is Timpson, the retailer known for key cutting and shoe repairs. James Timpson recently authored a piece in The Times, outlining some of the companies’ great CSR initiatives, and why not. You only have to check what consumers have to say about Timpson online to see how people value businesses that care and help to institute real change.

A Final Word

While there isn’t one approach to CSR that works best, a good rule of thumb is to be genuine, create a culture that upholds business ethics, and devote resources to letting people know about what it is you’re doing. The importance of PR in CSR cannot be ignored. If you do this, your CSR strategy can do plenty of good, both for your community and your company.

If your interest in CSR has been piqued by this blog post, do consider getting in touch to see how we can work together to do something great. Want to find out how you can leverage CSR in your business? As part of our service to clients, we help them to devise strategies that enact genuine change, all while improving their reputations and strengthening relationships with both employees and customers. So if you are keen to unleash the advantages that come with CSR in your business, but would like some guidance, email louise@energypr.co.uk.

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