Communicating CSR: The Role of Public Relations
Once seen as a peripheral to companies’ main businesses, Corporate Social Responsibility is now becoming standard practice. But unless corporations communicate their CSR achievements wisely, they risk being accused of ‘greenwashing’.
Defining Corporate Social Responsibility
Practitioners assert that CSR is an integrated, sustainable, and systematic approach to business, belonging as a vital component to the strategies and structures of most corporations. CSR is about being bona-fide corporate citizens to all stakeholders, i.e. employees, shareholders, customers, community, supply chain, and the environment.
Driven by the old social contract idea and fueled by the right to exist as a company, CSR works to sustain the business via integrity and smart business actions that recognize and integrate the impact on and the influence of all stakeholders.
Public Relations vs CSR
Done successfully, Public Relations is the vehicle that enlightens and shares with the world the progress made by companies who are successfully embracing the strategic and integrated nature of CSR.
However, when publicizing CSR achievements, especially if done aggressively, corporations risk achieving the opposite result from what was intended. In other words, when CSR is seen by company as a marketing problem, the latest marketing fad, or a PR fix – PR is tantamount to result in stakeholder’s perceptions and accusations of ‘greenwashing’.
Greenwashing, in its narrow sense, refers to the propelling of environmentalism or green credentials to suggest that a company’s policies and products are essentially environmentally friendly.
Energizing the Role of the Public Relations Professional
As CEOs and governing boards grapple with minimizing stakeholder skepticism, addressing this challenge involves taking measures to redefine the role of the PR professional to offer insights into devising and deploying CSR programs that will truly resonate credibly with key stakeholders.
Not only does the PR professional reside in a unique position characterized by rich knowledge of the variable needs of stakeholders, but with the 24/7 information hum of social media, the online blogosphere, and the compelling mandate for social reporting, he/she is steeped in adept experience with technologies and dialogic communication.
On that note, PR should lightly handle CSR initiatives until the program gains momentum. The PR professional should ensure that their message is low-key and less promotional, based on factual information and transparent without intentional omissions. By employing more controlled and interpersonal media channels such as corporate websites and face-to-face promotional events, the PR professional can leverage CSR activities to be personally relevant to external stakeholders.
Corporate Social Responsibility is all about smart business actions and constant improvement while building integrity. Public Relations report these actions and events as they occur. The danger is only when the showcasing precedes the actual work.
Ferguson, M Kim, S 2014 ‘Public Expectations of CSR Communication: What and How to Communicate CSR’ [Online] Available URL: http://www.prsa.org/intelligence/prjournal/documents/2014kimferguson.pdf
Public Relations Institute of Australia [Online] Available URL: https://www.pria.com.au/priablog/corporate-social-responsibility-why-pr-needs-it