Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not public relations! Yes, I am screaming this as a professional in the field. It’s important for me to clarify this point, (yes, I am yelling). I often feel that people believe that the practice of promoting a company or a product is somehow deceitful or seeking to balance bad press or activist sentiment. Corporate citizenship is a practice that has evolved in the communications space for a company to share its value and contribution to society.
In the digital age consumers and stakeholders have extensive access to information about any company – more so if it is a publicly traded company or is regulated by a government agency. This has made all companies more transparent and accountable to the public. And though, I feel sharing responsible corporate practices is typically and technically a part of public relations and communications department duties, the strategy behind corporate responsibility and community investment is deliberate, thorough, and meaningful.
While I won’t cover all the ways in which companies have evolved and are evolving in corporate responsibility practices, I will focus on two practices that have become commonplace, the annual sustainability / non-financial / CSR / philanthropy report, as well as the importance and value of employee volunteerism.
First, these annual reports. Like anything that becomes of value for a company, it must be important to the consumer or the shareholder. And often, if it is important to the consumer, it will become important to the shareholder. This includes operations practices and community impact. In a very simplistic way, this is how these reports have evolved, to share and highlight these areas – community investments and other impacts outside of the traditional financial reporting. These reports often share data on the workforce, the supply chain, carbon footprint, and community impact. They are written in a sophisticated manner offering benchmarking in an industry and comparison to companies of the same revenue and size. They also review year-over-year data so the company’s progress can be tracked. Depending on what kind of report is generated and which international organization has certified it, a company shares the clear vision and action to obtain a goal in which said company contributes to society.
This annual practice alone, is WAY more intricate and consistent than to be considered a PR ploy. Companies dedicate resources to institutions like the Boston College Center of Corporate Citizenship, the leading institution on corporate citizenship, to create, implement, and evolve a meaningful and business aligned strategy. I maintain a certification in corporate citizenship management from this institution and I can testify that this work is not public relations – it is corporate citizenship. The other point I wish to make is about employee volunteerism. This is an important part of employee engagement, recruitment, retention, teambuilding, and creation of a meaningful corporate culture. It’s a way for a company to live its values through its people. It supports non-profit partners in communities where employees live and its usually a smaller portion of a CSR strategy, but its important to the core stakeholder of any business, its employees.
And while volunteering for a company is a great way to highlight a company, the amount of investment and coordination that goes into volunteer activities is also WAY more than a PR tactic. My company currently offers an employee 8-hour volunteer day to use with a partner individually or in as a coordinated effort. The new normal is volunteering PTO. And while I will continue to yell that corporate responsibility and corporate citizenship isn’t a public relations scheme, it is a tremendous practice that should be shared, through the company’s communications / public relations department. And with that, you can read my company’s annual CSR report here. 😊