Section 3: Communicating CSR

Section 3: Communicating CSR

“Introduction … Why? … Who? … When? … With whom? … What? … Where? … Common mistakes … Conclusion”
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Summaries

  • 3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Experts' opinion
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Talk the walk!
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Role of the company's strategy
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Risks of CSR communication
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Why? > What to keep in mind?
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Who? > What to keep in mind?
  • 3. Communicating CSR > When? > When is the best time to communicate?
  • 3. Communicating CSR > When? > When is the best time to communicate?
  • 3. Communicating CSR > With whom? > Targets for CSR communication
  • 3. Communicating CSR > What? > Recommendations
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Where? > Channels toolbox
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Where? > Which channels to communicate ?
  • 3. Communicating CSR > Conclusion > Conclusion and teaser

3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Experts’ opinion

  • Society holds companies responsible for their social and environmental impacts, so companies should report, in a fair way, about their social and environmental impacts.
  • Third, when used wisely, CSR communication can have extraordinary power: not only to inform, but to challenge and to inspire, and perhaps even to educate consumers about the challenges that society faces and the different ways they can play their part.
  • Every company tries to look good and the “looking good” is very confused and very disturbed at the moment, especially with all the scandals, around Volkswagen, but also others.
  • I think it’s better to do good first and to look good after than to look good first and do good after.
  • High aspirations are no longer distinctive and I think the public, especially through social media, and social networks actually, can be a very powerful vehicle to talk about what companies do good.
  • Of course there is an element of balance here, but I think today, the balance is, we have, there are too many high aspirations, purpose, high aspirations communication and we don’t know whether the separations are credible and there is little control about what’s going on and we don’t know how much good is being done in the reality by business.
  • Having said that, I know from my own experience that many companies are engaged in doing good… and actually, the one who do good usually don’t speak too much about what they do; they let other people talk about it and I think it is a strategy of communication that could be considered in the future.

3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Talk the walk!

  • Otherwise, yes, you should communicate and dare communicating about your limits, about where you are really, and maybe where you want to go and how you’re going to get organized.
  • Communication is closely linked to the CSR strategy that the organization adopts.
  • A grounded CSR strategy must rely on employees and managers which means that internal communication is critical.
  • You have to implement CSR projects and evaluate them, before you can communicate about them -first, to internal stakeholders, and only afterward to your external stakeholders.
  • They will be very happy to spread the good news and they will be much more convincing than if the company does that communication itself.
  • There is an interesting approach to organizations and communication today called the CCO approach which means: Communication Constitutes Organizations.
  • We organize, and we create the organization through our interactions and communications.
  • From this point of view, communication is inevitable for CSR programs, because imagining, developing and applying these programs requires interactions and communications among people inside and outside the organization.
  • So we can never forget this basic principle: A good CSR approach needs collaboration and interaction with stakeholders, to be able to understand their needs and desires, as well as their perceptions.
  • Of course communication is also a strategic activity, a way to create a good image and a good reputation for the organization, so that it can develop good relations with internal and external stakeholders, improve sales and so on.
  • Our society today is a “society of judgment”, so any incoherences, lies or exaggerations by organizations are easy to identify and widely criticised by NGOs and environmental groups, unions, social movements, consumers, etc… So organizations certainly can develop communication campaigns about their CSR programs.
  • Second, unlike traditional product communication, CSR communicates something about the value and the character of the company.
  • Third, some CSR experience needs to be in place, prior to the communication.

3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Role of the company’s strategy

  • Companies adopting a CSR strategy should seriously consider whether to communicate or not.
  • The decision not to communicate at all, after an in-depth marketing analysis, can be part of a company’s global marketing strategy, and it can make perfect sense.
  • Now, some CSR companies base their decision not to communicate on some misplaced, ideological contempt of advertising and communication as just tools for consumer manipulation and irresponsible consumption patterns, serving capitalist and superficial purposes.
  • Communicating the good practices of a company can reinforce its identification with consumers and stakeholders.
  • For CSR, consumers and stakeholders tend to be skeptical of the motives of the company and try to avoid being persuaded.
  • The key solution is maturity and expertise, by which I mean ethical maturity and a sense of responsibility by decision makers, combined with technical skills and expertise with using the “communications toolbox.
  • CSR might be in a company’s DNA but not in its strategy.
  • ” What you announce always has an effect, and you should be prepared to assume the responsibilities that come with any CSR communication.
  • Communication needs to follow the strategy and be proportional to companies’ actual realization of the matter.
  • When it comes to communicating or not communicating about CSR activities, what really matters for a company is the fit between CSR activities, on the one hand, and the brands that the company sells, on the other hand.
  • So an example of a conflict between CSR and a company’s brand would be common for luxury brands.
  • So companies like Rolex and BMW need to be particularly cautious when communicating about their CSR activities.
  • For these companies, communicating about CSR actually could cause people to develop less favorable attitudes toward their products.
  • For these companies, communicating about CSR is much less risky.

3. Communicating CSR > Why? > Risks of CSR communication

  • This risk is even greater for CSR, which requires cognitive, educational, and informational aspects.
  • Decision makers might expect audiences to devote more attention and spend more time reading, viewing, or listening to the CSR messages.
  • That’s how I would summarize the third major risk for CSR communication.
  • I think that a key risk of CSR communication is that it can trigger consumers’ skepticism and cynicism.
  • Consumers might doubt the company’s claims and question its motives for engaging in CSR. Some authors, such as Sankar Sen and CB Bhattacharya, in their book on Leveraging Corporate Responsibility, highlight that consumers start wondering why the company is engaging in CSR when they learn about a company’s CSR activities like: “Why is this company donating to a nonprofit organization?” This is something unique to the CSR domain.
  • Consumers know and are comfortable with the fact that companies try to sell products at a profit.
  • CSR communication also can raise expectations about the socially responsible character of the company and therefore attract criticism.
  • If a company starts communicating about some of its CSR activities, people expect it to be socially responsible in everything it does, more so than a company that doesn’t communicate about its CSR engagement or doesn’t even engage in CSR. A third risk I associate with CSR communication is the way it affects stakeholders’ responses to corporate crisis situations.
  • My coauthors and I have found, in particular, that CSR increases the amount of attention people devote to crises.
  • CSR affects the attributions that people make about who is responsible for the crisis and their expectations of how a company should respond.
  • By engaging in CSR efforts, a company communicates to its stakeholders that it is willing to go beyond what is generally expected of corporate actors, legally or even in an ethical sense, and to contribute to the welfare of society.
  • Companies that communicate about their CSR activities are expected to uphold these values and standards, even when a crisis arises.
  • They therefore likely need to go above and beyond what other companies might be expected to do in the same situation.
  • In this case, the company opens itself up to criticisms about the lack of results it achieves- For each sustainability platform, we establish clear targets for 2015 and 2020.

3. Communicating CSR > Why? > What to keep in mind?

  • Communication is at the heart of CSR. Thierry Libaert, in writing about environmental responsibility, cites communication as a fourth pillar of sustainable development in addition to people, planet, and profit.
  • Ligeti and Oravecz assert that CSR and relevant communication are inseparable.
  • There are several good reasons corporations must embrace CSR communication: first, to establish dialogue for developing CSR activities; to make individuals aware and active in the ambitious CSR project; to render desirable what is sustainable; to share best practices with other actors; to motivate laggards and companies reluctant to CSR to embrace the road; and to leverage various potential business benefits.
  • First, what we called responsible communication meaning that every communication considers ethical standards in terms of not only the message itself but also how it is produced or distributed Responsible communication assesses and oversees the environmental, social, and societal resources being implemented and the messages being developed responsibly.
  • Second, communication about ethical or prosocial products and services These communications markets products and services with ethical, societal, and ecological attributes.
  • Such communication concentrates on products and services rather than CSR as a corporate mindset.
  • Third, communication on and about CSR activities that conveys the social and environmental effects of organizations’ economic actions and CSR activities to both internal and external stakeholder groups.
  • This case entails corporate communication, such that the company tells or lets some of its partners tell what it is doing with respect to social, environmental, and ethical issues, as part of its CSR strategy.
  • A corporate communication campaign about CSR communicates something about the values and character of the company as they relate to important societal issues.
  • When communicating about CSR, managers need to be ready to receive debate, criticisms, and disputes in response.
  • That is, research shows that stakeholders have minimal awareness of CSR activities and remain insufficiently informed, even when they claim they consider CSR in their decision making.
  • Overly extensive efforts to promote their CSR and create awareness also can have a boomerang or backlash effect, because stakeholders become cynical and skeptical, leading to negative attributions about CSR or disrupting the organization’s relationship with those stakeholders.
  • If a message appears too often and too prominently, the tone becomes strident: CSR information can be integrated into various corporate communication tactics but should not always dominate the message.
  • If the corporation is committed to CSR, wouldn’t it spend the money more effectively on actual CSR initiatives than on talking about them? In this sense, CSR communication may benefit from the use of low-cost tactics.
  • Because CSR communication is such a delicate issue, full of complexity and contradictions, some companies even avoid discussing their CSR at all.
  • The absence of CSR communication might lead stakeholders to assume an absence of CSR action.
  • If most other companies in the sector are discussing their CSR activities, being the one company that does not do so might earn the firm a reputation as a laggard in the industry, in terms of its social and environmental involvement.
  • If its engagement remains unknown to most stakeholders, the gap between stakeholders’ CSR expectations and their perceptions of the company’s involvement grows larger.
  • If you do not manage your CSR communication strategy, someone else will do it for you! In line with Watzlawick’s axiom, “one cannot communicate,” the communication process begins, intentionally or not, as soon as the corporation implements CSR. Even if a corporation “decides” not to talk about its CSR engagement, communication still inevitably occurs.

3. Communicating CSR > Who? > What to keep in mind?

  • CSR communication can take place through channels over which companies have full control, such as advertising or corporate websites, or through channels controlled by a third party, such as news articles.
  • Ultimately, companies thus face a trade-off between credibility and control: the less controllable the channel is, the more credible it is, and vice versa.
  • Companies active in industries with direct environmental or social impacts such as the extraction of raw materials, oil and gas, or tobacco; find it more difficult to communicate credibly about their CSR activities.
  • Third, the degree to which a company appears proactive in its CSR-meaning the degree to which its management anticipates social concerns instead of adopting CSR activities only after stakeholders publicly challenge it to change.
  • When those same efforts are adopted later and seem forced on a company, its credibility is lower.
  • Fourth, companies must secure employee commitment to CSR to facilitate trustworthy CSR communication.
  • Employees are uniquely positioned, in that they have knowledge of the company and also understand potential CSR issues.
  • With a general sense of the company’s capabilities and resources, they may be well situated to contribute ideas about how the company should pursue CSR. Their personal involvement and investment in CSR often make them highly credible, enthusiastic supporters and ambassadors for initiatives.
  • To avoid this trap, the first step is to make sure that employees support the CSR actions and advocate the CSR culture, outside of work and toward external stakeholders.
  • They are the very best source of legitimacy, because external stakeholders assume that they really know what is happening inside the firm and what the true motivations for the CSR initiatives are.
  • Employees need to be informed about and create their own CSR projects.
  • Fifth and finally, a company might emphasize its close collaboration with a credible third-party to define and even verify its CSR efforts.

3. Communicating CSR > When? > When is the best time to communicate?

  • First, the reactive approach consists of communicating in response to an event involving the company.
  • Building and maintaining a reputation requires continuous communication over time.
  • Second, the “default” approach should be continuous communication.
  • When companies consistently and continuously communicate, they can maintain their level of familiarity, avoid crises, and successfully increase and maintain their long-term reputation among consumers.
  • Finally, continuous communication requires decision makers to perceive communication as an investment and act cautiously.
  • In terms of when to communicate, a company might communicate proactively about its commitments.
  • Some companies need to communicate after a crisis, like Mango, which totally redefined its CSR policy after one of the factories manufacturing its products collapsed in Bangladesh.
  • My experience at WWF shows that generally, it is better to communicate after objectives have been fixed or initial results have been reached.
  • It communicated its commitment to reduce its impact, especially in regions where it sourced raw materials, and it publicly announced that it would have a neutral impact on water.
  • Communication professionals should be moving toward communication based on long-term programs, rather than short-term “blows”.
  • Long-term communication programs can provide honest insights into what the organization is doing, which should increase its reputation and trust.
  • A real CSR conversion about a business’ practices requires both time and effort, and it has to be progressive and gradual.
  • Communicating without any concrete outcomes can be risky.
  • I advise communicating about interesting realizations, like quick wins.
  • At Spadel we try to create proactive communication momentum, to inform stakeholders on a regular basis about not just our sustainability ambitions but also the evolution of our action plan and, of course, on the results.
  • We walk the talk and talk the walk, so that we have a systematic, high-quality communication with all our stakeholders.
  • We never communicate at the initial launch of a project.
  • We only communicate after a pilot phase, when we can provide concrete indicators.
  • We usually communicate after the main phases and at the end of the project.
  • As I noted, we communicate proactively about our differentiator projects, but for the projects we consider important for us, we leave it to our partners to communicate about them.

3. Communicating CSR > When? > When is the best time to communicate?

  • First, the reactive approach consists of communicating in response to an event involving the company.
  • Building and maintaining a reputation requires continuous communication over time.
  • Second, the “default” approach should be continuous communication.
  • When companies consistently and continuously communicate, they can maintain their level of familiarity, avoid crises, and successfully increase and maintain their long-term reputation among consumers.
  • Finally, continuous communication requires decision makers to perceive communication as an investment and act cautiously.
  • In terms of when to communicate, a company might communicate proactively about its commitments.
  • Some companies need to communicate after a crisis, like Mango, which totally redefined its CSR policy after one of the factories manufacturing its products collapsed in Bangladesh.
  • My experience at WWF shows that generally, it is better to communicate after objectives have been fixed or initial results have been reached.
  • It communicated its commitment to reduce its impact, especially in regions where it sourced raw materials, and it publicly announced that it would have a neutral impact on water.
  • Communication professionals should be moving toward communication based on long-term programs, rather than short-term “blows”.
  • Long-term communication programs can provide honest insights into what the organization is doing, which should increase its reputation and trust.
  • A real CSR conversion about a business’ practices requires both time and effort, and it has to be progressive and gradual.
  • Communicating without any concrete outcomes can be risky.
  • I advise communicating about interesting realizations, like quick wins.
  • At Spadel we try to create proactive communication momentum, to inform stakeholders on a regular basis about not just our sustainability ambitions but also the evolution of our action plan and, of course, on the results.
  • We walk the talk and talk the walk, so that we have a systematic, high-quality communication with all our stakeholders.
  • We never communicate at the initial launch of a project.
  • We only communicate after a pilot phase, when we can provide concrete indicators.
  • We usually communicate after the main phases and at the end of the project.
  • As I noted, we communicate proactively about our differentiator projects, but for the projects we consider important for us, we leave it to our partners to communicate about them.

3. Communicating CSR > With whom? > Targets for CSR communication

  • Potentially, all your stakeholders might be interested to learn about your CSR strategy and actions.
  • Among all stakeholders, employees are a primary target for CSR communication.
  • The first priority, as a means to generate support for the CSR concept and cause, needs to be in-house people, that is, company employees.
  • Communication with them should focus on ensuring that they are committed to working alongside management to carry out the practical aspects of CSR. Our main targets are employees.
  • Employees are a primary target because they are directly concerned with and involved in CSR activities, and they interact with external stakeholders, whether officially or unofficially in spontaneous conversations.
  • The better informed employees are about CSR, the more effective they are at communicating about the organization’s CSR activities.
  • External contacts also need to be informed, regularly, about the effects and impacts of CSR initiatives on the local environment.
  • Finally, as a semi-public company, we regularly communicate about our CSR performance and achievements to the authorities.
  • As far as CSR products and services are concerned, it probably is preferable to communicate according to a two-step approach: First, aim at qualified groups of experts, like local authorities, politicians, media, investors.

3. Communicating CSR > What? > Recommendations

  • In essence, CSR communication should give insights into what the organization perceives as its main responsibilities and the types of targets it will likely set in the future to meet them.
  • Communication about progress should report on the type of actions planned and executed, as well as how any progress has been achieved.
  • For the more evolved CSR organization, communication about how CSR gets integrated into the business model and the organization itself also is valuable.
  • All CSR communication should reflect real, credible CSR programs.
  • If an organization wants to communicate about its CSR engagement, it absolutely must avoid all forms of exaggeration or excess.
  • In my opinion, this is why advertising about CSR is often awkward.
  • In a lot of cases, it would be a good idea to base all communication on facts and numbers.
  • Good CSR communication needs to go beyond abstract principles or values.
  • If possible and without exaggeration, management should try to make an explicit link between their decisions and actions and the overall CSR strategy; it involves a sense-giving exercise.
  • CSR can be difficult to communicate, especially in terms of environmental issues, because the information is often too technical or too scientific.
  • In all channels though, the content of CSR communication should have four traits: credible, pertinent, differentiated, and understandable.
  • First, to be credible, the content of the CSR communication should reflect a true commitment to sustainable development that has been legitimated by a credible source, like third-party stakeholders or established labels.
  • Second, pertinent CSR communication content reflects the expectations of customers, so it can generate effective benefits in line with the brand’s values.
  • They integrate health and environmental values in their purchase decision, and CSR communication needs to reflect those concerns.
  • When Unilever revealed that all its products contained 100% certified and traceable palm oil, the company was addressing the needs of customers who sought reassurance about the origin and content of the products they consume.
  • Third, the content of the CSR communication needs to be differentiated, specifically, in relation to the communication of competitors.
  • Fourth, when it is understandable, CSR communication allows the receivers to recognize the message, adopt the recommendations, and feel concerned about the pertinent issues.
  • In many cases, CSR contents or concrete results get communicated only after the projects are over, or nearly over.
  • I have found that the use of personal accounts, concrete examples and information from neutral sources can be very constructive for communications with external stakeholders, because they are pretty quick to doubt the intentions of a group like ENGIE when it talks about its own CSR activities.
  • For investors, authorities, and CSR specialists, we have a set of key performance indicators and key sustainable indicators.

3. Communicating CSR > Where? > Channels toolbox

  • Some of the most important ones for CSR communication include the loss of faith in mass media advertising, media and audience fragmentation, increasing levels of communication literacy in audiences, technological advances, the increasing complexity of decision-making units, and the inflation of media costs.
  • In classical marketing communication, the toolbox contained the following channels: mass-media advertising, then e-communications, and then public relations and lobbying, promotional activity, direct marketing, sponsorship, point-of-sales communications, sales forces, events, buzz and word of mouth, and finally fairs.

3. Communicating CSR > Where? > Which channels to communicate ?

  • For CSR communication, some appropriate criteria for selecting the channels include: The quantity and quality of information that needs to be delivered to the target.
  • Mass media advertising provides the largest audiences, followed by public relations and social networks.
  • Finally, the possibility to involve and interact with audiences, is an important criteria.
  • For all these reasons, the order of priority for channels should be as follows: dailies, magazines, websites, social networks, public relations and lobbying, exhibitions, and then buzz.
  • Regardless of the channels or media used for CSR communication, the plan should be strategic and coherent.
  • That is, when deciding which channels to use, organizations should take into consideration variables like the type of product they provide, their organizational culture and identity, and the surrounding culture.
  • The list of possible media is very long, but some of the most important channels include CSR reports, websites, and journals, because they can help diffuse the information to various stakeholders.
  • Another recommendation for enhancing understanding is to use new media to engage customers in initiatives linked to CSR. These channels ease the interaction and allow the company to reach new and different stakeholders.
  • New customers often look for information before making decisions, and they rely on their social networks more than on advertising.
  • When your program is up and running, it’s important to report on your strategic choices, your commitments, and the progress you’re making.
  • Make sure that the channels you choose are appropriate for the content you want to communicate and the public you are targeting of course.
  • If the information is complex, choose a richer channel that enables synchronic communication, based on multiple senses.
  • The CSR report is mainly used to inform investors, authorities, and our peers.
  • Then social media and the popular press help us reach customers and the general public.
  • Advertising is a good way to communicate about brands or products, but it does not allow us to share the subtle messages that are inherent to CSR. Certain sustainability characteristics get displayed on our product labels, such as protection of water resources or bottle recycling.
  • Our own employees are company’s best ambassadors to spread our genuine CSR messages.

3. Communicating CSR > Conclusion > Conclusion and teaser

  • Stakeholders want CSR information, but corporate messaging can seem overly self-promotional and create a boomerang effect, because stakeholders become cynical and skeptical.
  • At this stage, you also know that CSR communication can take place through various channels, such as corporate websites, advertising, news articles, or annual reports.
  • In the next modules, we investigate different communication channels used to communicate about CSR. We will begin with one of the most common tools dedicated to CSR communication: CSR reporting and reports.
  • These tools have been around for a while, but some key questions are still pertinent, such as, What are some current trends in CSR reporting, what are the different types of CSR reporting? Why do companies develop CSR reports, and what challenges do they face in doing so? What are some good guidelines to follow when designing a CSR report? and Which criteria should readers use to assess the quality of a CSR report? As in our previous modules, we will focus on Nestlé as a case illustration.
  • Our group of experts will comment on the strengths and weaknesses of Nestlé’s CSV report; we will ask you to do the same, using the knowledge you have gained thus far.
  • Lies Bouten researches social and environmental accounting, as well as integrated reporting.
  • Marie d’Huart and her colleagues at CAP conseil offer high-level training on international standards, such as the guidelines proposed by the Global Reporting Initiative.

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