Make an impact. Think CSR.

This is a guest post from Michael Scott – http://wideaperture.tumblr.com

When I speak with public relations practitioners about what motivates them to go to work, I often get an answer that only scratches the surface.

They talk about the buzz of media relations or the joy of writing for a living. I agree that both of these things are great, but it misses the bigger picture of why you go to work.

The reality is we all care about the broader impact of what we do on society. PR professionals start out thinking and dreaming big. At some stage, we rein ourselves in.

The lament

When you probe a bit deeper, this is where you often find the PR professional’s lament. Honing a message is professionally rewarding but being at the end of the assembly line gets old. Quickly. In truth, you want to be in the room much earlier. We want to have an influence over business decisions.

Noel Turnbull has written extensively about this issue and there has been real progress for the profession. But for those cutting their teeth in the early stages of a PR career, the board feels a very long way off. We don’t want to wait that long.

Stop talking, start doing

The good news is you can reclaim the big dream of better having an impact – and it doesn’t involve communicating. It involves listening and doing.

Good fortune provided me the opportunity to manage the corporate social responsibility (CSR) program for a national retail brand a few years ago. This gave me the opportunity to work with executives and I got a unique insight into their strategic vision. It gave me a strong understanding of how executives view CSR.

If you get CSR right, you can deliver real business value and it will be noticed. You have a golden opportunity to help protect the integrity and reputation of your brand. Think CSR.

Make the business case

Not many executives subscribe to Milton Friedman’s view that delivering shareholder value is the only responsibility of a company these days. The single-minded pursuit of shareholder value led to corporate scandals, environmental crises and unethical treatment of workers, which brought about the need for CSR in the first place.

Executives view CSR as an investment not a mandatory business expense so you need to identify clear benefits and define metrics to evaluate the impact of your actions.

CSR builds brand equity, improves corporate reputation, helps attract talent, provides publicity opportunities and can even save businesses money.

Fact: CSR doesn’t compromise the bottom line

Harvard academics recently finished a landmark study of 180 businesses’ financial performance over a 20-year period. They found that businesses who adopted environmental, social and governance outperformed rivals who didn’t.

The annual above-market average return for companies who embrace CSR was nearly 5 per cent higher than their counterparts.

Frame your business case in terms of competitive advantage and carefully monitor your competitor’s actions. Think about activities that align with your organisational strategy and start to have a positive influence on real world impacts.

Actions you can take tomorrow

Review your issues log and identify what you can address through goodwill and positive action. Develop a program of actions to stop the chatter about your weaknesses.

You have to start doing before you start talking. It actually works best if you don’t talk about it at all. The community and the organisations your actions benefit will carry your message.

If you don’t have a big risk profile, then use CSR actions to build upon positive brand sentiment. Get on the front foot – CSR programs that build on the core strength of an organisation are often more effective than those that serve to neutralise a negative.

Bendigo Bank isn’t a cold corporate greedy bank. They don’t run their community enterprise foundation to counter a weakness. Instead, they run it to boldly assert their values and reinforce the organisation’s purpose.

Remember to be strategic. Make it part of core business. Build the case, roll out the programs, measure the results and start making that impact on the world you always wanted to.

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