It’s no surprise that public trust in corporations, along with government and faith institutions, seems to be at an all-time low.
According to the Reputation Institute’s 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility RepTrak 100 Study
, only 17 percent of respondents trust what companies promise in their marketing. What’s more, a mere 6 percent perceive the top 100 companies as good corporate citizens.
That’s one reason why so many major companies make reputation management and corporate social responsibility a priority.
Microsoft has the best reputation for CSR in the world, according to the study. Next on the list are Google, The Walt Disney Co., BMW, Apple, Daimler, VW, SONY, LEGO, and Colgate-Palmolive.
What about a more typical company? How do organizations that aren’t globally recognized brands make CSR work for them?
Look for a strategic fit.
The best CSR campaigns are intuitive to the companies or groups that underwrite them. Often a corporate CEO or other executive has a personal or pet project and somehow it snowballs into a CSR commitment. But it’s far better to analyze your corporate values and focus on a strategic bulls eye. Tide sending a mobile fleet of washers and dryers to disaster-hit areas makes perfect sense. KFC supporting the Komen Foundation? Maybe not.
Get buy-in at the top.
A successful CSR program usually needs more strategic heft than an executive hobby or pet project, but it stands a far greater chance of surviving if the C-suite champions it. Buy-in should start there, and be vigorously reinforced. Look at Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, who personally gets behind its corporate social programs.
Make it horizontal.
Any corporate social responsibility campaign will be longer lived and more powerful if it transcends corporate communications. Take a cue from Microsoft, which describes its CSR commitment as a horizontal function, not a series of vertical tasks. In fact, Microsoft’s Dan Bross explains that it has the added benefits of breaking down silos
A new CSR campaign can die from ambition. It’s far better to start with a manageable program, say, in a local market, or even a pilot effort, before rolling out a larger campaign.
Take the long view.
Many companies, by design or due to corporate executive changes, alter their programming in a CSR flavor-of-the-month strategy. That’s a mistake. It typically takes years for a social commitment to fully penetrate key constituencies and become linked with your brand. Don’t make the mistake of changing from year to year in a CSR flavor of the month strategy.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.