How to use corporate social responsibility efforts for PR wins

The good work your company does can do wonders for your reputation—but only if your share the story in the right way.

As brands struggle to find ways to keep their names out in front of their audiences, PR pros are on the lookout for stories that can capture the attention of journalists.

With more companies engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, there are opportunities to talk about the social good taking place. While public relations teams want to get the word out, care must be taken to strike the right tone.

PR around CSR can be tricky

“Brands must stand for something because consumers demand it, but they must also live it,” says Beth Monaghan, CEO of InkHouse.

The practice of promoting the image of a corporation as being socially responsible just to reap the marketing benefits, known as “greenwashing,” may work temporarily but draw a backlash when consumers realize a brand isn’t being authentic.

It seems clear that if you’re engaging in CSR simply for the publicity, you could lose.

On the other hand, just because a company is doing good doesn’t mean anyone will know about it – unless it’s promoted, says Mark Kramer, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a co-founder and a managing director of FSG, a global social impact consulting firm.

“Just doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’ll get credit for it,” Kramer said.

Communicated in the right way, CSR has clear benefits for brands. In addition to improving trust, loyalty and word of mouth recommendations—all of which can lead to increased revenue—CSR adds to a company’s ability to build a positive reputation.

CSR protects your reputation

Building and maintaining a brand’s reputation is one of the most essential roles of PR today. In a world where even a seemingly minor crisis can quickly go viral with social media to fan the flames, brands need to be aware of the effect their actions have on their reputations at all times.

Engaging in CSR can bolster a company’s image. In the event of a crisis, if the brand has built a body of positive press coverage to combat any negative publicity that may arise, it can help soften the blow. Scandal or not, a reputation for being honest and trustworthy can never hurt your brand.

Another positive impact of promoting your CSR efforts is attracting top talent. With a war raging to win and retain the best talent, brands are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the minds of job candidates. CSR can help shift that balance to sway the job seeker toward a particular company.

In fact, the Global Shapers Annual Survey found that over 40 percent of millennials believe that a sense of purpose/impact on society is one of the most important criteria when considering a career opportunity.

The best way to promote CSR

Promoting a brand’s CSR efforts can be a good thing if done correctly. So, what are the right ways to talk about CSR?

Kramer says you should develop messaging with four audiences in mind: customers, employees, investors and corporate watchdogs.

For customers, news stories can be one of the best ways to communicate what a brand is doing on the CSR front. Ads can help but earned media conveys the message in a more objective and trustworthy fashion.

Brands Kramer thinks are doing a good job of promoting their CSR efforts include CVS, who gave up $2 billion in revenue by discontinuing the sale of tobacco products, and Walmart, who eliminated the sale of assault rifles.

Domino’s Paving for Pizza campaign is another example of CSR that garnered a lot of media attention for the brand. “The loose connection between roads and pizza delivery is just enough to give Domino’s justification to engage in a major campaign to demonstrate the company’s social conscience,” says The Guardian.

For employees, Kramer cites Nike and IBM as two examples of companies living their purpose. “Employees at every level can see and take pride in the way their company’s new products, strategies, and operational choices advance a clear social purpose.”

For investors, it’s important to play up the economic advantages of the CSR programs. “They need a clear story about how the company’s social and environmental impact delivers better economic performance and competitive advantage,” Kramer says.

Corporate watchdogs including social media activists, NGOs, and government agencies who watch a company’s behavior require continuous communication, advises Kramer.

Publicize CSR efforts authentically

The bottom line of promoting CSR efforts falls on authenticity. Messages should be tailored to fit each of the audiences you’re trying to reach.

And really, talking about CSR makes sense because doing what’s right can be good for business, too.

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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