How we aligned CSR with our unique selling proposition

Peppercomm’s founder and CEO explains how its benevolence dovetails with its raison d’être. The surprising cohesive element: stand-up comedy.

I’m surprised that so many corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs have nothing whatsoever to do with the organization’s unique selling proposition (USP).

When I ask why, I often hear, “I inherited it and have far too many other fires to put out without having to worry whether our CSR is aligned with our go-to-market strategy.”

Failing to prioritize the link between CSR and USP is a lost opportunity. At Peppercomm, we take a different approach.

In the beginning

More than a decade ago, I incorporated stand-up and improvisational comedy in our training and development program. I did so after performing stand-up as a sort of bucket list item, thinking it would be a one-and-done. It wasn’t. The emcee that night pulled me aside and said: “You weren’t half bad. Would you like to perform at my show next Friday night?”

I started performing. I bombed more times than I care to remember. But over a two-year period of performing stand-up and improvisational comedy, I began to realize something very cool was happening in my real world of public relations.

I was becoming a better listener. I was able to fill those awkward gaps of silence that seem to occur in almost every new business or client meeting. And I became adept at engaging the client-side executive who was busy multitasking while I was presenting.

It dawned on me that the skills I’d honed as a stand-up comedian were immediately transferable to the business world.


I struck a deal with my comedy coach, Clayton Fletcher. He began training our employees in stand-up and improvisational comedy. He also doubled as our chief comedy officer when we began offering comedy workshops to clients and prospects alike.

Comedy quickly became part of our DNA and reinforced our higher purpose: “We operate on a different wavelength that is driven by the time-tested tenets of comedy. Laughter opens our minds to think differently and produce breakthrough campaigns.”


Then we took it to the next level.

With a staff trained in the art and science of stand-up and improv, we contacted local charities asking if they’d like to have us host a comedy fundraising night.

It was an instant success. We not only had our own employees performing at top Manhattan comedy clubs, but more important, we raised tens of thousands of dollars for the charities in a single night.

Over the years we’ve held stand-up comedy fundraising events for the likes of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the ASPCA and, most recently, Women in Need, a charity dedicated to “breaking the cycle of homelessness for women and their children.”

One of our employees told me: “I love the fact that Peppercomm celebrates the holidays every year by having a comedy charity fundraiser. Our team comes together to laugh, relax and give back to a worthy cause. There are few, if any, corporations or agencies that can say their annual holiday party includes comedy that raises money for great charities.”

Doing good by doing right is a beautiful thing. It becomes even more special when one’s CSR efforts align perfectly with the organization’s USP.

Steve Cody is founder and CEO of Peppercomm and is current chairman of the Institute for Public Relations. Follow him on Twitter @RepManCody.


One Response to “How we aligned CSR with our unique selling proposition”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    It can be a blessing for management when PR asks the right question. One “right question” is certainly the Peppercom query: Can we help you free? It’s not at all surprising that the bright Peppercom team raised tens of thousands at time for good causes.

    Another right question could be how can a purpose-led PR team like Peppercom—plus huge FleishmanHillard, Porter Novelli and Weber Shandwick (in alpha sequence) which are well known for being purpose-centered–guide clients to not only maximize benefit we give others from our CSR but also the payback we get.

    Three opportunities are worth a look.

    .1. OBJECTIVE. Help management look at not just CSR—Corporate Social Responsibility—but CSO, Corporate Social Opportunity, the opportunity for PR-guided generosity to serve the public and clients through PR-guided generosity.

    .2. SUBSTANTIALITY. In our era of big data, big market swings and big moves in M&A, could effective CSO work bring not just feelgood results but measurable and surprisingly big increases in sales and earnings?

    .3. OPPORTUNITY TESTING. Instead of seeing CSO as a pain in the neck or wherever—or as something where the cost is a whole lot easier to measure than the benefit—is it possible to “test market” a smallish CSO program to try quantifying what it would likely cost us and bring us if we roll out a major effort?

    There are thousands of good causes but many like even the Boy Scouts are controversial and helping could actually do some harm, not just good. Anything to do with minority rights, gay rights or even women’s rights—even if some of your best friends are one or all three—could bring some people to feel that trying increasing those rights is wrong. Fortunately, testing a CSO project `may be safer and more successful if a “who needs that?” or worse public response is not likely.

    Health research is generally safe because almost no one is against it. Helping health research can promote a HUGE amount of goodwill because everyone needs health and the recent health scares plus perhaps more to come sharply increase public appreciation of those who back health protection. It’s appealing to go with the flow.

    One of my favorite causes because it is utterly clean, almost anyone can come down with the problem and every five minutes someone does, is Lymphoma. You can get information on opportunities to help—and to benefit–from Dr. Gary Jaworski of Lymphoma Research Foundation.

    After that you can judge whether there’s a small opportunity that allows a CSO equivalent of test marketing, and an opportunity to do a rollout if the test gets results that are excellent. It can be better to work with facts—real opportunities, real numbers–rather than in the abstract.

    When Saudi Arabia retained a PR firm recently for $5 million a year, that was a LOT as PR budgets go, but perhaps PR budgets of three or four times that much will not be unusual—as they are not at all unusual in advertising—if a CSO project is tested, successful, then rolled out to bring back PR success that the client finds breathtaking.

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