Authenticity: An Imperative of Successful CSR

May 21

Authenticity is such a buzz word in PR. We use it all the time: our channels must be authentic — i.e. use earned media and integrated content, vs. paid placements – so our audiences are less skeptical of the content being communicated; we must use authentic voice when talking with our audiences, so they trust us and are more likely to pay attention; spokespeople must have an authentic connection to the issues/products/topics we are communicating about for them to be credible.

I would argue that in the case of authenticity, we use that word or principle frequently, because of how very important it is. And Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one particular area of business where authenticity is especially critical to success.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large”. Restated simply – or perhaps even oversimplified — CSR is about the ‘good’ a company does.

While CSR has evolved tremendously over the last 10 to 15 years – into a key discipline integrated into many companies’ business strategies and plans, it historically has often operated as a discrete marketing or HR function, in many cases instituted for the purposes of building — or in some cases ‘fixing’ — a company’s reputation.   Corporate reputation issue? Enter a CSR campaign to help distract from that issue or compensate for that issue.   Because of that reason, many are skeptical of companies’ CSR programs.   Are they truly intended to improve the quality of life of employees, their families, and community and society at large? Or are they reputation-band-aids, that are purely to help enhance the company’s reputation with some potential ‘good’ impact as a bi-product?

The scrutiny and skepticism that often surround a company’s CSR efforts are the very reason why authenticity of such programs is demanded and necessary for their success.   Recently, Jennifer Risi, Ogilvy’s Director of Media Influence spoke on a panel entitled “Earning Stories for Good – Big Rewards for Your CSR Program”, and published an op ed on a similar topic. She made the important point that earned media placements that tell a company’s CSR story are often more credible than paid, given the authenticity they bring, helping these stories resonate more with their intended audiences.     I would build on Jen’s point and go even further to suggest that the actual content of the CSR story must focus on the actual good being done, and not lead with or place too much focus on the company doing it. If there is a benefit to the company from the CSR story being told, all the better – but the focus of the story should be on the positive impact being made, with the company making that impact as a supporting point.

CSR that is instituted with the intent to truly have a positive impact is authentic. And authentic CSR is powerful.   It improves lives, strengthens communities, delivers good for society at large. And, ultimately, when CSR is authentic, and delivers the good it has promised, it brings the added benefit of driving company reputation, and even in many cases functioning as a business driver for the company. A win-win for all.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2015 at 6:18 pm and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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