Corporate or brand reputation is often at the heart of a sound public relations strategy. And the companies who enjoy the best corporate reputations are typically those who make a commitment to social responsibility. The reasons are many: a strong reputation can help an organization differentiate its products and services, attract talent, and even mitigate risk.
A study by Reputation Institute found that 40% of our willingness to buy, recommend, or work for a given company is based on our perception of its products, while 60% is influenced by perception of the company itself. RI ranked major organizations by their reputations for behaving as responsible corporate citizens in 2013, and four companies – Microsoft, The Walt Disney Company, Google and BMW– tied for the top spot.
Great CSR can work for smaller companies, too
But what about a more typical organization? How do corporations who aren’t necessarily globally recognized brands with deep pockets adopt CSR principles and make them work on a smaller scale? Here are some guidelines to developing the right CSR strategy for an enterprise that’s not on the Fortune 100 list.
Look for the right strategic fit. Sometimes a company chief executive has a pet project or charity and it morphs into the corporate philanthropic or community service campaign. But this isn’t always the most strategic way to approach CSR. The best social responsibility campaigns are intuitive to the companies or groups who undertake them. It’s best to start with a review of corporate values and focus in on what meshes. Stonyfield Yogurt promoting organic farming through its “Have A Cow” makes intuitive sense. KFC supporting the Komen Foundation? Maybe not.
Make it ownable. You can grow into the ownership, but the ideal CSR program isn’t a cookie-cutter commitment that just about any other company could embrace. That’s why relationships of large multifaceted not-for-profits like United Way or American Red Cross usually need to carve out a specific component, like disaster assistance for homeless families, or support for budget-strapped public schools.
Get horizontal buy-in. A CSR program will be more enduring and more potent if it resides throughout the organization, not just in the corporate communications division. Beyond PR and marketing, Human Resources should own a piece of the action. Microsoft describes its social responsibility commitment as a “horizontal” one instead of a series of siloed activities. In fact, Microsoft’s Dan Bross explains that it has the added benefits of helping to break down walls inside the company.
Start small. A CSR campaign can die from ambition. It’s often a good idea to pilot a program in a local market or to negotiate a smaller sponsorship with a not-for-profit partner that can grow over time before rolling out a fully national campaign.
Focus on the long term. It typically takes years for a social or community commitment to fully penetrate key constituencies and become linked with the corporation in the customer or stakeholder’s mind, so a flavor-of-the-week strategy is usually not very successful. The strongest campaigns unfold naturally and organically, but with some help from good PR practices.