The paradox of communicating CSR: The learning curve

Many companies try to improve their image by communicating their involvement in socially responsible activities. This often arouses scepticism rather than achieving the intended goal. Greta Thunberg conveyed it most eloquently: “Blah, blah, blah”.

In this series, we explore ways to successfully manage the predicament.

The learning curve

In post 2. ‘Time to refocus,’ we took a short definitional excursion to introduce the core idea behind the most successful approaches to communicating socially responsible activities. Let’s now home in on the intersection between corporate citizenship, communication and reputation.

Companies need to communicate their brand and uphold their reputation, but also decide how to establish credibility around their corporate citizenship when they start promoting it to a sceptical audience.

It is well documented how some companies that have done unethical things have communicated their philanthropic initiatives to try to manage public opinion.

Too many examples of greenwashing have turned interested parties into doubters.  Therefore, firms need to work hard to communicate effectively on corporate citizenship.

Intangible assets such as reputation can be valuable assets in difficult times. Companies with a strong brand were able to perform better during the pandemic.  The value drivers of business are strongly linked to reputational matters. Companies need to enter into an active mode of learning how contextual factors such as reputation, trust, employee engagement and stakeholder management can shape business results.

As companies increase their awareness of the contextual complexity, they create better mechanisms to address it and incorporate it into their business and citizenship strategies.  They also become increasingly sophisticated in their communication strategies with different stakeholders.  This creates a virtuous circle of effective corporate communication.

In post 4. ‘Warts and all’, we will turn our attention to the notion of authenticity in today’s hyper-connected world.

Richard Costa is Director and Head of Corporate Reporting at Ensemble Studio.  

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