Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of those things that everyone agrees is a good thing, but hardly anyone can agree on exactly what it is. For some, it's all about labor practices in the developing world. Others see it as environmental performance or sustainability.
But at its heart, CSR is about one thing: that regardless of whether or not people are consumers of a given company's goods or services, they should benefit, ideally, from the very existence of the company. They certainly should not suffer from it.
A growing number of activists feel that corporations have not met that standard, and should be held accountable. As a result, more than ever before, they have trained their sights on corporations of all sizes, scrutinizing virtually every aspect of operations, including manufacturing, marketing, labor practices and environmental performance, to name a few.
And it is no longer the "fringe elements" creating controversy. With the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, the government has developed its own interpretation of corporate responsibility.
In this challenging environment, many of our clients have turned to us for help in assessing their CSR strengths and weaknesses, and developing plans to enhance this increasingly important aspect of corporate reputation.
At Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, we view CSR as a part of a client's overall issues management initiative. As such, it is an ongoing process of aligning corporate behavior with stakeholder expectations. Issues become issues when this alignment is missing. But through a process of identifying potential CSR issues early, prioritizing them, and closely monitoring their evolution, they can be managed—either by changing the company's behavior or its stakeholders' expectations, or both.
Over the years, we have developed a methodology for managing issues for clients in a wide variety of industries. Many of our clients have issues that are directly related to their industry (chemicals, airlines, technology); others must contend with issues that arise simply because they are large companies (globalization, discrimination suits, shareholder actions).
We have developed an eight-step program for CSR Issues Management. The eight steps are:
We also believe that CSR issues, if managed well, can actually be an opportunity to differentiate a company. A great example is diversity. While many companies have struggled to embrace diversity, often coming under great scrutiny by critic or activist groups as a result, others have set a great example and receive frequent accolades for the strides they have made in creating a diverse workplace. It sets them apart as Employers of Choice.
Our clients can also benefit from the proliferation of annual "lists" in major media. Whether it's Fortune's "America's Most Admired Corporations," "100 Best Companies to Work For," or "Best Companies for Minorities," or inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, these third-party validations of a company's values and principles can be an important yardstick in measuring CSR success.