With corporations everywhere more engaged with CSR activities, it has never been more important to understand how to effectively communicate those strategies and achievements to stakeholders.
Given the general public’s current distrust of some of our major companies, C-suite executives might understandably be concerned that these CSR communications are wrongly perceived as ‘green washing’. That is, falsely over-promoting a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials for reputational gain. When you consider that most external stakeholders rely on a company’s own reporting to see the benefit of its CSR activities, such cynicism is only natural.
As we enter a new era of corporate sustainability, how then is it best to communicate good CSR policy to your audience?
Live and breathe your purpose
Environmental, social and governance issues must be woven into the fabric of a business. Anything less is evident to your stakeholders, investors and core customer base. It should be at the forefront of your growth strategy, and communicated clearly across your website and in all external communications from social media through to PR. By understanding how ESG issues are integrated across the business, a strategy can then be built to communicate CSR to your stakeholders.
It is important to understand that the majority of media outlets will report fairly on a company’s CSR activities, and are not always interested in bad news over good. Be proactive in engaging with your industry’s key media outlets, explaining the company’s focus on environmental, social and governance activities.
CSR communications has evolved dramatically in recent years in line with larger scale changes to the broader corporate landscape. Stakeholders are demanding more from businesses but so are journalists. ‘Mission statements’ and ‘company visions’ are no longer enough to secure positive press coverage, organisations must provide tangible examples of the results that their CSR strategies have delivered. It is critical that firms see their CSR strategy as a fundamental business function rather than just a PR exercise.
Understand public interest
The world has moved on rapidly over recent years from the days when CSR was only of interest to the ‘green’ community. Through regulatory reform, shifting corporate cultures and advancements in technology, the public more widely expects companies to now be fully transparent, particularly in the wake of the COP26 Climate Conference. Recent research from Deloitte revealed that a huge 45% of consumers stopped purchasing from brands due to sustainability and ethical concerns.
This trend of stakeholder activism is also present within investor and B2B circles so using data and insights to uncover what your key audiences want to see from your organisation should underpin any CSR communications strategy.
Involve others & tell stories
If your business has a dedicated CSR, Sustainability or Environment department, then consider how this can be leveraged as part of your PR strategy. The communication of a company’s ESG activities should be integrated across various communication channels and through different arms of the business.
The individuals leading these teams have a high-level understanding of the field and should not be neglected as figureheads within your external communications. While it may be tempting to revert to a CEO or Founder as your key company spokesperson these individuals have the potential to add significant value to your brand. Their knowledge and credibility should be utilised not ignored.
It does not matter how effective a company’s communication strategy is; if the reality does not match what is being said, then you risk severely damaging your organisation’s reputation. Presenting that your company engages in more CSR activities then it actually does will not only undermine the good work which has taken place, but will mislead stakeholders. Before communicating your business’s CSR activities, ensure that all actions and impacts agree with the corresponding message. Ultimately, if you are strong in CSR, you will be able to build an effective program to communicate those activities.
If you’d like to discuss how to formulate and deliver an effective communications strategy why not get in touch with our team of experts today.