Putting your best foot forward

There is an argument which says that the media and consumers are sceptical towards stories on the value or ‘good’ work that corporate organisations bring to society. This obviously makes for a challenging environment to pitch this kind of story as part of a communications team. As Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays, said at the Treasury select committee last week “We’ve done a very poor job over the years in explaining how… investment banks contribute to society”. Is it time for banks and other corporations to shout a little louder about the charitable and other CSR work that they do?

We thought we’d try and find some evidence of these good corporate deeds – here are a few examples:

 

  • Since 2002 HSBC has funded the TEAK programme which supports students from low-income families in gaining access to top high schools. 
  • In 2003, IBM contributed $142.8 million, at market value, in equipment, technical services and cash to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions worldwide. 
  • In 2005 alone, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group invested £56.2 million in the community.
  • Diageo established and supports the Tomorrow’s People Trust which has helped over 400,000 unemployed and young people in deprived neighbourhoods.
  • Tesco dedicates 1% of pre-tax profits to good causes and supports charities as well as staff fundraising.

 

(Figures taken from www.csrglobe.com)

 

Unsurprisingly; there are examples of corporations pulling their CSR-weight (not to mention the jobs and tax revenue generated as a result of their operations). Do the wider public know about these good deeds? Do they care? Or do they just see the bonus and profits related headlines and ignore the rest? It may be both, particularly if Bob Diamond is right about banks needing to explain their contribution to society better.

In reality, coverage of CSR activities is often restricted to trade titles (Ethical Corporation magazine is a specific example), so those in the industry are aware but those outside the industry may not be. Of course advertising and sponsorship often highlights CSR efforts e.g. Barclays cycle hire scheme in London, free travel on the tube on New Year’s Eve and Virgin’s London Marathon. 

What can be done to boost public awareness of CSR? The answer has to be PR, but not necessarily just the traditional forms. Aviva recently used a huge social media and online presence to launch their ‘You are the Big Picture’ campaign, which saw participants’ images projected onto iconic buildings around the World. Each picture donated by the public triggered a £1 donation from Aviva to Save the Children.

The above examples reflect a tiny proportion of the companies that undertake CSR activity and yet even this information wasn’t very easy to find. It would seem that more does need to be done to demonstrate the range of ‘extra curricular’ value that corporations, big and small, bring to wider society.

While shouting about the charity work you do or how much money you donate to good causes is not a very English attitude to take it’s probably time companies shouted a bit louder to get this message across to the public. Particularly when the spotlight is being shone on corporate governance and the integrity of public figures.

 

Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – January 2011 

 

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