The Advertising Take on CSR: 6 Steps to Building a Responsible Company

by Aman Singh Das | November 23, 2010

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"No can argue with the fact that a brand is market-driven. Then, how is it that you still haven’t asked yourself whether you should be discussing corporate social responsibility?"

This is how former CEO and current Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Shelly Lazarus began her keynote at a recent Conference Board event for senior marketing executives. Her point: No brand can live outside its social context and philanthropy is no longer the way to say that you're good corporate citizens.

After an electric presentation by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh on the role of company culture, Lazarus attempted to connect the audience of senior marketers with her side of the world: advertising and brand management. "The debate has moved on to engagement," she began, "Most companies today are not thinking in terms of 'doing good,' but how they can fulfill their end of the 'social contract.'"

For example, Lazarus continued, in 1960, 70 percent of consumers felt business acts responsibly. This sentiment fell to 30 percent in 1980, and today, that number is in the low teens.

And trust begins with your employees, she added. Of late, employee engagement, ownership and contribution have been a regular topic for discussion on this blog. Whether it was debating Netflix's unlimited vacation days policy, discussing the alignment between business and employee values, why corporate citizenship is a two-way street, or Cone's survey results highlighting that lack of employee engagement was hurting companies' bottom lines, employee engagement is an indispensable piece of any organization's success, and Lazarus agreed.

Emphasizing that having an innovative and workforce must be a high priority for any organization, she observed, "To be viable, companies need to redo their framework and return to becoming trustworthy players. This is impossible without employee participation."

In the end, she left attendees with six key observations that could help align business strategy with social needs as well as restore brand recognition and trust in the marketplace:

1) Connect your brand with society

Ask yourself, what role does your brand play in society?

2) CSR is not a departmental function but a strategic mindset

CSR is not communications or marketing: It is about reflecting your core values. (Relevant: The PR Take on CSR)

3) Be real

Authenticity is crucial.

4) Find partners, collaborate

You don't have to go alone. Find good partnerships among the private and public sectors and go forward together.

5) Effective change must be driven by leadership

Any initiative or strategic change must be top-down to be successful. Make sure your leadership is completely in tow, otherwise, state the business case according to who you are talking to and get them all on the same page. (PricewaterhouseCoopers' Corporate Responsibility Leader Shannon Schuyler recently discussed this paradigm stating, "I had to accept that some people weren't going to come to the table or invest in this" and how for her, winning stakeholder trust was half the battle).

6) Employees are your best ambassadors

A company's internal audience is the sector that cares the most about your brand and corporate citizenship. Emphasizing that generation-Yers want to know that they are changing the world every day, Lazarus advised, "Gen-Y wants meaning in their careers, they want to be socially responsible. These programs then become their honor badges and your No. 1 retention tool. And they become your best believers and advertisers."

Now whether you call this new outlook at corporate social responsibility "enlightened self interest" as Lazarus puts it, or something else, corporate America is slowly waking up to a new reality in the marketplace, one that demands a holistic consciousness forgotten in recent years. And it's no longer about how to assign your advertising and marketing dollars but about setting a strategic direction that ensures the sustainability of your brand: for your consumers as well as employees.

Filed Under: CSR

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