Can Corporate Social Responsibility be used as a PR tool?

Pic courtesy: Unsplash

When I look back at 2020, among the many things that stands out for me is how organisations rose to the occasion to support healthcare and frontline workers, ensuring an adequate supply of masks, PPE and ventilators. Humanity was at the core and COVID created a level playing ground for everyone. This was the good face of the pandemic.

From the many negatives and ripples that the pandemic created along the way, it was the push for putting up media stories attempting to showcase the ‘humane’ and ‘empathetic’ face of the organisation. Everyone wanted to be seen or heard and get a slice of some publicity. The bottom line – use CSR as an instrument for public relations. This one did leave behind a bitter taste.

In her book, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility is not Public Relations’, author Sangeeta Waldron outlines this very dilemma and nexus that organisations grapple with.

Divided into seven chapters and written in a simple, lucid style, the book contains interviews with 15 global thought leaders. It also has a dedicated chapter on India wherein the mandatory CSR law governs the overall ideation, implementation and execution of CSR programs.

The diverse viewpoints of leaders and entrepreneurs all converge at an intersection where the importance of CSR activities is recognised and acknowledged thereby, moving away from the ‘greenwashing’ that at times gets associated with the stories coming out of the CSR stable.

James Quinn, CEO of UK-based Faradion (that manufactures non-aqueous sodium-ion cell technology as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries) says that today it is the employees and consumers that hold companies to a higher standard and demand that companies be accountable. This seems to be much aligned to the principle ‘polluter pays’ wherein it is expected that companies that produce pollution must bear the cost of damage cost of human health and/or the environment.

The book delves into the heart of developing a CSR strategy that has its foundations around the business strategy of an organization. In 2014 when India introduced the CSR law, corporates fumbled to articulate a well-formed CSR strategy. Since then, both the Government and Corporates have worked to strengthen the framework for CSR – the last amendment notified in January 2021 builds in a robust impact assessment structure and calls out for more transparency and accountability. In the coming days and years, the importance of CSR is only going to be further reinforced. The book serves as a good reference point for those wanting to build the CSR strategy for their companies and also understand the business benefits of PR. The three elements of CSR & PR strategy as outlined are: a) knowing the vision b) involving employees and c) having strong KPIs to measure impact.

There is an interesting chapter in the book that gives examples of situations/incidents when CSR went wrong. The examples act as an eye-opener for anyone associated with brand building and reputation management. CSR as a reputation tool has to be used very judiciously and when done so, can score a big win for the organization.

What appeals in this book is the emphasis put on employee engagement, involvement and volunteering for CSR activities. We saw ample examples of this during the initial months of Covid-19 and we need to keep that momentum going. Employees value organizations that exhibit a high degree of empathy and a readiness to embrace diversity and inclusion in its truest sense.

In conclusion, as David Katz of Plastic Bank says on the final page – ‘Just show up and do well for the planet, do well for your staff, do well for everybody. Just show up and do right. It is not about doing better – do right and be human.’

In conclusion, CSR is not PR!

Sangeeta’s book is available on Amazon.

Disclosure: Sarita was part of the panel that spoke at the launch of the book and is one of the endorsers.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

Be the first to comment on "Can Corporate Social Responsibility be used as a PR tool?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.