Skip to main content

Just What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

What do people mean these days when they speak of corporate social responsibility?

Does it mean extracting sea turtles out of fishing nets or not eating monoculture salmon? Does it mean not out-sourcing jobs to cheaper foreign lands even if it raises the standard of living in those places? What if the outsourced jobs go to foreign union members? A friend maintains that his H-1 Hummer, which he expects to drive for 20 years, has less negative effect on the environment than a shiny new Nissan Leaf, which will last only until its batteries die. Is he right? Is it more socially responsible for a company to donate to an AIDS orphan cause in Africa than to a ballet company in Africa? What if the ballet company in Africa employs AIDS victims or does a benefit for AIDS victims?

Some of these questions are ethical questions and most of us aren't ethicists. So how are we supposed to navigate the thicket of sometimes competing and oftentimes perplexing conundrums framed as issues of corporate social responsibility?

This was all so much easier when “the business of America [was still] business,” to paraphrase the former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929).

I am, however, a marketer. And in marketing one way to learn where you stand with important stakeholders is to ask them. It won’t necessarily yield perfect moral clarity, but it can suggest pathways.

Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm and division of media giant Omnicom, in conjunction with the National Consumers League conducted three studies on the subject of corporate social responsibility from 2005 to 2007.

I read the executive summary for the 2007 study and if you can get past the laughably inaccurate renderings of the bar charts and the occasional editorializing in the summary... which has been no small hurdle for me... there may be something here for cause marketers.

What does “corporate social responsibility” mean? Fleishman-Hillard asked consumers just that as an open-ended, unprompted question. A truncated list of responses from the 2007 survey released in May 2007 included the following:
  • Commitment to communities—23 percent
  • Commitment to employees—17 percent
  • Responsibility to the environment—11 percent
  • Provide quality products—10 percent
  • More charitable donations—1 percent
  • Don’t know—9 percent
What contributions do consumers expect from companies? Again, the truncated list included:
  • Non-financial contributions—29 percent
  • No expectations—13 percent
  • Treating employees well—11 percent
  • Fixing problems created by company—11 percent
  • Doing a good job—11 percent
  • Environmentally-friendly practices—10 percent
  • Financial contributions—10 percent
What to make of these low numbers when it comes to corporate charitable donations? The authors of the study’s executive summary surmise that:
“…the consistent findings across both the 2006 and 2007 CSR surveys, when it comes to defining the meaning and expectations surrounding CSR, suggest that companies’ charitable and philanthropic giving is no longer enough to impress consumers. Perhaps it is now viewed as a standard expectation that consumers have — a bare minimum requirement — to even be considered as a socially responsible company.”
They’re suggesting that there’s a kind of market price for corporate social responsibility and that consumers have already factored corporate generosity to charity into that price.

According to the Fleishman-Hillard study, what is likely to move the needle for consumers when it comes to corporate social responsibility is self interest.

When asked what is most important to consumers with regard to corporate social responsibility the top vote getter with 29 percent was ‘treats/pays employee well.’ If England is a nation of shopkeepers then the U.S. is a nation of employees. And the survey's respondees internalized the question and answered it as employees.

That's easy to see right now. Unemployment in the United States was about 8.6 percent in March 2011. But back when unemployment Fleishman-Hillard asked the question in 2007 unemployment was right about 4.5 percent.

For cause marketers I think the take-home is that our cause marketing campaigns must be more mindful of employees.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Alden Keene Cause Marketing Stock Index Dramatically Outperforms Other Indices

There are stock indexes galore; the Dow, S&P 500, the NASDAQ Composite, the Wilshire 5000, the FTSE, and hundreds more. But how would an index of the stocks of companies that do a meaningful amount of cause marketing perform compared to those well-known indexes? Pretty well, as it turns out.

I first floated the idea of a stock index that would track companies that do cause marketing back in 2009. I tried to figure out Yahoo Pipes so that I could put the feed right into this blog. But alas sometimes the geek gene does fall pretty far from the tree.

So I talked to programmers to see if I could find someone who could do the same, but it was always more than I was willing to pay.

Finally, last week I hired a MBA student to do it all in a spreadsheet, and what do you know but that over the last 15 years a basket of 25 cause marketing stocks dramatically outperforms the Dow, the S&P 500, the NASDAQ Composite, and the Wilshire 5000.

The index, which I call the Alden Keene Cause Market…

Pimping for Constant Contact

OK, not pimping really. More like a gentle noodge to nonprofits and the companies that love them that it’s time to start email marketing.

I was invited to a local presentation on email marketing from Constant Contact, the Waltham, Massachusetts email marketing outfit whose target market is small businesses and nonprofits.

They offer a cause-related marketing campaign called Care4Kids meant to benefit children’s causes. Constant Contact customers are invited to nominate worthy 501(c)(3) children’s charities to receive a free account along with the training to create an effective email campaign.

Non children’s charities are probably still eligible for charity discounts. If you’re outside the United States you might be able to induce Constant Contact to consider your cause. Alternately, you could suggest a similar program to email marketing vendors in your home country.

It goes without saying… I hope… that every nonprofit needs an email marketing component. Email marketing is a good deal lik…

An Interview with Cause-Related Marketing Pioneer Jerry Welsh

Jerry Welsh is the closest thing cause marketing has to a father.
In 1983 after a number of regional cause-related marketing efforts, Welsh, who was then executive vice president of worldwide marketing and communications at American Express looked out his window in lower Manhattan at the Statue of Liberty. The Statue was then undergoing a major refurnishing, and in a flash Welsh determined to undertake the first modern national cause marketing campaign.
I say modern because almost 100 years before in January 1885, the Statue of Liberty was sitting around in crates in New York warehouses because the organization building the pedestal ran out of money. And so Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the newspaper called The World, proposed a very grassroots solution reminiscent in its own way to Welsh’s cause-related marketing.
Pulitzer ran an editorial promising he would print the name of everyone who donated even a penny. Sure enough pennies, along with dimes and nickels, quarters and dollars, …