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CSR Is More Valuable Than Ever…or Is It?

Everyone agrees that CSR efforts are extremely important for big-name corporate clients, right?

No, seriously: we don’t know the answer to that question, and it all comes back to the biggest challenge in the industry: drawing a solid line between point A and point $.

First: The results from data king Nielsen’s latest Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility have already inspired headlines about CSR cementing its place as a crucial element of the big name PR equation.

Its basic finding: 50% of consumers surveyed in 58 countries say they’re willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that have “implemented programs to give back to society.” That number increased in ¾ of the countries surveyed, rising 5% in total since 2011. And the “yes” votes were highest in the crucial under-30 demo.

No surprises there. The only finding that we didn’t expect is the 12-point increase in pro-CSR sentiment among the 40-45 demo. Seems like CSR’s value has become clearer to all parties, no?

Maybe.

Related research raises several open-ended questions that the industry will have to answer in greater detail as the practice evolves.

Consider this completely contradictory study, conducted less than a year ago by the Reputation Institute. Its findings reach the opposite conclusion: the world’s “most respected” corporations are pouring millions into CSR projects but have no tangible results to show for their big spends. In fact, only 6% of participants could confidently call these top 100 brands “good corporate citizens.” The big problem, according to the survey’s authors, is that corporations aren’t giving CSR the same attention as other goals like, say, selling stuff. We get it: Microsoft is supposedly the most responsible corporation in the world, but their name is not the first that pops into our minds when we consider the topic.

Everyone’s a little confused.

Here’s our theory: a near-majority of consumers do, in fact, want to spend their money on products created by companies that choose to behave responsibly. At the same time, most aren’t exactly sure what that means, and they’re wary of related corporate messaging efforts primarily because they don’t trust either the actor or the facilitator (that would PR professionals like us).

So how can PR pros cut through the confusion by more clearly demonstrating the value of CSR programs for both consumers and clients?

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