Friday, April 17, 2009

Is CSR Part of PR?

Lisa Batchelder, media strategist and writer, asked this question on Linked-In: Do PR and CSR go hand-in-hand?

In my mind, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a part of corporate PR.

If you consider PR to be the function that manages relationships with corporate stakeholders, and you consider the community (collectively) in which your corporation operates to be one of your key stakeholders, then CSR efforts are programs intended to improve and maintain relationships with that community.

It goes further than that. It can be an example of what Al Golin, one of the founders of GolinHarris International, calls making deposits in the Trust Bank. All the key stakeholders for an organization -- shareholders, customers, employees, the regulatory and legislative authorities -- are members of the community at large. Positive CSR efforts may not speak directly to their roles as shareholders and customers, etc., but it does speak to them as members of the community. Al's theory would suggest that CSR efforts make deposits in the corporation's Trust Bank. They give the community at large, and all the key stakeholders that are a part of that community, a positive feeling toward the corporation.

If there is a crisis, these deposits might be withdrawn in the form of the community trusting the corporation to not have knowingly done something bad or wrong.

Here is what Al said in "Trust or Consequences" the Institute for Public Relations Annual Distinguished Lecture he gave November 20, 2003, in New York city.

"Years ago I coined a term for McDonald's called the "Trust Bank'' -- to describe how deposits of goodwill can serve a company well when it faces a crisis or other negative news. The value of this was dramatically illustrated during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Just about every quick-service chain restaurant in Watts was trashed or burned -- except McDonald's. Not a single one of its restaurants was touched. All their franchisees agreed that the activities they designed to create programs to help communities economically, educationally and in other ways -- protected McDonald's
during this crisis. I'm happy to say that the company still uses the "Trust Bank" term inter-changeably with community relations."

So, I return to my original assertion: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a part of corporate PR.

I will add that the best CSR programs respond to the most important needs of the community. Organizations should determine the issues they wish to address and the most appropriate programs for their organizations by doing research with the members of the community.

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