Last week I read a post on Environmental Leader about Microsoft slashing their CSR PR budget in favor of product promotion for Windows 7, Office and Xbox. While the cuts are currently in Europe, the post went on to say that Asia was next and that the U.S. would be “imminent.”
A budget cut in and of itself isn’t all that interesting — or newsworthy. Corporate budgets get cut all the time, and marketing and PR are typically the first to go, often regarded as extraneous spending by shareholders in mahogany boardrooms atop lofty ivory towers. But what’s interesting about this re-allocation of dollars is that they’re essentially shifting PR to… PR. Take a moment to let that sink in.
They’re taking money from PR efforts that help advance environmental awareness and social responsibility in a market in which they have mass reach to more heavily promote themselves and their own products. So, it begs the question if Microsoft is truly committed to sustainable business practices and furthering programs that serve the greater good, or if it is merely a PR tactic designed create the perception of social responsibility while their consumer capitalist agenda reigns supreme.
What struck me the most, and caused me to call Microsoft’s true CSR intentions into question, was a swift comment by a company representative that “in responding to the economic downturn, Microsoft is looking to protect its business lines first.” In many ways, I think that statement demonstrates that they haven’t embodied the underlying concept of CSR, which ultimately, is good for business far beyond ad hoc ad campaigns and a few additional Xbox sales. And it’s a concept that most of enterprise seems to be missing.
For a paradigm shift toward conscious capitalism to happen, corporations need to recognize that business built with their focus solely on lining their own pockets and padding their stock dividends is not sustainable in the long term. An increasing consumer demand to do business with conscious companies notwithstanding, CSR practices actually have significant — and tangible — benefits such as:
- Reducing waste and emissions not only helps the environment — it saves money, too. Cutting utility bills and waste disposal costs can bring immediate cash benefits.
- Environmentally-friendly goods allow for premium pricing that positively impact profit while creating additional revenue to feed back into CSR efforts. Ben & Jerry’s and Timberland are excellent real world examples of this concept in action.
- Supporting fair trade and employment practices creates jobs, keeps cash flow in the U.S. market and helps the local economy to thrive.
- A reputation as a company who gives back and employs socially responsible business practices makes it easier to recruit — and retain — employees.
- Employees feel good about working for a responsible company, and stay in their positions longer, reducing the costs and disruption of recruitment and re-training.
- Employees who feel good about the company they work for tend to be better motivated and more productive with a vested interest in helping to advance the business.
- Being an ethical company garners positive press, and positions the brand as a beacon of responsibility in the marketplace that drives brand affinity among consumers, and ultimately increased equity and market share.
- Proud employees become valuable brand ambassadors who evangelize the company and its products to friends and family, creating authentic WOM that increases brand exposure and top-of-mind awareness.
- Suppliers and other potential strategic alliances seek out socially responsible partners, hence strengthening and reinforcing a leadership brand position as a conscious company genuinely committed to forwarding social good and preserving and protecting the environment and the community at large.
CSR also offers the greatest path to innovation in creating new technologies that improve our businesses, our processes and our world. So, whether it’s a challenging economic time or a flourishing landscape, social responsibility is always a sound investment. Even the speculation as to Microsoft’s true CSR intentions and resulting posts like this one could have been avoided if they’d kept an eye on the greater good. And if their actions actually demonstrated a consistent commitment to consciousness over capitalism maybe it would make more consumers want to be a PC.