Like any corporate process, a good CSR strategy takes time and involves many stakeholders. It’s very important to have clear short and long term goals. This CSR strategy should be developed hand-in-hand with a plan for communicating your goals, and your record on meeting them. Without a plan, your CSR communications will be at best ineffective and at worst actually damage your company’s image as a CSR leader. Here are five reasons why a CSR roadmap will help your communications team for years to come:
1. Avoid surprises
When we talk about making the business case for CSR, we often talk in terms of carrots (positive things CSR can do for your company) and sticks (bad things that might happen if you don’t consider CSR). The first reason why you need a CSR communications roadmap is a stick. If you don’t have a plan, and your CSR communications are not aligned with the rest of the organization’s CSR activities, you risk being hung out to dry – promoting something that is not in line with what your company is already doing. If you do that, you open your organization up to charges of greenwashing. Your CSR communications must be integrated with the overall CSR plan for the organization.
That means your organization also needs a CSR plan. And the communications imperative for having a cohesive story to tell is often one of the driving forces for creating one.
2. Emphasize what’s truly important to your organization
The easiest way to start thinking about CSR is to get to the roots of what’s important to your company and the core issues facing your company. If you’re Costco, your core values probably have to do with providing good value to consumers and supporting communities by providing great jobs. If you are MillerCoors or Coca-Cola Enterprises, you are in the business of providing tasty beverages – but your business also uses a lot of water. These issues should all be heavily featured in each company’s CSR plan.
In GRI terminology this means looking at what’s “material” – and using that to drive a CSR strategy, which will determine which CSR projects have the highest priority for your company. The communications plan should come out of the CSR strategy, using all those great projects to tell the story.
3. Build on your strengths
A good CSR communications roadmap, borne out of the CSR strategy, will inform your communications team of the projects that highlight the company’s strengths, allowing them to amplify the impact of these projects through press mentions. This sort of streamlined integration will maximize the benefit of all the dollars spent on CSR efforts.
4. Manage your weaknesses
Let’s face it – most companies who have made some inroads into CSR have some projects that are going really well, some projects that are not going as well as planned and some CSR concerns they aren’t even sure how to address. For example, your employee volunteering program might be going like gangbusters, but your energy efficiency projects are behind schedule and you have no idea how to handle third party suppliers.
The CSR communications plan can help you promote those arenas where you have a lot to be proud of while keeping folks updated on those projects that are still in progress.
While many CSR communications focus on the strengths, with good reason, it’s also important to plan for how to talk about the things that aren’t going so well. This helps your company frame the conversation – and it heads off potential negatives at the pass. You won’t be opened up to negative attention from NGOs or media if you were the first one to share the information.
5. Aid your reporting process
Finally, a good CSR communications plan can actually support future cycles of the CSR reporting process. Think about it, the plan represents a really great outline for your CSR report. Says Nancy Mancilla, the CEO of ISOS Group, a lead GRI trainer,
“As CSR/sustainability reports, along with the supporting management systems evolve, it is ever increasingly important to coordinate closely throughout the reporting process with the communications team. We need to increase efficiencies internally and roadblocks at the end of a cycle don’t do a reporting organization any favors.”
Planning and internal coordination will amplify the reach of your CSR report and your CSR communications – as well as making both a lot easier to achieve.
Readers – what do you think? Are your company’s CSR activities aligned with Communications? Do you see planning happening in practice? What roadblocks are there to internal coordination and planning?