Seven Steps to Turning Your CSR Report into a Year of Communications Content

We’ve partnered with AHA!, a creative communications firm, to deliver this series on CR communications. Throughout the series, we’ll explore why your company’s CR communications plan should go beyond the CSR report and give you tools to keep communication flowing all year long. Read the rest here.

Excerpted from the white paper How to Move Beyond the Corporate Responsibility Report, By Christian Hicks, AHA!

The corporate responsibility report is a beast.

First of all, it’s big. Virtually no area of your company is off limits. It often covers a year or more of activity. Some reports are well over 100 pages and packed with information.

Second, it’s hairy. Most CR reports take on complex and controversial issues that don’t have clear-cut solutions — dealing with climate change, designing products to be safe and environmentally responsible and protecting human rights in the supply chain, to name just a few.

And third, it’s got a huge appetite. It takes a lot of time and effort to gather and vet information from every corner of the organization, write (and rewrite) and design the report, and navigate the maze of reviews and approvals. That’s why managing the CR report can be the top to-do for one or more employees for months on end. It can also involve dozens of internal content providers as well as a stable of sustainability consultants, creative agencies and verification services.

Add it all up, and producing a CR report makes for a daunting — and costly— challenge. The tab can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But make no mistake: It can also deliver tremendous value.

Here’s how to maximize all that great content to promote your company’s corporate responsibility all year round.

This approach offers a couple of notable advantages. First, you can make the most of the goldmine of content your company’s CR initiatives are constantly creating. And second, by shifting your emphasis from merely informing stakeholders to engaging with them, you’re in a better position to widen your audience, open up dialogue, deepen understanding and build goodwill.

Once you’ve decided to go from publishing a single report to managing a broader communications platform, how do you turn intent into action?

Begin with these seven steps.

1. Set communication goals

This sounds like a no-brainer. But the twist is that the goals you set for CR communications need to link to your organization’s brand and business goals. In contrast, many CR reports are treated as specialized documents, often with much narrower objectives — such as driving traffic to the report’s website, seeding media stories and earning high ratings and rankings.If your company is focused on increasing sales in a particular market, launching a new product line or streamlining its supply chain, examine how your CR communications platform can support those initiatives. For example, you may be able to link a new product that raises the bar for energy efficiency to your company’s broader goal to reduce carbon emissions, strengthening your competitive position while underscoring your leadership in environmental stewardship.

2. Understand and prioritize your stakeholder audiences

Developing a CR communications platform is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. From customers to investors, NGOs to employees, the informational needs and expectations of your audiences will vary. To get a handle on those different needs and expectations, develop a profile of each stakeholder group that:

• Describes their perception of your company’s CR performance.
• Summarizes the CR issues of greatest importance to them.
• Identifies the most effective ways to reach out to them.
• Assesses their importance to meeting your business and communication goals.Use these profiles to refine your communication goals, determine which stakeholder groups to focus on and develop strategies for outreach. And remember: Audience perceptions aren’t static. Return to the profiles periodically to measure progress and calibrate your work.

3. Develop a CR content strategy

Plan ahead and think like a publisher, identifying themes to explore throughout the year — such as managing the risks of climate change or protecting human rights in the global supply chain.

Map the themes to your stakeholder groups, identifying where and how their interests intersect with — or are at odds with — your company’s priorities. While your themes won’t resonate with all audiences in the same way, focusing on themes that are relevant to all audiences can help create critical mass for your CR communications.In the messaging process, be clear about how you want to represent each theme. For each stakeholder group, develop a succinct statement that expresses your company’s position, approach and activities. Consider how the messages align with your company’s business strategy and brand positioning, and get buy-in from content experts and decision makers in your organization.Finally, develop an editorial calendar. This is your tactical roadmap for the year, plotting how your CR communications platform will unfold. It doesn’t necessarily need to include every detail, but it should give you a bird’s-eye view of what you want to say, to whom and by what means.

4. Keep the content pipeline full

If you’ve produced a CR report, you know gathering and updating content is easier said than done. But it’s essential to sustaining a CR communications platform — and it should make developing your next CR report easier in the long run.Because CR is so broad and often decentralized, it can involve dozens of internal leaders and subject matter experts. Most will be busy enough with their day-to-day responsibilities that your requests for information will be a lower priority. Others may not consider CR to be part of their domain, making them even harder to reach.

However, there are some overarching tactics to keep in mind:

• Look beyond position titles. Valuable information can come from unexpected sources.
• Share your editorial calendar and provide long lead times.
• Be specific about the type of content you’re looking for.
• Welcome story ideas from your content providers.
• Ask for, organize and flag content with your CR report in mind.
• Most important, make a compelling case for why CR communications are in your content providers’ best interests. In other words, what’s in it for them?

Make the most of what you have by managing your editorial calendar with an eye on repurposing content. For example, stories for NGOs about how your company is helping suppliers reduce their carbon footprint can be fodder for an item in a customer newsletter or a blog post.

5. Think beyond words

Use a full palette of media to express your CR messages. Some stories are better told through video, for example. Others may lend themselves to a photo essay, an infographic or even an interactive mobile app. Look for ways to show rather than simply tell — CR offers rich opportunities to profile how your company’s commitment shows up in people’s lives in ways that a data table or policy statement just can’t capture.

6. Tie into existing communications

You don’t have to create everything from scratch or go it alone. Chances are your company already has internal and external communications that can be great platforms for publishing CR content. E-newsletters, sales tools, executive talking points—even simple things, such as HR posters — can all be effective, as long as you align your CR message, target audience and communications channel.Often the best way to tap into these opportunities is simply to ask. The internal communications department is probably working from an editorial calendar when developing employee newsletters and updating the intranet.The corporate communications team might be managing a speaker’s bureau for executives. The sales team is constantly customizing their presentations for customers. And so on.

7. Embrace dialogue

Of the seven steps, this might be the most important to the ongoing success of your CR communications platform. Embracing dialogue requires a shift not just in how you develop and deliver content, but also in why you’re developing and delivering it in the first place.Don’t be afraid of inviting criticism. You’ll get more from a CR communications platform if you approach it as an opportunity to engage, listen and learn. Your company is grappling with issues that extend well beyond its walls and people. Bringing others into the mix is an acknowledgment that your actions have a ripple effect and that you alone don’t have all the answers — an idea at the very heart of corporate responsibility.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. But fear not — it pays big dividends. By dedicating the time up front to create a strong CR content strategy, you’ll have the foundation for an integrated communications platform with the power to shape how stakeholders view and interact with your company.

[Image credit: Simon Collison, Flickr]

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One response

  1. Stellar article.  It’s funny how many companies think of CSR as a siloed “add on” or worse, some obligation to kick down the road.   Part of the whole point is making it a part of every day business, to the point where some day it won’t even have an acronym, it’ll just be “business”

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