The Business Case for a Broader View of CR Communications

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.

By Christian Hicks

Stories in this series have explored ways to increase the reach and impact of your corporate responsibility (CR) communications. Moving beyond an annual CR report to an ongoing communications platform is a promising strategy, but how can you make the case that the investment will be worth it?

Quantifying impact is a challenge for all marketing communications. But it looms especially large for CR, an area that many consider a place for transparency rather than an opportunity for engagement. Common metrics — such as visits to your company’s CR blog or followers of your Twitter feed — are a start, but they measure activities rather than outcomes. To make your strongest case for an integrated, year-round CR communications strategy, you need to lay out the tangible benefits to your business.

To wrap up our CR communications series on a forward-looking note, here are three opportunities to link CR communications to business success.

1. Greater brand value Because it builds relationships with stakeholders on environmental and social issues that speak to shared values or strike an emotional chord, a CR communications platform can go beyond protecting corporate reputation.  It can also enrich how people interact with your brand, helping lower customer acquisition costs and deepen loyalty.

Based on analysis performed by Interbrand, 13% of a brand’s value can be linked to its performance in corporate social responsibility. For companies such as Toyota, Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Volkswagen and Hewlett-Packard—the top five on Interbrand’s 2012 list of the best global green brands—effective CR communications can be worth billions on the balance sheet.

2.     Deeper employee engagement
A commitment to ongoing CR communications can also pay off in stronger employee engagement. In a global workforce study, the consulting firm Towers Perrin found that CR ranked third in the top 10 drivers of employee engagement. And according to the Corporate Leadership Council, companies with high employee engagement have up to 87% lower turnover and 20% better performance. This has a direct impact on the bottom line: Companies with highly engaged employees saw a 19% jump in operating income while companies with poor employee engagement saw an 11% drop over one year, according to the Towers Perrin study.

Helping employees understand—and embrace—their role in meeting your company’s environmental and social commitments can foster a stronger sense of contribution and ownership. Highlight stories of their contributions throughout the year, and back your efforts with surveys that measure workforce engagement.

3.     Mobilized stakeholders
When CR communications change behavior or compel action, it’s a powerful measure of impact. A good example is Levi Strauss & Co.’s efforts to save water, which it has identified as an issue that’s core to the sustainability of its business as well as the environment. In 2010, Levi’s partnered with Goodwill to develop care tags that tell consumers not only how to wash the clothes, but where to take them for recycling. As part of its Water<Less campaign, Levi’s has sold more than 13 million products that need less washing and teamed with to get thousands of people in more than 1,300 cities to pledge their support in providing clean water for life to more than 4,000 people worldwide.

This is the sort of program that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), partners, employees and other stakeholders are interested in learning about, but your CR report is the wrong tool for the job. A CR communications platform can be finely tuned to share tailored stories through different channels with each of those groups, helping a company like Levi’s mobilize its diverse audiences toward a common goal.

A marathon, not a sprint
Of course, a CR communications platform can’t claim full credit for these results. But make no mistake: It can be a valuable part of the mix. Keep in mind that the point isn’t to get a spike of attention through quick exchanges of information. The value of a CR communications platform is its ability to open up lines of dialogue with stakeholders through stories and ideas that reflect your shared interests. Over time, engaging with the people who matter most to your success will pay off in a stronger brand and business.

Christian Hicks leads creative strategy and content development for AHA!’s corporate responsibility practice, guiding sustainability reports, messaging and related communications from inception to execution. He has led AHA! teams in concepting and writing the 2010 corporate responsibility report for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Hewlett-Packard Global Citizenship reports (2008-2011) and, most recently, event communications for HP’s Unlocking Your Energy tour, which explored opportunities to use technology to dramatically increase energy efficiency throughout the global economy.

[Image credit: j.o.h.n. walker, Flickr]

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One response

  1. Measuring the benefit of going beyond the SD report to a communications platform is much easier in the investor sphere. Companies that host annual webcasts and invite all SRI analysts to attend and/or organise investor roadshows to meet asset managers gain two benefits:
    1) Time-saving – it’s so much easier to talk to all of the analysts at once on a timetable that you have defined than it is to answer every questionnaire or meeting request that they have on their timetable
    2) They gain access to a rapidly-growing pool of more stable shareholders

    … but they really do have to get beyond thinking that the printed, .pdf or web report is the way to achieve this

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