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Crafting the Message in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications

Submitted by Kristie Byrum, Ph.D., APR

This is the most recent article in our series on CSR & Sustainability Communications and Reporting. For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/71-csr-sustainability-communications-and-reporting/posts

The imperative to accurately and effectively communicate is born from the moment the corporate social responsibility program is established. Communicating the effort, both internally among key stakeholders and externally outside the walls of the corporation to the myriad of those external audiences that can make the program a success or failure, deserves both attention to detail and an allocation of financial resources in the CSR program budget.

Through effective communication, the corporate communicator can develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders. However, the pitfalls of claims of “self-promotion,” untimely messages or “off-target” communications indicate ongoing threats in the formulation of a CSR stakeholder ecosystem.

  • Research First, Communicate Second: Savvy communicators avoid a common mistake: communicating without the benefit of research. To analyze this equation, consider: For whom is the program? What is the social, political or economic situation that they are facing? How will this corporate program address this issue? How is this CSR program different from others that exist?


  • Understand the Stakeholders (and how they prefer to receive information): By understanding the habits and attitudes of CSR stakeholders, you will glean valuable information about how to communicate with them, when to communicate with them and what messages will mean the most for them. For example, a cause marketing program benefitting cancer research has an immediate group of stakeholders, including patients, hospital staff, physicians and families. However, don’t forget that each of these audiences consume media in a different way. To effectively communicate with them, we must first understand, through research, their communication habits.   


  • Articulate What Matters: Once the CSR campaign is established and operating in the marketplace, the temptation to report ancillary fun facts or contiguous comments becomes tempting. Always consider the strategic message and how to effectively communicate that message. By reporting specific outcomes of the effort, the impact may be “shown” and not simply “told.” Further, consider first-person stories and testimonials from the campaign itself. By attaching faces to a campaign, the CSR moves from beyond a corporate initiative to a human one. 


  • Avoid Self-Serving Language While Still Emphasizing Corporate Participation:  Corporations that undertake CSR initiatives deserve an opportunity to convey their roles in the specific campaign. Company spokespersons, trained in the key messages of the campaign, should actively articulate various aspects in the program across all media outlets. While some critics chastise businesses for “self-serving” promotion, language designed to focus on the CSR program outcomes and the beneficiaries can help to minimize this criticism. 


  • Manage Your Feedback: A mature CSR communications program will yield something even more valuable than the results themselves: A CSR program will enable the corporation to reach key stakeholders in a meaningful way and establish two-way communication information loops. Communicators must actively monitor this feedback and determine the best ways to return messages and facilitate meaningful dialogue.  

The strategic creation of a CSR message must not be an “afterthought” in the executive decision-making process. By aligning the CSR program objectives with communication objectives, the foundation of an integrated communications program may be formulated. With appropriate budget, staff and participation in the senior-leadership of CSR decision-making, the individuals who craft the CSR message will dramatically contribute to the ultimate success for the CSR program.  

This is the most recent article in our series on CSR & Sustainability Communications and Reporting. For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/71-csr-sustainability-communications-and-reporting/posts  

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