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The Role of the Public Relations Professional in Corporate Social Responsibility Communication

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

Corporate CEOs and governing boards grapple with accurate communication of corporate social responsibility initiatives and increasingly with the role of the public relations executive in CSR communication. Yet, questions arise over who is best positioned to communicate a CSR program and what is the best method of conveying company CSR communications.

Some traditional executives may claim the involvement of the corporate communications or public relations department will simply broadcast to the marketplace that the company is blatantly self-promotional and “greenwashing” a specific issue. Other executives, who may have had strategic communications courses in their MBA curriculum, assert that these same departments are most adept at handling the complex communication of corporate social responsibility programs. Let’s examine the arguments for the involvement of the public relations professional in the corporate social responsibility communication algorithm:  

  • Public Relations Professional as Strategic Communicator: While the history of public relations may include facets of “publicity” and “press agentry,” the public relations profession has matured beyond these narrow, tactical functions, rising to accepted positioning as  strategic communications. The public relations professional now serves a role as “prescriber” of recommended communications strategies to advance the essential mission of the enterprise. Public relations professionals with access to the CSR decision-making table offer great insights into devising and deploying a corporate social responsibility program that will resonate credibly with key stakeholders.

  • A Keen Understanding of Internal and External Stakeholders: The public relations professional resides in a unique position characterized by rich knowledge of the variable needs of stakeholders involved in a corporate social responsibility program. With the benefit of sound research principles and practices, the public relations professional serves as pivotal source for information about how and what to communicate to investors, the marketplace, employees, and other key stakeholders in a corporate social responsibility program. 

  • Mastering Digital Communication for Maximum Impact: With the 24/7 information hum of social media, the online blogosphere, demands of corporate websites, and the compelling mandate for social reporting, the public relations professional is steeped in rich knowledge and experiences with technologies and dialogic communication.  These professionals can deliver valuable strategic insights and practical resources for executives seeking to inform and enfranchise stakeholders.

  • Standards of a Professional Ethics Code: Contemporary public relations professionals operate in a complex and sometimes cluttered communications environment that may perilously lure unsophisticated communicators. Engaged professionals abide not only by internal corporate codes of conduct but also by external, professional ethics standards from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).  The contemplation and adherence to these codes ultimately raises CSR communications to a higher ethical plane that can formidably withstand external scrutiny.

  • Transparency and Corporate Social Reporting: If CSR is truly embedded into corporate communications strategy, public relations professionals provide a responsive platform to frequent inquiries about corporate mission through consistent communications. The Barcelona Principles provide uniform reporting standards that gauge corporate communications performance and enable valid comparisons with other institutional programs. 

Considering these factors, no other executive in a corporation is as solidly positioned 24x7 for global CSR communications as a public relations professional. Executives charged with implementing corporate social responsibility programs should invite the public relations team to the decision-making table to discern appropriate approaches for CSR and the subsequent communication to various stakeholders. 

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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