I’ve been asked many times at conferences, media trips, on social media and by email this timeless question - how can a company make its corporate social responsibility (CSR) stories stand out?
There’s no easy answer. Part of the challenge is in the statistics: estimates have suggested that there are now far more public relations reps than journalists and freelance writers than ever before. Earlier this decade, research suggested that ratio was three to one. A 2014 article in Guardian suggested it had risen to almost to almost five to one. A year later, another article suggested that ratio was pushing six to one.
Breaking through is a Herculean task with those odds; let’s also add the fact that many companies are so frenzied trying to churn out an annual report with a forest of data that those individual trees (as in stories) often get lost or overlooked.
Having an all-hands-on-deck-meeting in a conference room trying to dream up a CSR project that can earn press attention is also fraught with risk. You just cannot brainstorm an initiative on the fly and expect quick (media) results. I know. I’ve been stuck in such meetings.
But perhaps your company has been working on something related to the environment, supply chain, or community that may seem routine and par for the course at a quick glance, but really is a fantastic story after all.
One example is a peachy Campbell’s Soup Company salsa project that recently was showcased on Forbes and scored its fair share of buzz on social media.
The story is a classic one. Growers have been sending fruit to landfill because the crop’s appearance doesn’t meet typical consumers’ standards for aesthetics. Campbell’s partners with a local food bank, which agrees to buy those peaches for pennies on the dollar - a far better prospect for peach producers than paying to have all that fruit buried in a landfill. The company also donates the manufacturing and packaging expenses, while its employees volunteer to pack the jars so that they can be distributed and sold. Proceeds from this product’s sales end up helping food insecure families in New Jersey, where Campbell’s is based.
Here’s the thing about Campbell’s Just Peachy Salsa - this is not a new initiative - it has been around since at least 2012. I was one of many who were apparently not aware of this, and I’ve written about Campbell’s off and on for years. Yet the timing of the Forbes piece was perfect. After all, it’s summer; food insecurity is a big problem despite the booming economy; and more companies are trying to show that they are vested in the communities in which they work.
Let’s also remember how we position these stories. When a company rolls out their latest CSR report, the gut (and understandable) reaction is to blast out that summary of the report to 50 different news and trade outlets.
It could be the case, however, that instead of sending the summary of that CSR report out 50 times, within that report, there may just be 50 different stories worth sending out to 50 different writers, based on their interests. Sure, that means more work; but there is also the chance of more reward.
In any event, that CSR or sustainability program that has been humming along may just deserve a fresh look. If your company has numbers, statistics, the reputation, proven impact and most of all, a story, it does not matter how “old” this project is. What does matter is how that story fits within today’s context.
Image credit: Campbell’s
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.