Maximize the Value of CSR Initiatives Through Effective Content

Jennifer Risi is a seasoned communications executive with more than 15 years of experience. She oversees global media relations at Ogilvy and serves as senior advisor to many of the firm’s clients. She is an expert in nation branding, CEO positioning, crisis communications, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business-to-business strategy development. She is a worldwide board member of Ogilvy Public Relations.

Risi was a key architect for UN Women’s iconic HeforShe campaign with Emma Watson – creating a historic, movement encouraging gender equality. Risi also is senior advisor to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

Versaic: Why should companies invest in CSR?

Jennifer: Because doing good is good business. Done right, properly designed and implemented CSR programs correlate to stronger growth and profitability.

Versaic: What brand and marketing value can CSR and Sustainability Initiatives bring?

Jennifer: Customers, especially millennials, are attracted to brands with strong values – brands that stand for something. CSR brings these values to life and makes sure a brand’s positioning is more than just talk. We also live in an age of hyper-transparency, driven by easier sharing of content on social media. So companies following unsustainable businesses practices are under more scrutiny than ever, and can very quickly find their reputation and profits damaged if they do not take CSR seriously.

Versaic: What advice do you have for brand marketers who are trying to make CSR or sustainability an essential part of the business?

Jennifer: It is not enough for brands to have a CSR department anymore. In order for a brand to be successful, it must have CSR integrated into its core business goals and values. This must be led from the top, and should be a key focus for management and the C-suite.

Versaic: What are the unexpected benefits or outcomes that you have seen for companies that have implemented CSR Programs successfully?

Jennifer: CSR programs do not just benefit a company’s external image, they often form powerful employee engagement platforms, as people want to work for companies that play a positive role in the world. Programs around sustainability can also have long-term cost savings, despite the initial investment involved.

Versaic: What are some of your favorite CSR brands and what makes their programs so effective?

· Estee Lauder is another company implementing a unique CSR approach by doubling down on corporate giving. The company is leading the way in providing consumers with options to buy products in which proceeds go to causes such as AIDS research and breast cancer research.

· REI’s #OptOutside campaign won big among brand loyalists, and even branding experts at the recent 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The company’s #OptOutside won the Grand Prix prize in the festival’s final Titanium Lions category for the campaign which hinged on the retailers decision to close all locations on Black Friday and pay all employees so they can spend time with family outside. The feel good decision not only made its employees happy but sparked a movement to abandon the Black Friday tradition and to disconnect.

Versaic: What is the most important way companies should measure success and how does that lead to value in the business?

Jennifer: There is no one-size-fits all model for measuring the success of a CSR program, but you should always start with your objectives. From there, you can track various data points to see how/if you are meeting them. Start with the basics, what are you putting in? Track hours, dollars spent, and the conversation generated. etc. Then look at the behavior or attitudinal change you wanted based on objectives. E.g. Greater sales, brand perception, or employee retention. Only after this can you start to assess the ROI of your program.

Versaic: How can companies truly differentiate themselves in how they communicate their CSR initiatives and results?

Jennifer: While most companies have CSR initiatives, the details and results are often only disclosed in annual corporate reports. These companies are missing out on the rewards that earned media can bring to amplify their CSR efforts. The key is for brands to devise an earned media strategy at the beginning of the program planning. Today, every media campaign today should focus on a strategic mix of traditional media, social media engagements and content (video, infographics) to drive, decisions and desired outcomes. Earned media will not only help tell your brand’s story, it will also lend it credibility.

Versaic: What tips can you share with companies who would like to increase the impact of their CSR programs?

· Public-Private Partnerships: Align your brand and cause with a reputable public sector organization that fits with your values.
· Influencer Engagement: Find credible third-party thought leaders who can support your cause.
· Employee Engagement: Engage employees in the c-suite and beyond.
· Paid/Owned Channels: Create and distribute content on owned, paid and social channels to tell your story in your own words.
· Earned Media: This is the key channel of influence to increase the impact of CSR. Earned media increases word of mouth – the highest converter of action.

Versaic: Where do you see CSR going? What is going to be important 3 years from now?

Jennifer: The battle in the coming years for company’s CSR will be around authenticity. Most brands know they should be doing something, but if you cannot convince your customers you are truly committed to the cause and it is no more than just ‘window-dressing’, it will fail. Given the number of CSR programs out there competing for share-of-voice and recognition, only the most credible will cut-through.

This post was originally published on the Versaic Blog.