CSR Reporting: Think Small

Most everyone believes companies need to be “responsible for doing the right thing,” but it was interesting to read that 84% of those surveyed in a recent Cone Communications study felt companies are also just as responsible for effectively communicating said actions. What’s more, nearly half of those surveyed claimed they’d avoid a purchase if they couldn’t find out about a brand’s CSR efforts.

Whether or not that’s aspirational or truth, the question is: How? How do you reach a consumer with news that can be technical, dry and most likely very unrelated to the benefits and attributes of the product on the shelf? Yes, it’s important stuff, but it’s far from the colorful language of consumer products.

What’s required is tenacity.  

What’s missing from the Cone study is a measure of how hard consumers are actually working to find this information they care so much about. Based on my experience, most aren’t willing to look very deeply. To reach consumers, and meet this rising demand for greater back story, you have to be determined. Here’s a look at some options to consider.

CSR Reports Kill Trees

Let’s start with the big daddy, formalized CSR reports. I’m pretty sure that mid-sized, privately held companies back away from CSR reporting because it freaks them out. Have you ever taken a look at the GRI standards

I’ve only had one client go through this rigorous process. The effort was admirable and extremely time consuming. One of the biggest benefits was identifying gaps in their own efforts and opportunities to improve. The findings were lengthy. I’m not sure anyone read it outside the company and core stakeholders.

GRI standards provide a consistent framework for businesses around the world to follow, share and compare so that companies can find inspiration and embrace transparency. This is all very positive, and I’m not saying that businesses shouldn’t review the standards, find inspiration and consider adopting the framework. To reach consumers who want to check off the values box before they make a purchase, look for more engaging, digestible ways to share your commitment. 

Consider a News Release

There’s a lot of information you can pack into a one-page release. Publicly sharing your benchmarks, results and goals is a great way to reflect on your accomplishments and keep your organization accountable. Think about all of the things you can share, such as:

  • Efforts to minimize waste
  • Commitments to renewable energy
  • Community giving
  • Community building
  • Employee volunteerism
  • Green building
  • Sourcing standards
  • New environmental certifications

Deliver News in Small Chunks

What are your human stories? Small acts and accomplishments don’t always warrant shouting from the rooftops, but with the right audience in the right medium, they can make an impact. 

Don’t dismiss the power of a photo of your employees hammering together a house for Habitat for Humanity, the family farmer growing your key ingredient or the effort you made to implement a company-wide composting program.  What might seem somewhat insignificant to you because it seems “everyday” is interesting to the consumer who wants to get behind the curtain and see what motivates your company. There are a lot of ways to share these briefs and updates:

  • Customer newsletter
  • Company blog
  • Social media news feeds
  • Partner newsletters and events
  • Audio podcast
  • Video vignette

Create a Brochure

Did I just say that? Yes, but notice I didn’t say annual report.  

What I’m talking about is a small, perhaps tri-fold printed piece that can reinforce your commitment and share where you are on the sustainability path. The key here is brevity, a topline overview that reinforces your commitment in writing. Fit in anecdotes and easy-to-digest information where possible and graph key results to help bring the story to life, and provide enough proof points for wary consumers. 

Use this tangible declaration of your dedication:

  • As a leave-behind at sales meetings
  • To place on chairs at speaking events
  • To share at industry trade shows
  • For visitors to your office who wait in the lobby

The main point is not to get hung up on analysis paralysis. Share what’s most relevant; bring your stories to life with pictures, quotes and graphics. Break up your stories in small chunks and look for every opportunity to slip in your message.

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1 comment about "CSR Reporting: Think Small ".
  1. Alison DaSilva from Cone Communications , November 30, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.
    Appreciate your perspective on our latest research. The challenge – and opportunity – for companies today is to communicate the right information, to the right audience, in the right channel. As you point out, consumers want information about CSR efforts but not necessarily all the nitty-gritty details. It’s not a case of trying to reach every stakeholder with every detail – there is no “one size fits all” in any kind of communication, especially of the CSR variety. Savvy marketers understand what kind of information matters most to each set of vested stakeholders – and also that this information will vary from audience to audience, both in content and delivery vehicle.