Commentary

Social Responsibility: Is It Good Marketing?

The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) added a new category to its annual Adrian Awards this year: the Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Award. 

The decision comes out of data supporting the fact that many consumers are prioritizing corporate social responsibility (CSR) and holding companies accountable for effecting social change.

HSMAI gave out four of these awards. 

One went to Aqua-Aston Hospitality for a “Reef Safe” campaign about sunscreens that are not damaging to coral and for helping to pass a bill outlawing some sunscreen products. 

Hersha Hospitality was rewarded for its EarthView sustainability program.

Hilton won for its “Travel with Purpose -- Where Responsibility and Hospitality Meet” campaign, a massive undertaking discussing 2030 Global Goals to reduce carbon, send zero soap to landfills and reduce water consumption and waste.

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Then there was  Micato Safari’s  “AmericaShare” program, which, among other good deeds, sends children to school in Kenya.

Hilton’s program, just as an example, is ambitious and includes: doubling the amount spent with local, small and minority-owned suppliers; doubling investment in opportunity programs for women and youth; contributing 10 million volunteer hours through Team Member initiatives; doubling monetary support for natural disaster relief efforts; and advancing human rights capabilities in Hilton’s value chain to eradicate forced labor and trafficking. 

Since a marketing and sales association is giving out the award, does that mean focusing on CSR is really good marketing? 

Look at some of the results. Hilton’s initiatives achieved the following: more than 280 articles globally with a reach of 570.9 million readers, including articles in Travel + Leisure, The Washington Post and USA Today. There were also well over a million impressions on Hilton Newsroom Channels. 

While many companies proclaim their “do-good” platforms, it’s helpful to take bold steps or become a leader to make the most noise. For instance, Hilton was reportedly the first lodging brand to ban plastic straws among its 650 managed hotels, receiving attention from many top-tier media outlets including NBC, Forbes, USA Today and Associated Press. 

The hotel company was also reportedly the first in its industry to set science-based targets for carbon reduction and the first to pledge sending zero soap to landfill. 

Hilton did a comprehensive job of getting the word out. On the day of its 2030 Goals  announcement, it distributed a press release with infographics and videos globally. And since pre-briefings were conducted prior to the announcement, there were a number of articles already written on launch day. 

Hilton shares all of its corporate responsibility efforts, on its corporate responsibility website (crs.hilton.com) and publicly discloses information and impact through its Hilton Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Index. 

Due to the high level of transparency surrounding the company’s corporate responsibility strategy, the company made the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, in addition to ranking first in the industry in Forbes and JUST Capital’s list of America’s Most Just companies.

Doing well by doing good is a cliché, and there are perennial accusations of corporate “greenwashing.” But as HSMAI sees it, a huge demographic is making choices based on who’s doing the right thing.  It’s time to think about CSR in a bolder way.

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