Thursday, March 15, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility
Programs Require Holistic Approach

Samantha Taylor Provides Strategy Tips

CSR is the latest acronym blazing its way through the marketing landscape, as Corporate Social Responsibility has garnered sufficient buzz among agencies and boardrooms alike. And based on the positive results that CSR programs have generated for early adopters like Starbucks and Microsoft, it is likely that other companies will come flocking to the “feel good” trend.
Samantha Taylor, the speaker at the recent CMO Club dinner in Connecticut pointed out that being “socially conscious” has proven a powerful way to address the issue of declining low trust in corporations and brands. “Socially conscious activity is a key to safeguarding a company’s reputation and at the forefront of most CEO’s agendas,” Taylor said.
According to recent research, 94% of executives expected social responsibility to have a greater impact on strategy in the next five years, and 68% agreed it would be tied to business success in the future.

“Socially conscious activity is a key to safeguarding a company’s reputation and at the forefront of most CEO’s agendas,” -- Samantha Taylor, Reputation Dynamics

However, Taylor also cautioned attendees not to rush into CSR with a fragmented approach. “Unfortunately, a lot of companies are putting philanthropy and sponsorship as separate issues and not assessing the impact of their involvement or how it relates to their brand,” she said.
Taylor, the founder and principal of New York-based Reputation Dynamics, has more than 15 years experience working with global companies and not-for-profit organizations on issues aligned with social responsibility programs. She recommended a structured approach to building a holistic CSR program, which starts with an Assessment stage and leads to a Measurement stage so there is accountability attached to the investment.
“A key step in the process is polling your employees and customers, and listening to their perspective on what the causes are that are meaningful to them. For companies that really listen to their constituents, CSR programs can help build a more productive workforce as well as a more loyal customer base,” she said.
Because CSR programs are still relatively new, Taylor said that there aren’t a lot of established metrics yet for investment levels and expectations. "It is vital to assess the costs and impact of existing initiatives, develop a separate budget for social impact and incorporate into the performance measures of managers with P&L responsibility."
While it is often a struggle to get some other marketing programs budgeted, Taylor added that many CEOs often have “a secret fund” they are willing to tap into for the right cause.
Taylor stressed that it is critical that there is “alignment” with the cause a company chooses and the positioning of its brand. She highlighted nutrition, the environment and global warming as causes that are generating the most interest lately. However, she pointed to education and literacy campaigns as under-supported causes that could have a greater impact for many brands on both a global and local level.
There are several tools available to help companies find charities that match their brand positioning, and Taylor listed Charity Navigator as one of the best resources online.

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