It’s often said that the goal of a Corporate Social Responsibility function in business should be to cease to exist. Can CSR be so embedded in the company that a separate CSR team is wholly unnecessary?
It’s a useful question, in that it helps to avoid ‘silo’ thinking. And that’s essential when you’re developing the communications plan for your CSR report. We think through five distinct, cumulative steps when we help our clients to engage their stakeholders in their good CSR work.
1. Look up and look out….
Leadership in CSR can’t be separated from leadership of the company. Don’t get lost in a silo.
So you’ve been lost in the weeds of your report: proofreading, arguing with the in-house lawyer, checking some annoying data point that you know is wrong! But—deep breath—raise your eyes to the horizon. What is your business about? What is its purpose?
You have a purpose; your business exists to do something. And it’s a cause your people can believe in, a reason they should get out of bed in the morning. Accountancy practice Grant Thornton aims to ‘enable a vibrant economy,’ housebuilder Redrow says ‘our purpose is to create a better way for people to live.’
So the key question you must answer first is, How will your report contribute to your company’s purpose?
2. What’s the story, morning glory?
Now that you’ve aligned to the company’s purpose, what’s the report about? Is it ‘How we do business?’ or maybe ‘How we aim to fulfil our purpose?’
The key thing here is to be sure it passes the Joe test? Can you explain what’s it all about and why the key story is the key story to the average Joe—or some suitable non-expert you can genuinely imagine talking to about it? If it keeps coming out a bit full of jargon, keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ Why is that important? And why is that? Use ‘The Five Whys’—asking the question over and over—until you get to a single, clear and simple message.
The key question here is, If you had just one sentence to tell the average Joe what the report is all about, what would you say?
3. Remember, your company is communicating all the time.
You need to get both the report and some of the messages deep in the report into your company’s overall communications schedule. But first you need to understand that context. What are the key messages the company is conveying this year? Where can the report amplify those messages? Or reinforce them? Can you can find a way to add to the momentum of your company’s communications?
The central question here is, Which of the messages in the report will amplify your overall company communications plan?
4. Build on your momentum.
Write with your audience in mind: What do they need to learn?
Connect step three to this one: your stakeholders may not all be reached by the company-wide communications plan. You may need to do your own thing as well. But what? Start with stakeholder mapping. Work out which of your audiences are interested in which issues. Then plan which elements of the report you’re going to share to them.
Build a content calendar that unpacks the stories and data in the report and sequences them. That way you can plan your communications around key industry or business events, see where you have gaps and prepare content in time—all while dovetailing with and reinforcing the company’s communications.
Your key question here is, What are your stakeholders interested to learn?
5. Launch it well!
Another day, another ReportAlert. (Don’t’ get me wrong, I like the service!) But the content that the team have to work with is often weak.
Reporting is about being transparent to your stakeholders about your impacts and progress. So, ideally each year you increase your transparency. Make sure your report is not only about how your company is getting better, make what’s in it better than before. And make sure it gets to them! If it’s lost in another newsletter, or if it lands in their inboxes without catching their attention, stakeholders won’t take note of the important messages you’re keen to share. And they won’t get the opportunity to learn, even if your message is important to them.
Your key question at launch time?… How will you reach your stakeholders with new insights, in a way that piques their interest?
Integration and Communication
For years, we’ve been saying that the keys to CSR success are integration and communication. It’s still true. Integrate your CSR or sustainability programmes with what society demands, and when communicating, integrate the messages with the company’s overall purpose and brand. And be sure to consider what your stakeholders are concerned about. Adopt this integrated mindset when planning your CSR report publication and communications plan, and you’ll increase the chance you deliver value to your company, and insights to your stakeholders.
Adam Garfunkel is an owner and Managing Director at Junxion. He’s been involved in corporate sustainability and social responsibility for more than 20 years, writing award-winning reports and supporting the advancement of social responsibility on three continents.