Thursday, 22 April 2010

CSR + PR = ?

I’m doing my dissertation on the topic of CSR, trying to understand the controversial aspects related to the relationship between CSR and PR. I don’t remember exactly how I first heard about CSR, but I’m almost sure that it came from the PR point of view. After reading more, I found out that there are extreme views on CSR and its purposes. Some people say that CSR activity is used only for PR purposes, like reputation building etc. Others are saying that it’s not about PR, it’s about a way of doing business, sustainability (more recently), it’s a necessity in the context of the current degradation of society and environment, it helps the company be competitive (hmm, is there no relationship between competitiveness and PR???). I even found an aggressive motto on the blog of a CSR international conference which took place in Romania in 2009: “to those of you that think CSR is a PR or marketing tool, I recommend not to come to the conference or read more”. Personally, I would have said: “to those of you that think CSR is ONLY a PR or marketing tool, I recommend not to come to the conference or read more”. Because I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. CSR in not only a PR tool, it has more purposes and determining factors, but it has a PR side also. Then why did they invite to the conference as speakers ‘Head of External Relations’ or ‘Corporate Communication Leader’ or even more striking, ‘Head of Corporate Communication & Sustainable Development’. I don’t know what those people talked about, as I wasn’t at the conference, but the fact that they have been invited raised some questions in my head on the apparent non-relationship between CSR and PR.

And as an argument, I will talk about the most appreciated CSR activity in UK, Marks&Spencer’s Plan A. It started in 2007, when they decided to set out 100 commitments to be achieved in 5 years. Looking at this, and how the plan is working until now, and the fact that they even extended the plan until 2015 with another 80 commitments, we can say that indeed, it is a way of doing business. It represents their core value, which is sustainability. Until now, they achieved 46 commitments.

I found some interesting ideas in an article written by Marks & Spencer's Mike Barry and Lucy Calver. They say that the era of CSR is over and sustainability is the new CSR.

The first lesson is not unique to M&S. Many global businesses, including Nike, Unilever and Google, have recognised that the days of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are over. CSR was all about managing a few sensitive areas that had the potential to generate positive or negative headlines. To be a credible player today, however, you have to understand all the social and environmental issues that are relevant to your business.

Ok, so what they say is that before, CSR was all about PR, generating headlines. But what does ‘credible player’ mean? It means that CSR or sustainability still has its PR side, more specifically, reputation management, even though it’s not only about this anymore. And talking about reputation, I found another interesting part in an article:

The new report puts the environment front and center. Retailers, according to recent research from Covalence, have entered a new age of corporate citizenship in which not only working conditions but environmental impacts of production and products are playing a large role on reputation. M&S ranked at number one as the most reputable company in the eyes of British consumers in the UK rankings of the Global Reputation Pulse Study 2009 published by the Reputation Institute.

I believe the word ‘reputation’ has been used enough times in this quote to make us see the PR purpose.

Another interesting aspect is the following statement of the Marks&Spencer representatives: ‘Moreover, we believe that communication, even more than technology, is the key to building a sustainable future.’ Isn’t that PR? Communicating with suppliers, consumers, stakeholders in general to produce sustainability means PR. It means, in terms of theory, the symmetrical communication of Grunig.

From what I wrote here, we can learn two things:

1. PR is a tool used in the production of CSR;
2. CSR, among others, has PR purposes.

These two represent my assumptions in my dissertation. August will bring out the truth.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Offline vs. Online Communities

I have seen a lot of articles discussing the revolutionary social media, what a great invention it is and how enthusiastic are people about it. Thus, I decided to write about the downsides of Facebook, focusing on the impact on our personal lives, because I think that social media, in general, is sometimes overrated.

I am not a hypocrite, as I myself am using Facebook. Of course, it has its advantages. For me, personally, it is an easy way to find out what my friends from home are doing, as I’m studying abroad. Still, I’m not sure about this, because I can see what they are doing, through pictures, statuses etc., but I can’t find about everything, personal experiences that don’t go on Facebook, and I still have to have personal discussions with them. And after all, that is what makes a friend, sharing good and bad experiences, advices etc. So, for the sake of facebook, let’s say that is a quick update of friends’ condition. In academic terms, it is maintenance of social capital created in my previous offline community. Here is an article discussing the relationship between social capital and Facebook.

But what happens when it is overused? What happens with the people that have problems with face-to-face communication? They start using this network and have the false impression that they are socializing. But then, I told myself that maybe I have a false impression of what socializing means. So I looked in the dictionary for the word 'socialize' – to mix socially with others in a friendly way. So far, it makes sense. But mixing socially means creating a society, in this case a virtual society. So, I looked in the dictionary for the word ‘society’ – a system in which people live together in organized communities. Ok, ‘communities’ is fine, we are creating online communities with shared ideas, values etc. But what are we doing with ‘live’? Is that how we want to LIVE, in front of a computer? Because another definition of society is ‘a community of people living in a PARTICULAR COUNTRY OR REGION and having shared customs, laws, organizations etc.’ What happens if I want to have a drink with my friend on Facebook? I know, I am sending him a round. And I know he will feel the taste just by clicking ‘Accept’. Here is an episode of South Park that I found very funny and interesting in explaining in an exaggerated way this downside.

In the end, we have to create a balance in our lives between being members of offline and online communities, and I am afraid that some people cannot manage that. Thinking about this, I remembered a friend telling me about someone owning a successful online business, making 10.000 euros a day. But his life meant being in front of a computer from the moment he woke up until he got back to sleep. He did have a wife and children, but he made them ‘happy’ by giving them money to do what they want. I wonder when he had time to make those children.