As 2014 CSR Reports File In, Research Shows Companies Must Go Beyond a PDF

Only 17 percent of Americans say they have read a CSR report in the past 12 months, according to Cone Communications global research
Jul 15, 2015 2:20 PM ET

July 15, 2015 /3BL Media/ - Although 82 percent of Americans expect companies to report on the progress of their social and environmental efforts, only 17 percent of Americans say they have read a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report in the past 12 months, according to the newly released 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study. This gap presents a need for companies to innovate the ways they inform and engage consumers and other stakeholders of their progress against goals.

Originally designed to meet the demands for transparency among investors and key influencers, CSR reports historically took the form of a dense 100-page PDF document. According to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, when it comes to what forms CSR data and commitments should take, Americans feel brief written summaries (42%), interactive websites (36%) and videos (29%) are more effective than comprehensive written reports (18%). These preferred formats signal the broader challenge for companies to make their CSR data more accessible, dynamic and compelling to secure a larger return on investment.

“Companies have an immense opportunity to bring information from long-form CSR reports to life in new and dynamic ways,” says Lisa Manley, CSR Strategy Executive Vice President for Cone Communications. “Just as different stakeholders are interested in specific commitments – report information can be customized to effectively reach each audience. Although investors may be seeking more robust metrics, consumers will gravitate towards interactive websites, short snapshots and fun videos. The door is wide open for companies to take CSR reporting to entirely new levels and innovate to create experiences that resonate best with each stakeholder segment.”

In an effort to push forward innovation in this field, Cone Communications has developed five tips to take CSR reporting to the next level:

  • Innovate Formats: CSR content should take many forms - a long-form report is just one execution. Turn CSR data and metrics into infographics or social media “badges,” transform static stakeholder quotes  into videos or build a custom app for your sales teams to share CSR commitments on the road.
  • Tell More Stories: Although CSR reports are typically chock-full of data and figures, it’s important to balance these metrics with the amazing stories behind successes and progress. In fact, 66 percent of Americans believe a combination of both numbers and/or data and stories of impact are equally important when learning of company CSR commitments or results.
  • Build for Fun, Interaction and Ease: Don’t let your readers’ eyes glaze over from too many static charts and pages of text. Americans want an engaging and uncomplicated experience, whether that’s achieved through a dynamic website or simplified look and feel. Take advantage of navigational toolbars, hyperlinks and scannable content so readers can zero-in on the content they most want to read. Build out websites with a mix of video, images, interactive charts and more to keep readers engaged and interested.
  • Get Social: Americans spend more time on social media than any other major internet activity, including email. So make your CSR reports a part of the social experience. Go beyond slapping a Facebook icon at the top of your webpage and build social components right into your report. Encourage and enable readers to share data points, information on commitments and more as they read – pre-populate posts for an even easier social sharing experience.
  • Make it 365: In today’s world, things can change in hours or even minutes, so don’t wait an entire year to talk about your company’s CSR progress. Companies can make reporting real time by pulsing out information throughout the year, especially around major milestones. Think of CSR reports as turn-key content calendars; create a plan for the entire year while also responding in the moment to news or developments.

Available experts for quotes and interviews:

  • Lisa Manley, Executive Vice President, CSR Strategy - Lisa is a seasoned sustainability professional with nearly 20 years of experience. As a leader of the agency’s CSR Strategy group, her infectious passion for sustainability and social impact energizes the award-winning strategy and communications practice. Additionally, Lisa has extensive experience serving as Group Director for The Coca-Cola Company’s Sustainability communications team, where she led worldwide corporate communications and stakeholder engagement.
  • Judy Sandford, Vice President, CSR Strategy - With more than 20 years of marketing communications experience, Judy has focused the last decade of her career on sustainability communications and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting. Drawing upon her passion for taking CSR data beyond the pages of a report, she has helped more than 30 Fortune 500 corporations and leading nonprofits tell their stories and ensured that their stakeholders get the message in the way they prefer to receive it – including interactive web experiences, social media and video.

Cone Communications experts are available for interview or byline requests for those interested in information about the newest innovations in CSR reporting.

To schedule an interview or receive a copy of the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, please contact Whitney Dailey,, 617-939-8376.

About Cone Communications
Cone Communications ( is a public relations and marketing agency known for igniting brands with high-impact strategies and programs based in deep insights, unique subject matter expertise and innovation. Focusing on key areas such as corporate social responsibility, cause marketing, nonprofit marketing, corporate communications and brand marketing – the agency is positioned to help clients achieve both business and societal outcomes. Cone Communications is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc.

About Diversified Agency Services
Diversified Agency Services (DAS), a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) (, manages Omnicom’s holdings in a variety of marketing communications disciplines. DAS includes over 200 companies, which operate through a combination of networks and regional organizations, serving international and local clients through more than 700 offices in 71 countries.