How Communications Can Elevate Clients’ CSR Initiatives

Practical tips for communicating consistently and effectively
May 17, 2017 3:00 PM ET
Campaign: Getting to Impact
Jennifer Risi, WW Chief Communications Officer, Managing Director, Ogilvy Media Influence at Ogilvy

How Communications Can Elevate Clients’ CSR Initiatives

For the next two weeks, we’ll explore the topic of communicating CSR initiatives. This week, we’re fortunate to hear from an expert on the matter, Jennifer Risi from Ogilvy. Next week, Versaic CEO Burt Cummings will weigh in on communicating with authenticity.

By Jennifer Risi, WW Chief Communications Officer & Managing Director, Managing Director, Ogilvy Media Influence at Ogilvy 

A key challenge for many companies is communicating CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities that remain true to their brand. As communicators, we have a responsibility to help our clients understand what will make their CSR initiatives impactful, relatable and inspiring. Convincing consumers that profitable companies are being good citizens for the betterment of society is no easy task; however, there are a few fundamental points to consider that can help accomplish the goal.

We’re all in this together

The entire organization should be telling the same story. This is where educating the organization’s staff is vital. Employees need to understand why their contribution is important so they can become advocates who help support and share the program’s goals with others. This not only helps the organization share one voice, employees also gain intrinsic value when they recognize their company has a strong CSR program that truly supports employees’ values.

Communicate wisely

An organization’s communications should not focus solely on its CSR initiatives. Instead, these initiatives should complement the company’s overall brand. When done correctly, CSR efforts will be acknowledged organically. While it is important for companies to explain what they are doing and why, CSR efforts should not come off as self-serving or simply a way for the company to seek media attention.

The media can be your friend

It is always good practice to include an integrated mix of earned, owned and paid media when telling any story. Yet, traditional media truly carries weight when it comes to CSR. It’s important for companies to have a comprehensive knowledge about their media contacts in terms of what they cover, as well as current events that would pique their interest. Having a good understanding about how the company’s CSR efforts can help a reporter cover a story that’s relevant to their audience is essential.

Nothing but the facts

There is nothing wrong with a company bragging (just a little) about its accomplishments. But if their communications don’t include facts to back up the boast, it’s a missed opportunity to inform with a greater impact. Let’s face it, CSR initiatives have gone mainstream; therefore, corporations need to be smart about how they communicate their success stories. How do companies know if they’ve connected with their audience? When they talk back! Use facts to ensure the audience is responding to the right things.

See me for me

When presenting clients’ CSR initiatives, the activities should be integrated into the company’s larger business model and demonstrate that the benefits are expressly for the greater good of society.

Ogilvy not only supports philanthropy by advocating for a great number of organizations and educational institutions, it also creates award-winning campaigns that inspire movements and produce results for its clients’ respective causes.

For example, Ogilvy client, Pfizer Inc. felt a social responsibility to educate the community about the importance of childhood vaccinations. Together with the client, the agency developed an educational campaign to raise awareness about the importance of timely adherence to the CDC-recommended immunization schedule, and to address common questions parents often have about vaccinating their children. The program sought not only to educate parents who may not fully understand the benefits of vaccination, it also recognized and celebrated vaccination as an important developmental milestone in children’s lives.

In another example, Ogilvy used insightful information from the energy industry to help Americans become more energy efficient. After learning that the U.S. consumes a jaw-dropping 20 percent of the world’s electricity (second only to China), the agency devised an innovative plan to combine the rapidly-growing adoption of plug-in electric vehicles with energy conservation in the home.

Understanding that the number of plug-in electric vehicles that share the same energy source as a home is steadily on the rise, Ogilvy recognized the opportunity for cross-industry partnership rather than relying on one single industry alone to evoke the change needed to truly impact energy conservation. Based on this insight, MyEnergi Lifestyle® (MEL), a collaboration between Ogilvy’s client, Ford along with SunPower, Whirlpool, Eaton, Nest, Infineon and Georgia Tech University was born. MEL shows homeowners how to save money on appliances and fuel through energy-efficient living. The idea was to show that the transportation and housing sectors could converge to teach Americans easy and affordable ways to use energy more efficiently.

In both examples, the client set clear objectives, created conversation, educated the community in smart decision-making, and made a positive impact – all while remaining loyal to their brands.

With a growing number of organizations joining the social good trend, it has become even more challenging to break through the clutter. Consumers are more likely to take notice of companies that participate in CSR initiatives that are representative of their brand.

An effective CSR strategy is one that is honest, supportive and communicated consistently. Success is achievable when companies share meaningful stories and create programs that inspire the business world to help society build a better tomorrow for everyone.