A growing responsibility

CSR is nothing new, but some companies are taking their initiatives further to forge a deeper connection with consumers.

CSR is nothing new, but some companies are taking their initiatives further to forge a deeper connection with consumers.

It's a fairly common scene in most supermarkets or liquor stores on any given weekend night: a group of friends stands in front of a beer display, mulling over beverage choices. Price and quality are certainly always factors, but will this group also base its decision on the fact that one brand is involved in a number of alcohol responsibility programs and the others aren't? Dan Lewis, global chief public affairs officer at Molson Coors, hopes they will - and he's not alone.

Companies from a variety of industries increasingly are banking on the notion that consumers will consider products based on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Lewis says that for consumer product brands, and more so alcohol companies, CSR needs to be part of the company's DNA.

"We have a special responsibility to the community and consumers," he says. "Consumer product companies have a unique privilege in that we bring our product directly to the consumer and have direct contact to them through our products. With that comes a responsibility to talk about our role in the community."

Molson Coors has participated in a number of CSR-related initiatives and activities, ranging from promoting responsible drinking to improving the environment. It's currently a co-sponsor of MVParents, an alcohol responsibility program focused on reducing alcohol abuse among under-age drinkers by teaching parents how to talk to kids about alcohol abuse. Lewis says it's also a supporter of DrinkAware Trust, a program aimed at reducing alcohol abuse in the UK.

"In the past, [such] things would have operated independently as part of the alcohol responsibility program tied to our marketing efforts," he explains. "But now, it's a piece of our CSR story. It's something we can point to and say, 'These are our values and we're responsible about the way we market, promote, and sell our product.' It's a demonstration of how we deliver on that and it becomes part of an integrated story."

Molson Coors is also doing its part to go green. In the US, the brewer is a participant in the EPA Climate Leaders Program, an industry-government partnership aimed at getting companies to develop long-term, comprehensive climate-change strategies.

Put it in the report

This year's big CSR effort, which Lewis believes will spawn more CSR programs and campaigns, is the release of the company's first-ever CSR report. Scheduled to be released online in September, the report will focus on the company's role in the areas of alcohol responsibility, the environment, and local communities, as well as corporate policies, ethics, diversity, and safety.

Lewis believes CSR reports help establish that emotional connection to a brand that modern consumers want; it's no longer just about great products.

"The personality of the company behind those products is equally as important," he adds. "Consumers want to know if it's a company they can trust and believe in, and whether they want to be purchasing that product, no matter how great it is or how much they enjoy it."

CSR activities have been a staple at Ikea for about 10 years, but the company is only now starting to talk about its efforts. Mona Astra Liss, corporate PR director, Ikea North America services, says the company has implemented environmental and social programs.

Its latest initiative is the Bag the Plastic Bag program, which launched March 15 in all of Ikea's US stores, and is designed to reduce plastic bag usage. As part of the program, Ikea charges customers five cents for each plastic bag they use. Customers can choose to pay the five cents, not use any bags at all, or purchase Ikea's reusable Big Blue Bag for 59 cents. All proceeds from this year's program will go to American Forests to plant trees.

Liss says the effort has caught the attention of the youth segment, a group that represents a prime target for many brands, and a demographic whose desire for companies to be socially responsible is continually increasing.

"I took out my blue bag in a store the other day and a 20-year-old girl said she heard about the Ikea program and thought it was a great idea," Liss says. "The youth are looking to businesses today to set an example [of] ways that they can make a difference."

Going global - and local

Michael Mullen, global communications director at Heinz, which will be releasing its second CSR report in September, says its biggest CSR initiative is its micronutrient program. The program, currently running in 15 countries, is intended to provide a daily dose of health benefits to children worldwide through packages of powdered, taste-free nutrients that can be stirred into food. It distributed 70 million last year.

Heinz is also the sponsor of the Pittsburgh chapter of the America on the Move initiative, which encourages families to live healthier lives through healthful eating and active lifestyles.

"Worldwide, you're seeing more of a focus on CSR activities," Mullen explains. "Long term, you'll see more and more companies putting more resources behind CSR."

"The CSR component of communications is going to grow in importance and it will become a part of a lot of the discussions companies have when they talk about financial compliance, ethics, environmental standards, and health and safety in the workplace," Molson Coors' Lewis adds. "All of those things will now have a CSR component."

Building a successful CSR campaign

Vickie Fite, MD of MS&L Los Angeles offers these critical elements

1. Identify a relevant platform. Look for causes that forge an emotional connection.

2. Be clear, yet creative. Ideas that are confusing do not succeed and are easily forgotten.

3. Local customization is key to success. Corporate causes generally do not resonate on a local level. The program will work better if the motivation for it comes from the heart.

4. Package your local wins to showcase national momentum and impact to various constituencies, such as internal stakeholders and the media.

5. Keep execution of your efforts turnkey.

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