What's in a Name? CSR, sustainability, etc...

In June, the Clinton Global Initiative, known as a catalyst for corporate social commitments, will host its first-ever session focused solely on the US, in this case, on economic and job growth.

In June, the Clinton Global Initiative, known as a catalyst for corporate social commitments, will host its first-ever session focused solely on the US, in this case, on economic and job growth. It's a fitting milestone marking corporate America's growing willingness to think beyond the next quarter's profits.

One growing and passionate sector of the PR profession has been dedicated to advancing that thinking, even if practitioners still can't agree on what to call it. Initially, it was called "corporate social responsibility." Many practitioners dropped the word "social," because it affects economic and environmental practices too.

But the debate continues. In a well-crafted Harvard Business Review piece a few months ago, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer called for a name change to "creating shared value," while other practitioners want to call it "corporate sustainability."

But Shakespeare had it right when he put these words in Juliet's mouth: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Done properly, corporate responsibility (CR) is rewarding work. And PR professionals can play a key role. They are adept at analyzing and prioritizing issues, and at engaging in dialogue with diverse stakeholders on behalf of a company. Both of these are critical elements for success.

Ideally, CR starts with a company's values, which can speak to a commitment to benefit society. Brand positioning then provides a promise for how that commitment will be carried out.

CR goes to business strategy, aligning a company's practices with the expectations of stakeholders. It can lead to innovative new products or services, more efficiency, and risk reduction, all good for a company's bottom line. At the same time, it can address societal needs and reduce environmental impact. CR is most credible when a company sets goals and publicly reports on progress against them, including challenges.

Different companies will have different recipes, and the ingredients may change in proportion. Philanthropy, volunteerism, and cause-related leadership can each play a role in bringing a CR strategy to life for employees and customers.

If a "brand" is how a company describes itself, and "reputation" is what stakeholders actually experience from the company, then CR helps make sure the two stay in sync. Done right, it leads to trust. And for PR professionals, isn't that one definition of success?

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