Editorial: Hard news is crucial to win CSR coverage

The media is not exactly starved of column inches theorising about CSR, but what is lacking are genuinely news-worthy examples of companies actually doing things that are in line with responsible business practice.

As Financial Times environment correspondent Fiona Harvey says in our feature on gaining coverage for CSR activities (p21): 'My attention is only grabbed by concrete examples.'

One school of thought holds that publicising a company's CSR initiatives is asking for trouble. Many firms remain reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet for fear of a media backlash should a story surface that undermines any credentials they have built as a socially or environmentally responsible company.

That is a judgement for firms to make individually. Many aspects of responsible business practice will necessarily be tied up in the intangible systems and processes that go on away from the limelight.

Those bold enough to take the media plunge, however, should forget trying to sell-in the obligatory charity donation story. For a CSR initiative to be newsworthy, it needs to be innovative and striking - and core to the business. Barclays, for instance, garnered coverage this summer with a free money advice session for homeless people in Stoke-on-Trent. The contrast between a huge financial institution and its penniless counterparts made for an intriguing story.

The media might be a cynical bunch, but they can spot the difference between CSR initiatives that appear as merely window dressing and those that demonstrate substantive change. Robust news values apply as much as ever.

Aside from hard news, the media's longer-term perceptions of a company's CSR is, ofcourse, best served by actually engaging with NGOs and pressure groups that might be instinctively hostile to the company and winning them round. Those groups deal frequently and proactively with the media and can provide a more credible endorsement than a corporation itself.

Danny Rogers is away.

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