It is a question to which many people instantly provide a strong response. 'CSR is about doing the right thing,' they say. 'PR is about telling the world what you're doing.'
Such a discussion arose once again this week at a fascinating early-morning ethics debate at the House of Lords, hosted by CSR consultancy GoodCorporation.
Chatham House rules prevent PRWeek from revealing precisely what was said and by whom, but once again this writer felt the need, in private discussions, to defend the PR profession in this debate.
Unfortunately many organisations are deliberately keeping comms people away from CSR policy for fear that any progress made will be 'seen as just spin'.
There is a view that comms people should instead be brought in once all the serious work has been done. Then 'the PR guys' will be able to put together glossy brochures and press releases without fear of the firm being caught out for hypocrisy.
This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the power of outstanding comms within organisations. If the definition of PR is enlightened reputation management then it is better that comms professionals are involved in the CSR process from the very beginning.
This is not to suggest that CSR should always 'report in to PR', but that comms people provide a complementary set of skills to CSR executives, who tend to have a legal or accountancy background. This alliance should happen at board level.
Good comms professionals provide an organisation with an objective viewpoint. They listen to what stakeholders are saying and they feel the pulse of external consensus. Later on in the process they can motivate staff and suppliers to fulfil required changes in behaviour.
Ultimately, comms staff can tell the wider world about what has been achieved. Indeed they can do so more effectively if they were involved all along. They can even inspire others organisations to do likewise.
In other words, PR can be a force for the wider good.