In today’s evaluation-driven communications world, corporate
citizenship remains one area where millions are spent, usually without
registering the slightest flicker of the corporate reputation tracking
Although major corporations are pouring substantial funds into
worthwhile causes public warmth towards these companies - which is (or
should be) the ultimate desired by-product - remains elusive.
A recent MORI poll of the public showed an extremely low awareness of
companies’ corporate largesse, with only two being spontaneously
mentioned - and then only by ten per cent of the respondents.
Companies are typically very effective at communicating their good deeds
to opinion forming peers, those in the charity sector or public figures,
but seem unable - or unwilling - to tell their good news story to the
general public. This is despite the fact that public trust and
favourability towards a company is frequently a key differentiator in
It is this invisibility of corporate citizenship to the public eye, that
may well have spurred BT to run its recent TV advertisements trumpeting
that company’s contribution to charities and communities. Whatever BT’s
reasons, the ads should be useful ammunition for corporate affairs
directors across the UK, looking to gain approval for similar
The precedent of seeing one of UK’s major corporations conspicuously
telling the world about its admirable track record in corporate
citizenship is a very welcome development in the debate over whether it
is appropriate to blow one’s own trumpet when it comes to doing good
Because that question provokes deep divisions in most boardrooms. This
is hardly surprising given the British heritage of corporate giving.
Traditional philanthropy as conducted by the great Victorian
entrepreneurs, was enlightened self-interest, which reflected a set of
genuinely held values - often based in religious beliefs - that also
happened to make good business sense.
Corporate citizenship in the UK does not have a heritage as a marketing
tool. Publicity has not always been a desirable objective and many
companies still feel uncomfortable ’shaking the collection bag’, viewing
it as vulgar and exploitative of the needy.
But there is no reason why, if handled sensitively, such positive
communications need cause offence. Companies deserve more recognition
for the genuinely innovative and sophisticated projects that typify
today’s corporate citizenship scenario.
It is time that companies stopped hiding their light under a bushel.
The emergence of cause related marketing is another welcome trend,
encouraging more and more companies to use their involvement with good
works to help sales - and why not? Those needing help receive it, the
public feels good about buying the products and the donor company gains
in terms of reputation and sometimes sales - the classic win/win
Far too many corporate philanthropy initiatives are win/lose situations
- and if public relations practitioners do nothing to change that, it
won’t just be companies that lose out.