A recent Wall Street Journal piece on CSR, which appeared as part of its "Big Issues" supplement, featured a debate on the viability of CSR programs titled "Corporate Social Responsibility: Good Citizenship or Investor Rip-Off." You can guess where they might be going with headlines like that.
But moreover, the Journal and other business publications that cover this issue seem strangely out of step. For many corporations, the debate was settled long ago, and CSR is part of the fabric of their cultures and strategies. But there was Benjamin Heineman, SVP for law and public affairs at GE, in the Journal, defending the corporation's initiatives, such as Ecomagination and anti-bribery policies, against accusations of indulging in "utopian dreams."
Oversimplification is one problem with much of the CSR coverage. "CSR is a simple term for a complex issue," says Judi Mackey, director of the US corporate and financial practice at Hill & Knowlton. "However, the complexity is not always apparent to corporate leadership - and certainly to consumers." And not, seemingly, to the business media.
Mackey maintains that the PR industry also looks at CSR too narrowly. Going even further, Adam Segall, a principal at Vistance Group, says that the real story is being overlooked by everyone, namely that CSR has moved on from identifying issues to real problem-solving. Taking on some of the globe's most recalcitrant issues is creating the need for companies, NGOs, and government to partner as never before.
"The excitement in the marketplace today is the unconventional collaboration that is taking place," he says. "It is how these forces are coming together in new ways to address intractable problems."
This story was most effectively told in the media through Time's selection of Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as its Persons of the Year. Through their separate channels, the Gateses and Bono have applied their skills and contacts to solving the daunting issues of poverty, AIDS, education, and other social concerns. Their particular brand of genius, in uniting disparate elements to create positive change, is also happening in enlightened corporations every day.
A new day on the horizon for PRWeek
This is the last time that PRWeek will appear in its current form. Next week, we will debut a fresh look, including new elements that will amplify and improve our coverage of the industry overall.
Change of this kind is not undertaken lightly. We convened focus groups of readers from three different cities, and also heard from a group of marketing executives who aren't subscribers. We will have an updated design, an enhanced media section, and a greater focus on the real-world examples of how PR strategies are applied to meeting business objectives.
Another thing that will change is this very column. Heretofore labeled "Editorial," it will assert its proper editorial role going forward, with an unbylined reflection of the views of PRWeek's editorial team on a range of issues.
I, along with other PRWeek editors, will continue to write columns in rotation on the other Opinion page, and we will continue to bring in outside perspectives for the Op-Eds and guest-columnist sections.
We are incredibly excited about the new PRWeek. I hope our readers will feel the same way.