NEW YORK: A host of stakeholder groups, from consumers to employees, demand that businesses are good corporate citizens in today's market, industry experts said Wednesday at the PRWeek NEXT Conference in New York.
Susan Arnot Heaney, global director of corporate responsibility at Avon, said CSR has been a tenant of the company since its founding in 1886. One of its nine principles was to "contribute to the well being of society and the environment in which it functions through corporate citizenship."
Today Avon has three tent-pole initiatives that focus on breast cancer, domestic violence, and sustainability. The company promotes breast cancer prevention races in Muslim countries where not too long ago, discussion on the subject was taboo. Buy-in for its most recent initiative, “Hello Green Tomorrow,” expanded to 60 countries in three months.
Panelists agreed that having a CEO who is a champion of CSR efforts is critical to creating momentum. Linn Parrish, VP of PR and cause marketing for Panera Bread, said the idea for its “community cafes” came about because the chief executive wanted a program that went beyond just writing a check. The three cafes allow people to pay what they can afford.
“It's a great model for taking your core competency and seeing how you can make it a key differentiator,” said Parrish.
Heaney agreed, adding, "Efforts must play to your core strength. When we step out of that circle we are less effective."
To build effective CSR efforts, companies should also ensure they are in it for the long haul while using consistent outreach but refreshing efforts to keep consumers interested, the members of the panel said. Authenticity is equally important, they added.
Scott Beaudoin, director of cause marketing CSR at MSLGroup, noted that a CSR effort must be aligned with a company's business. He added that companies could do a better job telling stories around their efforts.
"As marketers, we are great at telling the who and the what, but we need to build engagement with creative narrative,” he said.