CSR Roundtable: Responsible business

CSR has evolved from a separate business practice to an integrated part of many organizations' PR strategies.

CSR has evolved from a separate business practice to an integrated part of many organizations' PR strategies. Gideon Fidelzeid and Alexandra Bruell were in New York for this Waggener Edstrom-sponsored roundtable.

Marianne Allison, chief innovation officer and global lead of social innovation practice, Waggener Edstrom

Rob Anderson, MD of New York office, Fenton Communications

Scott Beaudoin, SVP of consumer marketing; North America director of cause marketing/CSR, MS&LGroup

Jaya Bohlmann, VP of PR and corporate comms, Sodexo

Matt Hall, VP of external comms, Hanesbrands

Frank Mantero, director of corporate citizenship programs, GE

Patrick McCrummen, senior director of corporate citizenship, Johnson & Johnson

Michael Neuwirth, senior director of PR, Dannon and Danone Waters of America

Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, VP of global comms, Estée Lauder, Origins and Ojon brands

Dave Tovar, senior director of media relations and digital comms, Wal-Mart

A strategic role
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How involved is communications in actually contributing to CSR strategy?

Patrick McCrummen (Johnson & Johnson): Corporate communications and PR is always a catalyst for these kinds of topics. J&J is a very decentralized company with three distinct business units – pharmaceuticals, consumer products, medical devices and diagnostics – and there are CSR communications champions in all of those units. My job is to draw that out and be the catalyst for change to help bake CSR into a more corporate strategy. It's a lot of relationship-building, not just within the communications function, but making sure those people within communications get out to environmental health and safety [leaders], brand managers, and operators and bring them all together. That's a really important role.

Michael Neuwirth (The Dannon Company): Good CSR should begin with a business need or a business opportunity. If it doesn't, it leads to charity, which is not a sustainable model. In order for a social responsibility strategy to be successful, it must have a communications function and they should be joined at the hip. If you're doing something that's not worth communicating about, why are you doing it?  

Frank Mantero (GE): I report in to the chief responsibility officer at the company, which is a dotted line to the communications leader for GE. I get to sit in on all communications staff meetings, weekly and daily calls, and so on. Having the lens of both a programmatic CSR strategy and also listening to what's happening across the business from a communications perspective really enables me to dig a little farther on some of the potential stories where sometimes we take for granted some product innovation or deal with a customer, I'm able to ask those questions and challenge the communicators on whether they know there's a potential CSR component to it.

Neuwirth (Dannon): We're similarly structured. Social responsibility actually ladders into corporate communications and PR in our company. Our CSR team is part of my team. We find that works extremely well because it bakes in the message and it's part of our overall regulatory and corporate affairs objectives. It's not separate or distinct. It's not an afterthought. 

Marianne Allison (Waggener Edstrom): If a company is looking at communications strategically, it's more likely to be layering communications strategically into its CSR. Often in companies where communications is a facilitator of issues that either do or will manifest in relationships and concerns for audiences and publics, communications can be the first to put those issues on the agenda for companies. They can't necessarily drive the strategy, but they can often drive a discussion about a strategy.  

Scott Beaudoin (MS&LGroup): I find communications pros are much more involved in CSR strategies today than they were maybe 10 years ago. They were often brought in to sort of say, “How do we communicate what we're doing in a way that's going to enhance our reputation?” Now it's more about, “How do we engage authentically with stakeholders to understand what the true needs are?” Communications pros do that really well. We understand what people are saying and who are the right or influential people we really need to engage with to understand where the strategy should go. I'm a lot more involved in the strategy side than ever before.

Jaya Bohlmann (Sodexo): Last year, Sodexo started to roll out our new social responsibility platform – “A better tomorrow.” The CSR team is not housed in the PR or corporate communications department and that was part of what we ran into, but to address the question of the role of PR and creating the strategy, we found ourselves in a good spot to advise and it kind of started out the typical way.

The CSR team said, “We have ‘A better tomorrow' and we want to roll it out. Help us put together the press releases and the messages.” Well, as we started to do our internal interviews with subject-matter experts – the food safety team, the supply management team, everybody involved – we went down that road for months and started to get a little pushback and a lot of hemming and hawing. It turned out, as we dug and explored a little bit more, it wasn't about the communications or messages, it was about the programs themselves. Many of them represented new positioning, new programs, new operational and sales mindsets, and things that needed to really be embraced by the company at a deep level.    

Dave Tovar (Wal-Mart): I've been at Wal-Mart about four years. Our sustainability initiatives started because of some of the reputational issues we had as a company, but we quickly realized we didn't have to work harder to tell our story; we needed a better story to tell. We found that the work that was being done across the business was really making a difference and fit perfectly within our business model.

Our CSR structure is housed within our corporate affairs team. What was new at the time was that we brought in an EVP who actually reports to the CEO. We'd never had that before. So we're happy to have a seat at the table. We're helping to build strategy and, at the end of the day, all the work lives in the business. We have a very small CSR team, probably the people that direct strategy, help bring the outside world in, partner with NGOs, things like that. But then it's up to our logistics team to make their trucking fleet more efficient; it's up to our merchants to work with suppliers and buyers to buy more sustainable products; it's up to our building and real estate team to make our stores more energy efficient, things like that. That's where it really has to live.

Trenesa Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): Estée Lauder Companies was really founded by a woman who listened to the consumer, literally was door-to-door, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, so it's very much a part of the company's DNA to listen. As the company's portfolio of brands expanded, we thought more about the positioning of that brand and what's relevant for a CSR giveback to those brands.

A lot of times you see that companies are doing good, but it's kind of a force-fit or odd fit for the brand. It's very much a part of the Origins brand to be connected to nature because we use natural ingredients. So that mandate really did come from the top down and we can all sort of define our roles and how we as brands want to develop a social responsibility program.

Matt Hall (Hanesbrands): There are as many different CSR reporting structures as people around this table – and they all have pros and cons to them. While we have a CSR vice president who is housed in legal, the CSR function is really kind of a virtual function. It's spread across the company. It is a benefit, as a communicator, to have an influence on strategy because you're dealing with the organization at many different levels and facets. I'm an old newspaper reporter and I use that to my advantage all the time. I approach people as an outsider, challenge them, and say, “Is that just a feel-good thing or is it really part of who we are as a business? Is it of strategic relevance to the business?”

We have been referred to as a quiet CSR leader over the past few decades. I can definitely tell you that if you're a quiet leader you won't get any credit. We really learned our lessons there and have pulled together a tight communication and just launched a CSR website a month ago, so we're out there and trying to get some of the credit our competitors get when we know we're light years ahead of them.

McCrummen (J&J): We're launching a new CSR website in the next couple of months that provides unprecedented depth and transparency across not just all the good work we do, but the processes behind it, why we do what we do, how we do it, and how we source things in our supply chain. We must be there as a voice or we're not going to be heard. The worst part about that is if you're not heard, people are filling in the information themselves and making it up, so we need to be there. I'm very new – I'm here nine months and this position is new – which is a recognition that it has to happen.  

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): It's interesting because the marketplace can also dictate if you raise the volume. Origins was founded on being connected to the planet and using natural ingredients and doing all these things. We were just making the assumption that our consumers were giving us credit for all these things. But when we found ourselves in the clutter of everyone slapping on “I'm green, I'm natural, I'm organic” on their packaging, it really challenged us to say we're authentic because we've been doing it since the brand's inception. That really worked to our benefit.

Touting accomplishments
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): When is it appropriate to really highlight your CSR efforts? How do you avoid crossing the line of seeming self-serving?

Rob Anderson (Fenton Communications): You should certainly know when it's the wrong time to do that – and that's when a company is not authentic in everything they're doing. Take BP for example. There will be a whole generation of people now who know BP as “Beyond Petroleum” and never even knew British Petroleum existed and undertook that enormous rebranding effort about 10 years ago. It wasn't until about five years later that they started putting any money and action behind “Beyond Petroleum.” So they lost a lot of ground until they started making some honest commitments. We can debate how honest those commitments are now, but they have come a long way since when they started 10 years ago.   

Allison (WE): I'm also hearing that it implies that communications would then be the kind of “ta-da” moment in the external push. There's never a time when you're not communicating on some level, at some stage, with some audience with which you'll be engaging. Communications is relevant not just when you're ready to talk about what you've done, but to facilitate your progress and programs. 

McCrummen (J&J): In theory, if you're authentic and doing the right things in social responsibility you're injecting your voice into it all the time. For instance, we're probably investing $60 million this year in renewable energy to convert many facilities over to solar. That's a great story, but if it's a one-shot deal it might be perceived as something different than the fact that we've been doing this for 23 years now. It just changes the tone and context.  

Bohlmann (Sodexo): Part of the authenticity of it is to communicate that the change takes time. It's just as important as the “ta-da” moment or announcement.

Beaudoin (MS&L): We're no longer in a monologue or dialogue. It's all multilogue now, so people are talking. If you're not talking about it, people are talking about it, so I think if you don't have a 365-day-a-year strategy on communication when it comes to CSR, the narrative is not going to be what you want.

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): It comes across as “Johnny come lately.” With the other brand I work with, Ojon, we work very closely with the indigenous people to source the ingredients that we use in the hair-care products. They're the face of the brand. We're saying these are wild-crafted products from people who literally pick them from the tree and don't plow down the forest. Because that's a part of the messaging and the giveback, we have to tell the story. It's tricky territory, but we've been very careful to make sure that we story-tell along the way.  

Mantero (GE): Some of the best CSR I've seen is when companies are taking the lead on those issues they don't have the answer to, but want to know if they can help. That balance has to be there between compliance, legal, PR communications, etc. It's not all about the home runs you hit from a programmatic standpoint and the philanthropy, but it's also about the really tough issues, where you don't have an answer, but frankly you want to try and convene the right parties. To me, that is a great CSR story.

Allison (WE): That's huge because it's also putting it out in the open. Every time a GE says, “We're struggling on this,” every single company that has a resemblance to GE is saying, “Thank you for saying that. So are we.” To get it out in the open and say, “We're going to start talking about this, we're going to own up to it,” it actually has an impact on the whole sector. 

Tovar (Wal-Mart): That's exactly how our sustainability efforts started. It was this “A-Ha” moment of Hurricane Katrina. We realized that a company as big as Wal-Mart can really make a difference in these things, so rather than get hung up on what our goals and our commitments should be and what are the right percentages to reduce this buy or what have you, our CEO stood up and said, “We're just going to have three very broad aspirational goals: to create zero waste, to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, and to sell more sustainable products.”

Doing communications at Wal-Mart is a blessing and a curse because we don't have problems making news. When you have 2 million employees and you're a $400 billion company with hundreds of thousands of suppliers, information gets out. So we've decided that going to tell our story and not let others define it for us.

Anderson (Fenton): When you're talking about spending marketing dollars, the best programs are those that either create a business opportunity, such as “Ecomagination,” which I think is a great example in how they create products that service a societal need, or using marketing dollars in the CSR space to really create deep connections with stakeholders, be they consumers, employees, etc.

Media and public awareness
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you perceive the media's and general public's appetite for this kind of news?

Mantero (GE): I'd argue that there's no such thing as a CSR story. It's a business story; it's a product story that has components of CSR to it. I was on a panel with one of FT's writers and I said I've been trying to place a CSR story with you for a couple of years. Once I shifted the direction to saying it's now a business story with a CSR component, without ever mentioning CSR, it gets picked up. Sometimes the worst thing we can do is lead it as a CSR story when it's really a product innovation story, a capital innovation story, a problem-solving story.

Allison (WE): There's a Venn diagram I like to think about and share with clients, of breakthrough, impact, and benefit. However, I think that a lot of CSR programs lead purely with benefit and there's no breakthrough and impact, so the media member is thinking, “I do not wake up in the morning wondering about how I can tell a nice story about your company. Take out an ad.”

Beaudoin (MS&L): There are not a lot of CSR programs that have breakthroughs and impacts. They're not authentic and they're basically PR plays to try to get some good value on your equity. I really hope that's changing. All of us as consultants are certainly preaching that and I think consumers get it. We did a six-country global study on consumers and their opinions on CSR and what we learned was that they understand that businesses need to make a profit, but they should be doing it in a responsible way. So the profit and purpose aren't mutually exclusive. If it's authentic, actually supporting the business, and there is a mutually exclusive shared value, profit, and purpose, consumers love that story and so does media.

Hall (Hanesbrands): You have to really be patient with CSR PR because if your goal is to go out there and get a big splash, you'll probably be disappointed. I'm not so sure about the appetite for CSR stories, but I think there's an appetite for knowing a company's track record when it's appropriate to look at it. It's all about seeding your story in appropriate places where people look backwards to get it.

For example, our company won the Energy Star “Partner of the Year” this year, which is a little unusual for an underwear company. What do you have to do with energy? Well, we use a lot of energy to make our product and we've got a great story there. That's where we've been a really silent leader, but I counseled our company not to expect to see big headlines about the honor. However, it is important for us to get it on our website and seed it out there because eventually somebody will be looking to do a business story on us. They'll be able to go back and see that we have a lot of CSR built into our business.

Tovar (Wal-Mart): It's about the message, but I also about the messenger. If you're head of CSR stands up and makes an announcement, that's one thing, but if it's your CEO, it's seen entirely differently. We've been talking about that a lot here, that it really and truly is part of the business. I think reporters will get that and want to cover it from a business angle.

For us, a lot of it comes down to the customer. Take compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which we have sold a lot over the past few years working with GE and others. The customer didn't understand the benefits at first. They said, “What do you mean you want me to pay three times as much for the light bulbs?” But we did a few things. We gave it incredibly prominent shelf space and communicated a lot about it. Since then we sold over 3 million of them in the past three years. On consecutive days, NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight did stories on CFLs and we saw incredible sales spike.

Anderson (Fenton): Companies shouldn't really even try to get a story in the mainstream media about their CSR efforts. They should be talking about the results of their programs. The best way to do that is looking at the blogosphere and getting out the message about your CSR programs to people who are following that.   

Neuwirth (Dannon): It's the results that tell the story. From an environmental sustainability perspective, it's very difficult to tell a good CSR story because you're doing environmental sustainability by the fact that you're in business today. If you're not, then you're not in business tomorrow. On the other side, the people side of the equation, I think there's tremendous opportunity to keep telling even the same story again and again about a company's social responsibility activities, but that's because it's not the company that's telling the story. It's the beneficiary of the social change telling the story.

We did a nutrition education grant program to benefit children five years ago. My concern at the time – it was very locally focused – was that we would not be able to tell that story. The publicity would be Dannon is doing a nutrition education grant for kids, end of story. You do it once, it'll never happen again. But then we realized that the stories that come out of the social benefit – the change in behavior, in body mass index, in physical activity of the children – are the stories. Dannon is tagged in the story, but it's the children who are the story. That's where social benefit is a story that will always be of interest to journalists because it's about people.

McCrummen (J&J): Part of our role is to help the people who implement these programs to understand that the metrics are different from what we want to communicate. We want to talk about impacts, we want to talk about lives, people. The body mass index, for example, is not necessarily intuitive to them, but to us that's the story.

Social media
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): It seems that social media, which plays a huge role in all PR, would have a specifically major role in your CSR strategy.

Bohlmann (Sodexo): For us, it accomplishes a couple of things. We can engage consumers quickly, especially college students. We do a lot of business on college campuses. They can be your most vocal advocate or enemy. Either way, they're active. If you engage them in social media, you can really use that force for good, not evil.

We did a campaign last year called “Helping Hands Across America.” It was a canned food drive and college students loved it. Sodexo drove it and used social media to do that. On a broader level, we're finding social media allows us that tool to be authentic, immediate, transparent, and to get feedback.   

Tovar (Wal-Mart): There are conversations taking place about all of our brands right now, all day, every day, whether we like it or not. Our recruiters tell us that the number-one issue on that college kids are asking about is sustainability and your CSR efforts. For tomorrow's generation of consumers, CSR is very high on their list. Where are they getting their information? Not from The New York Times, nor The Wall Street Journal, but from social media outlets.

Anderson (Fenton): I think the content of what is communicated is really important in that space. We did some research recently on the way people like to communicate and receive information. Top on the list in terms of communication was Facebook, but when it came to the believable sources of information, Facebook was way down on the list, as was Twitter. Traditional media outlets were really high up. That said to us that it is really about the content.      

Allison (WE): Are the companies represented at this table using employees as part of your social media strategy?

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): Just a week ago, our CEO removed the firewalls within the corporation so that all employees have access to social media within the workplace. We all have our various smart phones and appliances we carry, but because we felt that our consumers were living in the space, and when we're in the office for 10 hours of the day, we're not able to reach them. So again, the CEO is really identifying the importance of getting close with, playing in the area, and exposing ourselves to the space where our consumers are. Obviously it came with instructions and guidelines of being responsible in that space, but again it's a message that says we identify that that's where our consumers are and we want to be a part of that.

Beaudoin (MS&L): It doesn't necessarily have to be a dialogue that's going on, but just to understand what [people are] talking about and what sort of issues are bubbling up is key. When to have a conversation is still in question, but listening is something we're all doing. 

Tovar (Wal-Mart): The engagement piece is really fascinating right now. There will be something posted about Wal-Mart and it sort of works its way through the organization and ultimately ends up in my inbox. The initial reaction by most people is to immediately respond and post something back, but if you're patient and watch the conversation, the community polices itself. Then it becomes much more credible when someone says, “Wal-Mart doesn't offer its employees healthcare” to have someone from the community say actually that's wrong, or they do, or if it's one of our associates going in there versus the PR person. Sometimes you have to engage, but it's much better when it's somebody else.   

Neuwirth (Dannon): If you don't like where the conversation is, change the conversation rather than try to correct or negate what has been said previously. The opportunity is to put it in the direction you'd like it to be, whatever that may be in relation to your business needs.   

Anderson (Fenton): Employees can be some of the best brand ambassadors for a company as it relates to CSR. People really look to how a company treats its employees to determine whether or not that company's a good corporate citizen.

Mantero (GE): I almost see it as a happy problem if the employees are engaging the blogosphere on GE CSR. Right now, I'd say communicating our CSR strategy to employees and making it accessible is our top priority. We talk about transparency and there's too much. If you go to the GE.com citizenship website, it's 300 pages. It's overwhelming. The data is very technical. In the back of our mind we're thinking, “Can a line manager in Lynn, MA, get on the site and understand our CSR strategy?” Absolutely not, so we're totally revamping our website. If it gets to the point where somebody is having a CSR discussion and referencing GE for practices, and employees want to comment on that with the full knowledge of GE CSR strategy, let's deal with it.   

Hall (Hanesbrands): You need to have CSR messages that are really straightforward and simple. If you create a message and you have to say it in an exact way for it to be right, you'll have problems with employees. We're not at the point yet where we're ready to unleash employees in cyberspace, but clearly we're looking at that.

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): We want to tell the good news of what our company is doing. We arm [employees] with accessible information.  
Listening to consumers
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Has consumer or employee feedback informed a specific path you've taken with CSR efforts?  

Tovar (Wal-Mart): Our customers have told us they want more information and transparency into the supply chain and into the life-cycle of products we sell. Last July, we announced the start of our work towards a sustainability index. Ultimately, that will be consumer-facing. In the short term, it will be more working with suppliers to get that kind of insight into how a product's made, the energy used, things like that. Ultimately, it'll be something that's on a product. That's what our customers want. 

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): When the customer is buying a product and holding it, they're very sensitive about the amount of packaging used for the product. They've actually taken it to the counter and said, “Why do we need this outer carton? It's waste.” We're a prestige brand, so we're sensitive to the brand's presentation and image. But to hear back form our customers that they would forgive us for reduction in packaging because they want us to stay true to our environmental positioning, that was really a big call-out for us. We heard them and have made these changes within our packaging practices.        

Alexandra Bruell (PRWeek): I feel like consumers are much smarter about green or organic, but they're also trying to figure out exactly what it means. At Origins, when they're coming to you for something specific, how are you communicating this within your product CSR efforts? 

Stanford-Danuser (Estée Lauder): We have callouts, such as when we say we use several percentages of recycled paper. We have FFC certification. We have a program where you can bring your packaging back to the store and we'll recycle it for you because we know that cosmetic packing is one of those items that's not being recycled. It ends up in landfills. We've made alliances with companies that will take the extra steps to recycle the packaging or responsibly burn it. We've heard them and put programs in place.

Tovar (Wal-Mart): Concentrated liquid laundry detergent is a great example. That's something where we worked with P&G and Unilever. Everyone remembers those big heavy jugs. You can't get those anymore. There are so many benefits to that. We can get more of those jugs on our trucks and then get more on the shelf, so when the customer comes in they're getting the product they want. Moms have told us they don't have to carry around that big jug anymore. It was good for the environment, good for the customer.

We definitely did a lot of communicating about that at the time. We went to Clinton Global Initiative and made an announcement with our CEO where we committed to doing that, so that was our kickoff. Then we did a lot of in-store communications.

Beaudoin (MS&L): Didn't it take a while for consumers to really get it?

Tovar (Wal-Mart): They were using more because they didn't realize. Again, we had to educate consumers about that, but they quickly fixed that. P&G and Unilever were starting to communicate right on the package: Here's how much to use and things like that.

Neuwirth (Dannon): The only item that gives me pause in asking the consumer something is we have to ensure that what they're asking for is the real problem, the real issue. The laundry detergent is a beautiful example of a visible win, but the reality of environmental sustainability and reducing carbon footprint is invisible to the consumer. They will not see it no matter how much education we might undertake. Communicators must beware the risks of greenwashing when responding in knee-jerk fashion to what a consumer is asking.

Mantero (GE): The best stories have been employee-driven. We've got manufacturing facilities in over 40 countries. Sharing those best practices on how to reduce our footprint and how we were saving $100 million a year in energy costs, that's a tough story to pitch to The New York Times, but I've gotten benefits in employee morale, reducing costs, and reputation.

McCrummen (J&J): We've listened to our consumers and we have several mechanisms to do that, but Wal-Mart is one of our biggest customers, so we continually work together on these issues so our messaging is in sync. We make sure that we're at the table as Wal-Mart is developing a sustainability mix, which helps us tell a story and with our direct-to-consumer communications.     

Tovar (Wal-Mart): The large majority of our carbon footprint is through our supply chain. That's why a couple months ago we announced that we were going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million metric tons over the next five years. The way we're going to do that is with the likes of J&J, GE, and others that are going to help us in partnership reduce those things. We have teams at Wal-Mart who are energy experts, going to factories and working with suppliers to help them see these things. There are costs up front, but in the long-run, it will cost less and you'll get a better profit.

Social innovation
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How does “social innovation” differ from “CSR”? 

Allison (WE): Social innovation is just where the social impact is a primary driver of innovation. What Wal-Mart is doing around supply-chain innovation that's driven primarily by a positive social impact of some kind would be social innovation. Some CSR does involve social innovation, some CSR doesn't. Philanthropy is great, but it's not necessarily social innovation. I think it's an aspirational way of talking about where CSR can go, in the realm of social innovation.  

Beaudoin (MS&L): There's so much confusion around corporate responsibility, CSR, sustainability, cause, and how does it all work together. There's such a lack of clarity in the marketplace, not only with consumers, but also with us. We work with so many different companies and you have to define it the way they're defining it, which is really frustrating. For me, CSR has always been the social piece of CR, which is environment, governance, and social.  

Neuwirth (Dannon): At Dannon, we believe business has two roles: to return profit to shareholders and social progress. We've defined our mission as bringing health through food to as many people as possible. We've got 80,000 people around the world who know that's our mission. There's a business component and social component. It's just part of our culture. We don't struggle with social responsibility being off in the corner and needing separate or equal attention to our business. Our business is our people. If we don't recognize that humanism of our organization called Dannon, then we're going to struggle with this question and it's a distraction, so we're done with it.

McCrummen (J&J): We have a credo that was written back in the 1950s by our chairman Robert Johnson. It spelled out that our first priority is to the doctors, nurses, mothers, and fathers who use our products. Second, it's to our employees. Then to our communities and the natural resources we're privileged to use. And finally, it's to our shareholders. The company has lived by that all these years. Frankly, it has an enormous benefit to employee morale. They're more vocal, empowered, and passionate about the types of impact J&J has on the world.   

Tovar (Wal-Mart): Our tagline is “Save money. Live better.” Sam Walton said it years ago. When we were going through a rebranding of our company, we hired some people to help us with that, but realized that all we had to do was look internally. If we're offering healthcare to our associates, selling $4 prescription drugs to millions of customers, selling more sustainable products in our stores, and giving hundreds of millions of dollars a year to our charities, that's where our tagline works well together.

Reacting to recession
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Is the recession impacting your CSR efforts?

Tovar (Wal-Mart): Because it's a business priority and we see it as a competitive advantage, Wal-Mart has actually broadened and accelerated our efforts.

Hall (Hanesbrands): A company's values don't change in a recession. Our philanthropy wasn't cut. Employees gave just as much to United Way. Sometimes there's more desire to give because they feel fortunate to still have jobs.      

Allison (WE): The durability or sustainability of CSR investment is directly related to the business value, so why would you pull back on a strategy that's helping you drive growth and business value?

Neuwirth (Dannon): If reputation and social responsibility is part of a business mission, you can't walk away from that in a challenging macroeconomic climate.

Bruell (PRWeek): A lot of nonprofits were running out of money. Did you do more nonprofit partnerships?

Mantero (GE): GE was looking at more scalable models. Where can we partner with other companies, especially inside the US, to solve problems together? So instead of doing a one-off opportunity in China or India, we looked to where we can coalesce the funding together, from a philanthropic standpoint, for a greater impact and scale.

Tovar (Wal-Mart): We tried to really identify needs. For example, we have a food donation project with Feeding America. What we realized was it wasn't just about giving them more food, but helping them get the food where it needed to go. We used our logistics expertise, negotiated our rates for Feeding America, and actually brought them 35 trucks to get the food to the places they needed to go. That was a much better use of our expertise and dollars to solve the problem.            

Beaudoin (MS&L): Sometimes the reality isn't GE or Wal-Mart. On the cause marketing side, retailers were telling suppliers and vendors that there's no cause marketing going on in this recession. Charity starts at home. Give back to the consumer, don't give to a charity. You did see a decline in charitable giving.   

Bohlmann (Sodexo): Sodexo didn't necessarily step up the dollar amounts that we give in terms of grants to Feeding America, but we did step up the other part of our strategy, which is to increase awareness of the problem. We also expanded our global program for hunger. So we have 30 countries in our “Stop Hunger” campaign.

Hall (Hanesbrands): You shouldn't look at a decline in philanthropy as less dedication to CSR.

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