The world has changed in profound and irrevocable ways, and so too should corporate America's approach to social responsibility.
PR pioneer Edward Bernays' 1928 book "Propaganda" proposed that corporations can make a difference in society but should benefit financially in return.
Six decades later, Michael Douglas won an Oscar for his portrayal of corporate raider Gordon Gekko, who immortalized the phrase "greed is good." He asserted that self-interest leads to innovation, job creation and ultimately societal benefits.
About 20 years later, Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer coined the term "shared value." This framed corporate social responsibility efforts as ensuring mutual benefits for society as well as the company. The concept became the prevailing wisdom for philanthropies, NGOs and marketing departments.
During the past two years, we experienced the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, geographic displacements with remote work and shifts in corporate norms.
This new era demands a renewed commitment to shared values, but updated. PR agencies and internal comms departments would be wise to follow a new set of corporate social responsibility guidelines.
Internal and external
While corporate philanthropic donations remain important, so does a company's culture. Organizations are adopting new hiring practices, launching employee resource groups with coworkers from self-identified demographics and making efforts to hire people in previously ignored geographies. Microsoft has been a trailblazer in such practices, including its global skills Initiative to train workers of the future, and Techspark, which brings broadband access to remote areas of the world.
Firms now realize that inclusion is not a box to check nor a mandate requiring compliance, but a fundamental business advantage. Having a wide range of races, ages, genders and sexual orientations in one room often encourages compelling ideas that are more representative of society. L'attitude, an annual gathering of Fortune 500 CEOs, celebrities and influencers, discusses the power of Latino and Hispanic impact on the broader economy.
The long haul
Rather than one-off moments, such as showcasing a large check at a donation ceremony or celebrating Black History one month of the year, companies must make enduring and sustainable commitments for the future. This includes investing in economic development, which can prove invaluable to communities and also pay dividends down the line. For example, JPMorgan recently launched a $30 billion commitment to diversity and used the announcement to persuade shareholders of the competitive advantage that the investment will stimulate.
In this fast-moving business landscape, a tone-deaf advertisement or misguided press announcement can ruin a hard-earned reputation and sink a stock price. Companies can no longer afford to be passive participants nor view themselves as benefactors. They must be partners in a new global frontier. Corporations, philanthropies and consumers can work together in lockstep to their mutual benefit, and that of society at large.
Mike Valdes-Fauli is the president and CEO of Pinta a minority-certified agency.