CSR: How to thrive in the community

PR agencies have long supported charitable causes as part of their own CSR strategy. But now many are using a local focus for such work, finds Cathy Wallace.

The PR community is well aware of the reputational benefits of 'doing one's bit' for charity. Most UK agencies, for example, will have at least one pro-bono charity client on the roster as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy.

Helping large, well-known national or international charities is commendable. But these charities often have relatively robust marketing budgets and are well served by agencies that hope working for free will lead to more formal and lucrative arrangements in the long term. So, some PR agencies are starting to blaze a more local trail to CSR. They are shunning the big-name charity brands, instead devoting their efforts to helping out, and creating partnerships, in their local communities. The rewards for PR agencies, aside from the sense of goodwill, are not immediately obvious. But, as the agencies featured on the following pages show, being involved in the local community can make real business sense.

'You can create some fantastic working partnerships and build relationships in your area,' advises Caroline Kinsey, CEO of Cirkle Communications, based in Beaconsfield, Bucks. 'For agencies outside London, this is vital. We do not have the support network that comes with being "a London agency", so we need to build our own through interacting with local schools and businesses.'

CASE STUDY 1 - CIRKLE COMMUNICATIONS

Agency: Cirkle Communications

Location: Beaconsfield, Bucks

Works with: The Buckinghamshire Economic and Learning Partnership, and local schools

Cirkle Communications has been heavily involved in the local community in Beaconsfield for some time.

At the end of last year, the agency won Business of the Year in the Bucks Sport Awards for its commitment to 'healthy body, healthy mind'.

This was demonstrated by a fun run for two local schools, which was organised by Cirkle CEO Caroline Kinsey.

Cirkle masterminded the project, leading a committee of parents from both schools and securing former British Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie to open the run, and Tesco as lead sponsor. The agency also secured an exclusive partnership with the local paper, which provided strong and positive branded coverage for Cirkle and Tesco.

Nearly 2,000 students and teachers took part in the fun run and to date £17,000 has been raised for the schools.

'Aside from building our profile in the local area, having a strong strategic CSR programme is powerful for internal staff engagement and helps build employee retention,' says Kinsey. 'It also provides networking opportunities. You never know when you might meet a potential client, a new supplier or the next recruit into your business.'

CASE STUDY 2 - ADPR

Agency: ADPR

Location: Somerset

Works with: Somerset Chamber of Commerce, Soul of Africa (locally run charity), Breast Cancer Care

As well as supporting Breast Cancer Care through fundraising and events, ADPR works with local community projects.

Currently, the agency is helping with a plan for a new community shop. 'This project is all about building up our local village community,' says ADPR MD Alice Driscoll. She has directly benefited from getting involved: 'When supporting the local school, we get involved with career development. One girl wanted work experience during her gap year. She turned out to be fantastic at admin and a huge asset to the company.'

Driscoll says working with charities and community projects boosts team morale, as well as providing valuable business leads: 'By supporting the chamber of commerce, we have met other business owners, offered work experience and given career talks. It spreads the word about what we do.'

CASE STUDY 3 - CARSWELL GOULD

Agency: Carswell Gould

Location: Southampton

Works with: The Rose Road Association, which provides services for young people with disabilities

Carswell Gould managing partner Gill Gould has been working with The Rose Road Association for five years, after the charity asked for fundraising advice. 'At that point, Rose Road was a very "unsexy" charity and had become almost forgotten in the area. It was struggling against fashionable charities with huge incomes and I knew that was not fair,' says Gould.

The partnership began with Gould writing press releases and introducing the charity to local businesses through its contacts.

This led to Rose Road taking Carswell Gould on officially for six months to help launch a major fundraising initiative. The agency used events, publicity and put Rose Road in touch with its own clients. These clients also benefited from extra publicity for these clients. For Carswell Gould, the benefits of this partnership are numerous. 'We built up very good relationships with a lot of businesses in the area and motivated our staff,' says Gould. 'You need to go into this kind of arrangement with your eyes open and make sure the benefits go both ways, and you have to be passionate about the charity's work and make sure all your staff become involved. Then you get back 100 per cent.'

CASE STUDY 4 - COHN & WOLFE

Agency: Cohn & Wolfe

Location: London

Works with: Business in the Community (BITC)

Last year, Cohn & Wolfe volunteered for BITC's Give & Gain day - a national day of action to share time and resources to help children and schools in socially disadvantaged areas. 'We chose to assist two schools in an issue close to all of our hearts - helping to get kids fit and active at their annual school sports days,' says account director Caroline Leo. Volunteers from the agency spent the day helping manage the many activities including giant volleyball, tug-of-war and cricket. 'This gave us the perfect opportunity to engage with local communities in a meaningful way,' says Leo. 'It gave employees the chance to meet personal objectives and improve skills such as leadership and project management. It also helped us better understand some of the real social issues that we discuss with our clients on a daily basis.' She adds: 'It encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and showed that corporate responsibility can be relevant, engaging and fun.'

CASE STUDY 5 - LANSONS COMMUNICATIONS

Agency: Lansons Communications

Location: London

Works with: A number of charities. Founding partner Clare Parsons is also a non-executive on the board of arts charity HighTide

Lansons gives one per cent of its profits to charity every year. It also has a resident theatre company, called HighTide, who asked Lansons co-founder Clare Parsons for help when it needed to reduce overheads.

Lansons donates office space, IT support, meeting rooms and reception services to the charity, helping the charity spend its money on producing more theatre and keeping ticket prices low.

'The benefits to Lansons are immense,' says account executive Sarah Tye.

As well as benefiting from tickets to the company's productions and festivals, the charity also helps Lansons in areas such as voice coaching for broadcast training, offering classes in scriptwriting and improvisation acting to employees, and attending client brainstorming sessions to add a creative perspective.

'HighTide is also exploring the possibility of running a playwriting course for the local community from our offices, which our staff could enrol on,' says Tye.

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