CSR: How Does it Counter-Act Bad PR?

Katie Dunlap September 17, 2018 CSR Trends

As Corporate Social Responsibility practitioners, we’re all in this for the love of the cause – to create as much positive impact as possible and make a true difference in the world. But, we must recognize that there are many factors impacting employee participation in CSR. Internally, we all know that employee retention, recruitment, and culture stand to benefit from its positive impacts. Externally, CSR leads to a more positive consumer reputation, helps alleviate negative Public Relations, and can also hugely impact a company’s ability to manage its image during crisis.


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Risk mitigation is a huge element within the relationship of CSR and PR. If your company is traditionally in a “vice” industry, manufacturing, or an industry that negatively affects human rights or health, CSR is a must-do. Types of risks that may incur negative PR upon your company include:

  • Supply chain and human rights
  • Operational/regulation
  • Production/pollution
  • Societal


Build Strong Public Relations Before Crisis

Through sustainable practices, forward-thinking operations and transparency surrounding human rights and supply chain, companies can use strong CSR policies and communication to ensure that risk is mitigated to the best of its abilities. What this means is that a robust CSR program might actually stop a PR crisis before it even starts!


If a crisis becomes a PR faux-pas, it is proven that corporations that benefit from positive reputations have a much easier time navigating through a moment of bad PR. There’s an understanding between firms with strong reputations and customers that lets customers know that this one negative interaction is not the norm, and it is not what that firm would expect of itself. It allows customers to forgive quicker than they might otherwise.


We saw this in action earlier this year at Starbucks. The ever-present coffee shop is known for its incredible employee insurance offerings, educational benefits, and work throughout the communities. Although one barista acted in a way that did not align with company history or values, consumers were able to forgive the chain due to a positive reputation and the company’s quick actions that again aligned themselves on the side of what was right and responsible.


Lean On CSR During Crisis

Negative PR can happen to any company, at any time. It only takes one small incident or some unpredictable event and the bad press piles up. If your company finds itself in the middle of a Public Relations nightmare and begins to suffer from not having a positive reputation, or any PR strategy to rely on, launching a new CSR strategy may be the way to go.


Post-crisis, there are two strategies that can be taken to launch a CSR program that combats negative Public Relations. First, companies can ignore the issue and combat it with traditional messaging strategies. This option tends to ignore the root cause of the issue, combat negative statements and media as it comes along, and probably won’t be seen nearly as sufficient to the public.


The second option is understanding and assessing the root cause of your Public Relations issue. If it surrounds human rights, the environment, your own employees, or anything that can be classified within the corporate social responsibility industry, you’re in the prime position to create and implement a CSR strategy that addresses your crisis. This option is an authentic and caring response to negative PR. While it can be tough to admit when lax policies have allowed for crisis to occur within a company, most consumers will respect a corporation that faces an issue head-on and strives to enact positive and prolonged change.


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While using CSR as a tool to benefit your company’s reputation could be viewed as self-serving, we disagree. If your authentic motive is to enact change, don’t view the positive reputation that is a side effect of that decision as a negative! Understand that CSR can be an incredible tool to help your company manage risk, the positive reputation that comes from participating in CSR can help your company bounce back faster from a disruptive PR event and that developing a CSR strategy as a result of a PR crisis is an authentic and respected response. Being socially responsible is the greatest tool an organization has at its disposal.