So you see a YouTube video by an NGO that raises awareness about a certain disease. It is all about how horrendous your death… or life could be if you were to ever contract such a disease. It closes with a few instructions on how to avoid that miserable death along with a call to action to follow, like or donate. And then just as the video closes you see about half a dozen logos on a screen that are there for about half a second. We aren’t entirely sure what these logos are for….are these from companies who are sponsoring the video, the campaign or the cause? Are they donors, supporters, or endorsers? We don’t know. What we do know is that these same companies will have released press stories about their CSR in fighting……(insert disease of choice).
Knowing how much money it takes to put a logo up there on that video and knowing there is never going to be any ROI on that money pains me.
While I do appreciate the sentiment behind supporting an important cause, what pains me is that this reduces CSR to only an altruistic act, driven by emotions and guided by sentiments.
There are many dangers to this approach, two of which I feel are most significant and both relate to the future of responsible business.
Firstly, we know that a lot of CSR is out there, but not a lot of it is real, strategic, high-impact CSR. And that’s sad. To see companies spend millions on things that make sense emotionally but aren’t always the best fit for the company. This means that CSR isn’t expected to bring in any business benefits.
Take my advice and ask, no DEMAND that CSR goals be linked to financial goals and justify a clear ROI before you decide to sponsor another soon-to-go-viral-social-issue video.
If you don’t mandate that both your CSR goals and your financial goals be achieved simultaneously, your CSR has no future. This means that CSR will continue to be seen as an expense, a very painful one at that and would be the first to be cut from the budget the moment you see a dip in profits.
Secondly, the plethora of companies jumping onto the CSR bandwagon, yet missing the true spirit entirely means that the CSR profession hasn’t found its true worth. The more you look around and talk to professionals in the field, the more this paradox becomes clear. I know many CSR professionals who have been told that they don’t add any value since the PR company could do an equally if not better job of developing CSR programs.
I know many PR professional who struggle with the client expectation when they are told to come up with a press story and a CSR program all in the same breadth and without any background information. Exact words I have heard a company executive say: “just find us a cause that we can support, make sure it’s prestigious”.
CSR isn’t rocket science, but done well, it can change the world…just like rocket science.