Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is nothing new in the realm of communications.
The term was officially coined in 1953 by American economist, Howard Bowen. In his publication, Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, he advocated for business ethics and responsiveness to societal stakeholders.
But amid the current coronavirus crisis, the term is taking on new meaning. This is especially true given the immediate, if not hourly, need for businesses to be responsive to society. A growing number of companies and brands are announcing efforts to support the crisis – via donations of time, money, or resources.
Here’s a round-up of some of the latest CSR initiatives
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will be allowing the World Health Organization to post free ads on the platform. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pledging $5 million in aid to public health agencies in Seattle to fight the virus
- Yelp is offering up to $25 million in free services and upgrades to support local businesses. It even offers a ‘contact-free’ delivery option to meet consumer safety needs
- Kraft Heinz is donating $12 million in cash and food globally to help support an immediate need in the face of the pandemic
- Several wine and spirits companies, including Pernod Ricard, have retooled their manufacturing lines to help increase the supply of hand sanitizer. Miller Lite has also started a ‘virtual tip jar’ to support out-of-work bartenders
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg – with more being announced by the hour.
CSR is having a moment. And there’s good reason – it makes business sense.
Smart businesses understand that their stakeholders go beyond shareholders. When their customers and communities are healthy (quite literally), their companies will follow suit.
The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) theory recommends that companies focus on social and environmental concerns as much as they do profits. Thus, there should be three bottom lines: Profit, People, Planet.
In the context of the coronavirus – the commitment to people couldn’t be more pressing.
So will the coronavirus crisis have a lasting impact on corporate social responsibility as we know it?
I like to believe that it will. People and society will (and are) coming to expect more from business and brands. The impact of the coronavirus has had wide-reaching ramifications for society – from public health to economic security to the daily lives and routines of every single individual and family unit. It has shined a light on our interdependence as a society and how much we need each other.
In its wake, it’s impossible to believe we can ever go back to simply making profits. Employees, consumers, and society as a whole will expect far more, and as a result, communications professionals must take note. It’s not a fad; this is a new way of operating. Really, CSR and communications professionals have an opportunity – to show business can truly make an impact and not just adopt CSR as another ‘marketing tactic.’ I believe companies will step up in the near term. The test will be to continue to deliver that ongoing responsibility for the long term.
At KCD PR, we’re doing what we can for our community – offering pro-bono crisis communications consultations or small businesses who are facing challenges due to the coronavirus. As part of this, I had a Zoom video call today with a local small business owner. As part of the pro-bono advice, we discussed her production challenges to customers and distributors in the face of the current crisis. I’m glad we are doing it as a business. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes sense. A portion of our business as an agency is supporting start-up companies. Hence, we are responsible for helping small businesses to thrive. Supporting them in their time of need with our time and expertise just makes sense. As the saying goes – if they rise, we rise. We all rise together.
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