Total Business Magazine

When Is Good PR Not Good PR?

Recently there has been much debate in the media around charitable donations and many opinions have been shared on whether one cause is more deserving than the many other causes affecting our world.

On the back of the recent Notre-Dame tragedy, and the subsequent donations that flowed in from charitable donors and businesses around the world, Will Painter, CEO and Founder of WP Communications, explains why it’s important for organisations to have an authentic role when engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

It’s important to note that this article is not a forum to judge on acts of charity as whatever the intentions may be, a donation is always welcome to contribute to a worthy cause. There are many good causes around the globe that need ongoing support. And there are unexpected incidents and natural disasters that can very quickly enter the public’s consciousness and motivate people to make contributions to funds that restore people’s lives or property.

On occasion, charitable contributions from an organisation, or an individual, might be regarded as so generous that the donation becomes a big story – even if that was not the intention of the organisation or the individual at the time. If an incident is of such a scale that it generates news reports across the globe, it is very hard to keep any sizeable charitable donation away from scrutiny.

Donations around Notre-Dame demonstrate how acts of corporate kindness can be put under the microscope, bringing into question the intentions of organisations and individuals – and whether it is a way of elevating their status.

The proliferation of social media has meant that we no longer wait to read ‘Letters to the Editor’ in the daily newspapers in order to garner an understanding of public opinion and sentiment. Opinions, commentary and criticism are readily shared online and usually within minutes of news being announced.

Almost immediately, a brand can understand how the public and more importantly, how its target audience, has reacted to an announcement.

What is important to consider, is how the publicity around good deeds can impact on an organisation’s reputation and influence perception. Whether the contribution is made publicly or privately, and what method of communication is used to inform colleagues, peers, clients and if at all, the general public.

There is wide agreement that organisations should invest some of their people’s time, and a proportion of profits, into contributing to a better society. When actively communicating corporate social responsibility initiatives, it’s important that it should be carried out with the cause at its heart rather than for the corporation itself. At the same time, if the CSR programme becomes a big story, the organisation needs to be prepared to deal with the subsequent reactions.

CSR programmes should be authentic through being reflective of an organisation’s values. Programmes should also align with stated organisational goals and purpose of the brand. Employees form a large part of CSR engagement and attitudes among the workforce, and can influence whether new talent will choose to join a brand.

If there is alignment of CSR to corporate values, there needs to be a balanced approach to communicating CSR programmes and their outcomes. A brand that goes out to extol the virtues of its good deeds will backfire. External and internal communication around CSR must always centre on the cause. Secondly, it must demonstrate a clear ‘why,’ to provide a narrative of why the brand is engaging with the charitable cause. Finally the results of the brand’s engagement with the charity must be conveyed to demonstrate its impact.

Anything that is too focused on promoting the brand itself can come across as too self-congratulatory and inauthentic. The public sees through this and will very quickly voice its opinion.

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