If there’s one thing that I really got to learn more about during my MA, it’s CSR programs. First of all, I actually didn’t know what CSR stood for : Corporate Social Responsibility. Sure, but what does that really mean ? CSR programs are implemented by the PR teams of big corporations or organisations to help regulate the organisation’s reputation and image. These programs are supposed to show the public that these corporations are responsible and while making profits, that they are also giving back to the community. CSR programs can be articulated around the environment, the community, charities or any other aspect that relate to the company’s activity.
We actually come across many of these programs everyday. Starbucks, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, they all have their own program, some of them have been implementing them for many years.
But my main question concerning these practices was : who does that help more ? The company or the public ?
In theory, scholars and authors have established that PR is supposed to help organisations adapt to their environment, as ‘Every organisation, no matter how large or small, ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success‘, according to the CIPR. In her book Public Relations: Concepts, Practices and Critique (2009), Jacqui L’Etang explains that the systems theory approach ‘sees the world as a living, interacting organism‘, which suggest that PR is here to help organisations interact with the world and maintain mutual beneficial relationships.
This is where CSR enters. However, is the public that naive ? McDonald’s has implemented CSR programs for many years, creating charities and helping a lot of people but has this helped change the way we see the company and its practices ? PR teams of these big corporations are actually paid to develop strategies that will benefit their organisation’s reputation, this is their first goal. And how could we actually expect them to selflessly help us without having an agenda ? I suppose CSR programs are essential for a company’s credibility, because people will always need to relate to the brand story, but we must not forget that CSR does not do all the work.
The latest program that really triggered my inner cyniscism is Unilever’s Project Sunlight. When our teacher showed us the video in class, the reactions were quite unanimous, maybe because we are directly studying the subject. I personally thought that this touching film would not make me forget about the rest of Unilever’s actions. I actually even thought that they went a bit too far here, that trying to make us cry over the terrible things that are happening in the world would not change our vision of their reputation and current image. Or maybe I am definitely cynical…
Anyway, I think CSR programs, when carefully developed and thought through, can be efficient and beneficial for both the public and the company but PR teams must remember that they cannot turn around the public’s opinion simply by telling touching stories about their organisations’ socially responsible actions.
Public Relations : Concepts, Practices and Critique (2009) Jaquie L’Etang
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