PR and CSR: symbiotic, inseparable, and synonymous
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

PR and CSR: symbiotic, inseparable, and synonymous

Paul Holmes

Forbes contributor Aman Singh gives some attention to the new corporate responsibility practice at Ruder Finn, and recognizes similar efforts by a bunch of leading PR firms. The tone of the piece is generally favorable, both about corporate responsibility in general (“CSR does not have to be an afterthought, an expense, an outsourced campaign, but should be integrated with both internal change and external communications”) and the role of public relations and PR agencies in the process. So it’s probably petty of me to pick up on the one sentence that irked me. So call me petty. But when Singh asks “how many times do we have to say that CSR is not PR,” I’m afraid I have to provide an answer, and that answer is, “no matter how many times you say it, it’s still going to be wrong.” In what conceivable way is CSR not absolutely integral to the relationship between an organization and the society in which it operates? I’d argue that the very foundation of the relationship between an organization and its various publics depends upon whether that organization behaves responsibly. If it does, then its relationships will have a solid foundation; if it does not, those relationships will be incredibly difficult to sustain. I’d go so far as to suggest that an organization can’t have good PR without good CSR. The flip side of that argument is that PR provides the only meaningful (from a self-interested, free market perspective) justification for an investment in CSR. I know you can make an argument that companies should engage in CSR for noble, altruistic reasons, but I would suggest that such as argument would be unpersuasive to many capitalists. A far more effective argument is that CSR benefits a company because it leads to improved relationships with many publics: employees are more motivated because the company has a purpose beyond the enrichment of shareholders and senior executives; customers are more loyal because they see an organization that shares their values; legislators and regulators are more favorably disposed because they see an organization contributing to the greater good; and so on. In a well-run organization, CSR and PR are symbiotic, inseparable. In a company that’s truly committed to both, they’re synonymous.
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