Will CSR survive the recession?
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Will CSR survive the recession?

Arun Sudhaman

UN I’ll admit that, like any good journalist, I was rather cynical about the importance of CSR to the corporate communications agenda once the recession began to bite. This attitude only hardened when we uncovered that Microsoft was cutting a swathe through its CSR PR budget, as documented in this article in PRWeek. Throughout the conversations I was having with people, which included a dedicated research study we commissioned with Populus, one point was made to me repeatedly. Companies were not about to start retreating from their CSR commitments, even if the PR budgets around those programmes might face pressure. I was sceptical. Turns out, I may have been wrong. This week has brought a veritable deluge of good news for the sustainability lobby, starting with the news that Ogilvy and Mandate are both setting up dedicated CSR units in response to increasing demand. I explored the OgilvyEarth story in a little more detail for MediaAsia, given the leading roles played by Ogilvy CEO Miles Young and ECD Tham Khai Meng, both of whom shifted from Asia to global roles in New York at the start of this year. What interested me most was the consumers insight around which OgilvyEarth built its upcoming UN Climate Change Conference communications campaign. Specifically, according to OgilvyEarth MD Seth Farbman, they found that the consumers are much more likely to respond to an environmental message when it is couched in economic terms. This is, pretty much, the same insight we uncovered via the Populus research, as examined in this feature in PRWeek. It may sound a blindingly obvious conclusion, given the current financial woes, but then all the best insights are, aren’t they? The Economist also seems to think that CSR will only emerge stronger from the recession. As one agency chief said to me the other day, perhaps the market is ‘conditioned to it’ now. I certainly hope so, because paying lip service to CSR – like so may companies still do – deserves all of the ill will it generates. Meanwhile, Ogilvy is set to expand our original research with Populus into a much fuller study of consumer attitudes towards sustainability and environmental marketing. I, for one, await those results with interest.
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