The next few articles in this series are going to focus on more tips across particular themes within the CSR agenda and include Environment, Employees & Workplace, Suppliers, Community Engagement, Charity / Good Causes and Communication.
I’m still trying to keep the management jargon out to make this as easy to implement and see results as soon possible. I will also look to widen the discussion beyond pure commercial returns and address the other environmental and social benefits to reinforce why all businesses can, and need to play their part.
This week’s topic is:
I’ve bypassed Environment and Employees even though these are probably the two biggest areas to look at in terms of actions and gone straight to Communication. The reason for this is simple. Almost every small business (not all, there are a few baddies out there!) is already engaging in nuggets of ad hoc or reactive great CSR initiatives but most don’t know or understand them fully. I’m focusing on communication because everybody can benefit today, right now.
To help you understand this I need you to take 10 minutes to ask yourself the following questions.
Please take the effort to write your answers down on recycled paper:
1. Has your organization ever given cash or support to a charity or good cause? This includes allowing employees to fund raise on work time, local junior sports clubs, churches etc.
2. Do you recycle or have you reduced your energy usage or waste in any way?
3. Has your organization ever gone beyond basic legal requirements to recruit, improve productivity or retain your employees?
4. How do you select a supplier? Is it just about best price or do you use only local businesses, or consider environmental issues?
5. Does your organization have a formal or informal list of values about how you should operate on a daily basis?
6. Has your organization ever helped another business out without asking for payment?
I’m no clairvoyant or magician but I think your piece of paper has a few notes.
The big question is who have you told and how did you tell them about these great initiatives? I know small businesses don’t have marketing departments or external agencies, or in most cases even somebody internally responsible for marketing. This should be everybody’s responsibility. Most marketing people don’t really understand how best to use this ammunition anyway.
Rule 1 – Just Do It!
So how do we avoid missing the moment, getting stung with a ‘greenwash’ label or sticking our head too far above the parapet? My rule of thumb is, if you’ve acted on your best intentions, achieved something real with integrity and you feel comfortable with that – go for it! It’s in the owners / managers / shareholders interest to raise the company profile whenever possible! It’s also great for raising the profile of any worthy cause you support.
Rule 2 – Be Selfish
The first thing you need to do with any good news is put it on your own website, Facebook page, Twitter, notice board, note by water cooler – whatever you control yourself. It’s your news. Wouldn’t your customers like to hear it from you first, as well as backed up by another source?
Rule 3 – Tell Everybody
Don’t just focus on getting media coverage with a view to increasing sales. Put as much effort into telling everybody internally (employees) and close connections (suppliers, customers). Use your newsletter (or start one), sales PowerPoints, notice boards, team meetings, employee handbook – everywhere! One good tip is to identify the company gossip and get them involved in the initiatives themselves!
Rule 4 – Befriend the local media
You don’t need a PR agency or marketing department to ring the local paper and say ‘hello who would be interested in this story?’. Local coverage is usually free and great advertising. I would strongly encourage somebody to actually ring, not email and make a personal connection with the best person you can at the local paper or radio – even in today’s online dominated society. It may even cost you a whole lunch. Good stories in the local press can get picked up nationally – don’t underestimate the local press! You may not get instant direct sales from this but it will seriously begin to build your company’s reputation.
Rule 5 – Get others to do your work
If you’ve delivered a project with a partner or good cause get them to help with your profile. They will probably have their own media opportunities and networks you can use, as long as you’ve spent the time to build a good relationship. Charities have big databases and PR expertise!
Rule 6 – The media prefer bad news
After eight years winning awards for Everton Football Club by creating ground-breaking community projects I know how hard it can be to get press coverage for anything ‘good’. Bad news sells papers unfortunately. There has to be an angle or human interest story to get the media hooked. Try to be creative. Focus on an individual member of staff or person / project that benefited and their personal story, rather than trying to sell the business advert every time – people (and the media especially) want to read about people. Always include basic contact details such as company name, website, logo or phone number somewhere and hope it makes it past the editing!
Rule 7 – Word of Mouth
In my opinion, this is one of the best ways of communication for building reputation. It’s not great for selling directly but absolutely fantastic for a slower burn and credibility. Your aim is to get people talking about you as much as possible. You have to give people something talk about even if you company isn’t the big story. A bit part in a big story can work wonders.
Rule 8 – Complaints are wonderful
Whenever you talk about most areas of CSR you can easily stimulate passionate discussion, especially as humans we enjoy catching people out. Conversation can head toward climate change, sweatshops, sexual harassment and many emotive subjects. Grasp this opportunity with both hands, don’t be afraid of this. As I said earlier, if it’s a good initiative done with best intentions go for it. You may well find an awkward individual intent on loudly disagreeing or attempt to turn the story around for their own ends. Treat this like any customer complaint and engage in an open, honest communication and you could potentially have a great salesperson in the making if handled well.
Okay, that was probably as much PR for novices as CSR.
Just remember if your business sees something tangible from your CSR initiatives they are more likely to do it again and hopefully bigger and better, which is great news for all those issues out there that need our help. It’s just about identifying the best win-win scenarios for everybody.