CSR 1.01: Practical advice on transparency, communications, crisis and the media

Listening is often best 
Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts I prepared recently for retailers and their suppliers.
This list is mainly aimed at those who are at the early stages of CSR, transparency, communications, reporting and media relations.
I hope they might be useful for some readers.
I’d be happy to come and talk about these further with your company or association.
Reporting & Communications
DO:
–  Have a CSR report – and where relevant/possible, conform to international norms/best practice. Use GRI (as a tool, not a bible) consider using assurance and stakeholder panels. Most importantly: secure credible endorsements for your approach
–  Update your websites: An annual report is not enough
–  Issue press releases when you have something to say, but not otherwise
–  Consider targeted media and opinion-former engagement
–  Have someone to speak up for you: Have quotes from partners in your communications. Find NGOs to work with, who are credible!
DON’T:
–  Simply believe a website page or two on compliance is enough: It is not
–  Think that trade group membership, ON ITS OWN is enough to create convincing communications
–  Just email out notices to the trade press and mainstream media and expect people to read it. Find an angle, and a good one
–  Stop at just reporting: Ongoing communications on issues as they arise is key!
Communications mediums:
DO:
–   Remember that email still matters most as an outgoing medium
–   Understand that your announcements will be ignored, unless significant
–   Spend time considering the risks to unnecessary communications
–   Realise that different mediums have different audiences, and therefore risks
–   Tailor your messages to those different formats, and be careful which you use!
–   Talk to your communication heads about whether the have a corporate account/page for Facebook/Twitter and which others they use (e.g. in China)
–   Make sure your Facebook / Twitter account managers don’t respond negatively to comments, and understand which to ignore and which to take seriously!
DON’T:
–  Underestimate the risks posted by social media to your brand/company!
–  Assume that nice comments on one media channel translate to another: They don’t! (trends can erupt on Twitter in hours)
–  Forget what your audience is interested in: Compliance is a VERY hard sell as good news!
–  Think that a few nice comments on Facebook means you are protected on Twitter, you ain’t
–  Believe that your CSR report is of interest to social media users: IT IS NOT. Some messages in it could be, but not the whole report!
Building relationships:
Trade Press
DO:
–   Cultivate relationships with trade press journalists and editors
–   Keep them up to date on your work, regularly
–   Be honest with them about the challenges you face
–   Share successes: Offer interviews with senior executives, not just press releases
–   Understand their commercial dynamics and support them where you can
DON’T:
–  Allow your PR company or advertising agency to ‘go too far’ on placing ads/sponsorships (i.e. setting conditions)
–  Fall out with them: If they write something you don’t like, don’t get angry
–  Expect them to be able to always defend you or influence the mainstream media
The mainstream media
DO:
–   Engage them where appropriate: You can’t ignore the media BUT you must be careful: Compliance is traditionally a negative story…
–   Understand their deadlines and commercial drivers: Columnists get paid on clicks!
–   Understand what makes a good story for them: Not “less people got hurt” but “Chinese suppliers cut pollution” (still a major risk as a story ‘hook’)
DON’T:
–  Assume you will get good coverage: You probably won’t
–  Belie-e that all publicity is good publicity: It ain’t!
–  Underestimate the possibility that your communications will be twisted against you: Sub editors often write stories. Junior journalists often cover ‘sweatshop’ stories
–  Expect the media to be fair: It is not!
Tone and content
DO:
–   Be humble and reasonable
–   Show you are working on practical solutions and have targets to hit
–   Talk about compliance management as ‘doing smarter business’ and helping suppliers
–   Demonstrate a desire to engage with external partners: Not just auditors or trade groups, but beyond!
DON’T:
–  Pretend you know the answers to complex problems
–  Avoid the difficult questions: The media and consumers are smart: you can’t fool them
–  Get upset if you get bad coverage: It happens
–  Get angry in interviews, or write angry letters to the media: engage them with facts
–  Assume your facts are taken as true: You need numbers from credible institutions
Overall key takeaways:
1) Humility is everything in reporting and communications (and CR generally)
2) Partnerships are ESSENTIAL and show you are engaged
3) The trade press matters more than you think, and can be an excellent ally
4) The mainstream media is unfair: be aware of the risks. Reach out to them ONLY at the right time!
5) Social media communications on supply chain issues are HIGH RISK and must be treated accordingly!
6) Reputation departs on a fast horse, and arrives slowly on foot (GAP, Nike, Adidas, H&M as key examples)
Further reading and resources:
Dealing with the media (presentation)
Ethical Corporation Communications and Reporting content channel
How Gap Inc. Engaged With its Stakeholders
Engaging colleagues: Selling sustainability to the marketers
How to Measure Social Media Impact and ROI
PR and sustainability briefing
Hannah Jones, VP sustainable business and innovation at Nike, on targets, performance, outlook and ambition
Smarter business blog
Ethical Branding briefing
Smarter Business and Sustainability: What it means for Management