Five reasons I WILL read your corporate responsibility messages

A friend of mine I saw on Friday told me he thought my last posting “Twelve reasons why I won’t read your corporate responsibility report“, was a little negative.

I admit I wanted to employ a bit of shock factor and encourage some comments on the blog.

But I was also hinting at a serious point, which my colleague Mallen Baker has been making eloquently for years.

CR reporting is simply the basis for communication, it is not communication itself.

What do I mean by this? Simply that your report is your starting point, not your end point.

Too many CR managers I know finish their report, and then breathe a huge sigh of relief when it’s signed off by the lawyers, communications director and relevant board members.

They then take a brief respite before starting all over again and doing the rest of their job.

This is perfectly understandable, given how poorly resourced the CR function remains in many companies.

Tiny teams, grappling with complex and expanding issues, with small budgets, can only do so much.

But as many of us know, the key is getting other departments on board, and then controlling what they do with the information in your report.

IF you can get communications and external affairs on board, (and we published a report recently that talks about how you can do that) then you can start really conveying the good work your company has done, and the progress made. Provided, that is, you use real, proven communications methods.

Here are my top five tips on doing just that. And why, when you use these methods, I’ll read your communications (at least, the relevant ones to me, as a so-called opinion former).

1) Embed communications in ALL employee messaging. Your newsletter, your health and safety notices, your financial results communication, even your retrenchment plans. Yes, it can be done, so go get on with it.

2) Link your work with your financial reporting. Too many times I see financial results where no mention of sustainability or CR is made.

Put your key non-financials into your statements wherever you can.

If you believe better training and engagement lead to improved efficiency or better EH&S numbers, then say so. Don’t be scared.

Investors need educating on why these matter to them, so take the bull by the horns, even in a bear market.

3) Sell your messages. Get your report properly copy-written. And no, you are not a copywriter, and neither is your communications director or his/her team. Get a professional in.

Trust me, it works. I spend tens of thousands a year on copywriting the marketing Ethical Corporation sends out. And we are an SME!

I do this because it works. So follow the conventions of decent communication.

4) Format your messages. Employee communications need to be tailored to suit your culture and what staff are used to. Embed messages in that, but also think about what the so-called ‘opinion former’ community needs from you.

We need to be engaged in brief, interesting, industry-leading discussion notes and papers.

Unilever have used these in the past. They really work.

Call them issue briefs, something like that. 4-8 pages will do it. Make it look sober and serious, put your numbers in, and talk about what you don’t know.

Encourage the debate, and the debate will take you seriously.

5) Be authentic. This links from my last point. But to take it further, give your tone humility, give us warts and all.

Tell the truth, or others will tell it for you in ways you have less influence over. Think Twitter, and Google’s Sidewiki.

Put critical voices into your tailored stakeholder communications. ‘Opinion formers’ want to read each other’s voices, those they respect for their independence.

An accountancy firm’s statement is not tough. Neither is a tame NGO you donate to. Think bigger, think challenging.

Do these things, and people like me (and more importantly your employees and investors) will read your corporate responsibility communications. That doesn’t mean they will, or should, read your report. That’s mainly for you and your boss, department heads, and the board.

So if you work in CR reporting, yes, perhaps you do need to work a bit harder to get HR, IR and Comms on board.

But you knew that anyway.

Maybe spend a bit less time on rankings no-one important cares about (and don’t reflect relative performance accurately) and focus more on real messages, that can make a real difference.

As John Ruggie said recently, “the era of declaratory CSR is over”.

So show us what you’ve done, in formats we can understand, and actually read.

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