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Why communicating your sustainability report is a bad idea

What your report looks like to stakeholders

Last week I was discussing CR communications with a head of sustainability here in London.

Which email service, he asked me, would I recommend using to announce the publication of a sustainability report.

I was immediately conflicted between commercial objectives and logic.

“Well” I said, “you could use our competitors who have an email service”.

However, direct e-shots to databases is a quick way to kill the effectiveness of said database. I said.

You can also use Ethical Corporation’s press release service (we publish them on our website for a small fee)

But really, I said, (at which point what I believe to be logic took over from commercial considerations), you shouldn’t be communicating your sustainability report, at all. No sir.

What kind of talk is this? you might ask. Pure sedition?

An ethical business blogger advocating a lack of communication, has the world gone mad?

Well, yes it largely has. But I’m still partially sane, I’d hope. At least for this week.

Here’s what I’m saying: Sending an email announcement about your report is a bad idea. Press releasing your report is a bad idea.

Why? Because your corporate responsibility report is not news. It is not really interesting. After all, what is a report? It’s a collection of data and self-penned stories designed to show progress to stakeholders, who largely ignore it. (Almost completely, let us be honest)

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have stories to tell. It’s the format that makes all the difference.

So when you publish a report, don’t tell me you’ve published it (I expect you to anyhow), but tell me a compelling story from it.

Consider these two headlines you might send to media/stakeholders/NGOs/whoever:

1) Company X releases 2010 sustainability report

2) Company X helps 50 suppliers reduce costs and stabilise their business

or: Company X saves xxx tonnes of carbon and uses savings to innovate

or: Company X takes greener thinking and turns it into a new product line or service offering.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Tell stories from your report, over time. That’s a much better idea than simply trying to tell the world (or the CR community, more accurately) that you’ve published your CSR/Sustainability report.

We’re bringing together some of the leading companies in the space to talk about this, and other issues, in November in London. Here’s where to sign up and join us.

Here’s some further reading.

2 Comments

  1. As someone who gets the press releases, I heartily endorse this. Imagine if you turned on the news and it was: "The Prime Minister attended a conference. Company X announced its results. Andy Murray played a tennis match."

    You'd be screaming at the TV – why? what happened? who won? Why are you telling me if you're not going to tell me?

    Same thing.

  2. Adam Garfunkel

    I largely agree Toby – the press release about a report being issued is dull. And stories from the report work – sure. But one way that a company can write a release more closely linked to the fact of publishing a report is to focus on some new element of transparency the company has – we hope – included in or with their latest report.

    For example, when Nike issued its second CR report way back in 2005, it also published its Tier 1 supplier list – well, those ones making Nike-branded products for the international market anyway. The point being Nike could lead its report press release with this enhanced transparency, earn (some) kudos and bring attention to their new report in the process.

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