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Get noticed: How to communicate your CSR story with purpose

Leading with purpose is key. AT&T, Disney and Hershey have demonstrated another powerful approach that works.

This is part two of a three-part series on developing, communicating and measuring effective corporate social responsibility programs. Read part one here.

In today’s world, being a responsible corporate citizen is table stakes. Nine in 10 global consumers expect companies to go beyond profit-making and address social and environmental issues, according to one recent study.

The upshot: In order to get noticed, you need to have an effective and compelling story that captures the attention of your audience.

Here are two specific things you can do right now to help accomplish that:

1. Lead with purpose

Successful communication starts with effective messaging. First and foremost, good CSR messaging should illustrate your motivation and answer one big question: “Why?”

Too often, our impulse is to start with the “what” — be it a new green product or partnership or another new endeavor — and lead the CSR narrative with a definition of what the program is or does. 

Instead, start with the “why,” or what’s driving this action. This approach reveals a more compelling story, one that leads with purpose.

But how do you do it? Start by asking and answering the right questions:

  • Why you? Why is your company uniquely qualified to tackle this social or environmental issue?
  • Why now? Why is this the right time to address this issue? 
  • Why will it work? Why will your particular approach drive impact (in some cases, where others have failed)?

You’ll find that by starting with the “why,” your messaging — and thus your story — will be more powerful.   

After you’ve answered that question, you can move on to the “how” (revealing your methodology, value proposition and other details of your approach) and “what” (the specifics of your program).

2. Make it newsworthy

Now that you have purpose-driven messaging, it’s time to make your CSR story more memorable and newsworthy by weaving one or more of these elements into your earned, social and paid communications strategy.  

One key way to drive media interest and attention is with compelling data and statistics. Disney applied this strategy when announcing that it cut carbon emissions. The Hershey Company used data and statistics as a way to highlight progress towards its 2017 goals.

Other ways to use data include using research or survey results to explain why you’ve selected a certain cause, or using metrics to illustrate program successes.

In addition to numbers, people love a good human interest story. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend or many success metrics to report, you can capture and tell meaningful personal stories about people who benefitted from your program with a little legwork. 

Whether it’s a grant recipient or employee who participated in a volunteer event, this type of storytelling builds an emotional tie with readers or viewers. For example, AT&T Aspire highlights the story of a student who was the first in his family to go to college because of the program.    

Engaging consumers through bold calls to action are all the rage these days, especially on social media. Patagonia challenged consumers to “Don’t Buy This Jacket” to help reduce consumption and its carbon footprint. 

In part because it was counterintuitive, literally telling consumers to consider not buying a new product if it’s not necessary, the campaign garnered attention and media coverage, including this piece on "Today."

Lastly, big dollar amounts and celebrity endorsements still make headlines, but that seems to be trending down as media — and the public — look for programs that drive real results. 

That’s a good thing, because a lot of companies don’t have the luxury of relying on billion-dollar giving and famous names. It’s also beneficial because, as CSR practitioners, we know that societal and business impact is the most important thing at the end of the day.

With the exception of hyper-local giving, the media’s interest in large dollar figures often requires amounts in the multi-millions or billions, such as this coverage in the Wall Street Journal about a corporate coalition pledging $140 billion to cut carbon emissions. 

For those with the means, big budgets can help. But if that’s not a reality for you, don’t fret. You can develop solid, purpose-driven messaging and employ communications tactics that capture the attention of your audience on any budget, big or small. 

Part three of this series will cover measuring CSR programs. 

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