Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CSR's Misguided PR Strategy - or Just Say No! to CSR

Have you ever watched Archer? If not, why not - not that that's the point of the post - but you should be watching Archer because it's great social commentary. OK, it's just funny. This past year, Isis (the spy agency in Archer) decided to go green as those "liberals in Congress are giving away money" and it's about leaving money on the table and get freebie tax benefits by going green. So Isis goes green - for a little bit - and installs low-flow toilets and those new bulbs.

You ever get the feeling that most corporations go into the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program with the same thinking? That if this makes us look good to the community, well it's just one of those fun terms that public relations and marketing people bring out when they want to put a happy face on a client or organization. Especially when it's less than a happy, go-lucky place.

CSR is also one of those things that most people roll their eyes at because it's not usually done for the good of the community, but it's done to make it seem like the company cares. We have all worked with companies that claim they want to go green, so let's tie ourselves to Earth Day!! and then, well, donate some small amount or something.

Of course, that's not for all companies or corporations. Some corporations do care about their communities, care more than just about the touchy-feely ... but it does raise the question if CSR is even a real thing, or are we moving into a social good mind-set (corporate philanthropy with social media twist). Of course, add the adjective "social" to anything and you have a killer program...

Looking at it from a PR angle, well, of course there's a great public relations (and, well, social media) aspect to all CSR programs (don't deny it). Should companies be undertaking social good or CSR programs just for the PR sake, or should there be more? And looking at recent articles, going green and all that doesn't mean an increase in sales ... which is why most companies are doing it.

It's questions like that that lead me to reach out the Dr. R. Edward Freeman from Darden School of Business at University of Virginia. Plus, got to geek out with my philosophy side again (business ethics, Kant theories, utilitarianism and all that fun stuff - for me).

Dr. Freeman is the thinker behind stakeholder management - and the man who wrote the book on it. In a one-liner, corporations act in such a way to benefit everyone with a stake in the corporation: the community, workers, shareholders, customers. With stakeholder management, CSR becomes unnecessary.

You note that CSR is different than managing for stakeholders - and that if managing for stakeholders is done well, we can just drop the CSR movement. What exactly do you mean by that?

If we are fulfilling all of our responsibilities to customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and financiers, and creating value for them, what does it mean to ask "are we socially responsible". Oftentimes CSR can serve as an excuse not to fulfill those baseline stakeholder responsibilities, or it serves to apologize for, rather than prevent harmful consequences. Take care of stakeholders and CSR takes care of itself.

While there is a major difference between the two, why does CSR have such a high public relations value? Are companies engaging in CSR for the right reasons, or is it just PR games?

There are many reasons that companies engage in CSR. Some are good reasons and some not. I resist the temptation to comment on all companies, or to reduce a complex issue to a simple motivation.

While managing for stakeholders DOES include employees - and making it a better corporation for them - how does that extend to employees being ambassadors for the brand? What is their duty in managing (or in CSR)?

Surely you want to run your company so that your employees believe in what they are doing, and are willing to say that they believe in it. If that is being an ambassador for the brand, then its a good idea. More generally we need to think about, as my colleague Andrew Wicks has argued, what makes a "responsible stakeholder". After all if companies have responsibilities to stakeholders, don't stakeholders have a responsibility to companies?

Especially this month - Earth Day month - companies all tout their green initiatives, and many feel forced. What would stakeholder theory change that companies wouldn't have to PR and tout their efforts for one month (be it Earth Day or breast cancer month in February)?

Again…this is a matter of taking one's responsibilties seriously…as many companies do. It is the old story about business that only profits and shareholders count, which give rise to questions like this. Businesses create value for their stakeholders. Many companies take that seriously. Its not a matter of "just PR" etc. It's quite real. It's the business model.

Is CSR a real viable business solution that dovetails with stakeholder theory? There are companies that are doing it to just check off a box on a list, but does stakeholder theory make it more viable, make it more aligned to business goals?

Stakeholder theory is about the business. It is also about ethics and responsibility. WE have to learn not to separate these ideas, as the old story does.

With stakeholder theory, it seems like the cost of any program is okay if it brings value to the community or employees, while most CSR has an underlying increase sales premise. How can stakeholder theory improve the bottom line?

Absolutely not…Business is about creating value for financiers, customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Their interests need to go in the same direction. Stakeholder theory is about finding ways to put these interests together, not break them apart as your question assumes.

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Now this doesn't mean that I'm not pro-companies doing good - just wonder if it should be a PR strategy. And as noted above, it's not just about PR but about all aspects of the business. It's why there are businesses and corporations out there that I think understand this - not ones that most people think about, but those that reach out to communities and do it under-the-radar and not looking just for publicity.

While at the Mom 2.0 Summit, one of the sponsors was Let's Play from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Here's a great idea - work with a playground organization (Kaboom) that works to place playgrounds in cities for children to have a place to play. Think about that- a large corporation that rallies communities to build playgrounds in their communities. That's more of a social good and investing in stakeholders than a stodgy CSR program. It speaks to actually caring about the communities that are your customers. And while at Mom 2.0, one of the breaks was sponsored by Let's Play, where attendees could go help build a (badly needed) playground in New Orleans.

Or look at the recent social good campaign by Seattle's Best - the Brew-lanthropy Project (yes, cheesy title). What Seattle's Best did was reach out to its drinkers to find local non-profit organizations for a $5000 donation and a coffee makeover (as they note, most non-profits have terrible coffee). So while that part is a little bit of branding, the fact that Seattle's Best reached out to its community on Facebook (and through bloggers - like me - that they met at BlogHer Food and other events) to generate community awareness and community involvement: local efforts to help communities be just a little bit better.

Should more companies move beyond CSR thinking into a stakeholder management thinking? Of course - but movement like that takes time. It could make the world a better place, but more importantly do actual good for a wide range of people.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hyperbole meets Hypocrisy: Googlegate

If you're in public relations, you've already heard about Googlegate. Simply put, Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller to conduct a FUD whisper campaign about privacy and security against Google.

It's a joke. No, not that B-M undertook such a campaign (or how badly it was handled) but the hyperbole from the press that borders on Foghorn Leghorn declaring the 'shock, I say shock, of the PR game' that they are intimately involved. The "smear" of the campaign that is just so shocking that it's going to be the downfall of Google, Facebook and journalism (or something) ... when it's just another day at the office.

Or the hypocrisy of public relations executives that are claiming that they would never undertake such a campaign for a client, never have done a FUD or whisper campaign and how bad and evil it is. Right, keep saying that and repeat it to yourself the next time a client asks you to share information (either client or competitor) with the media. Yes, that's a whisper campaign. Or, well, keep lying to yourself so you can claim the moral high ground (for whatever that's worth).

Or the innocence - oh the poor innocence that will be severely beaten out with each campaign - of the students whose souls' will gain a little bit of grey with each call or email to a reporter to give them background. It's called public relations - and it's like knowing how sausage is made: you don't want to, but you guys are now in the sausage business.

You see, this is just a standard operation in public relations; It's even more common in public affairs. It's called spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt to deposition a client. A whisper campaign is just what it sounds like - you call up a few people, meet them in person, and feed them information in that Bourne way you know you always wanted to do.

What's sad/bad here is how badly handled this campaign was by two former journalists - two journalists that should have had the connections to successfully undertake such a campaign and instead were blind emailing bloggers and reporters (really, email!? How quaint) with whom they didn't have deep relationships. The fun irony is how poorly the tech reporter treated PR people - hi kettle, it's pot!!

So here's a primer for anyone that wants to undertake a FUD/whisper campaign:
  • If you have no relationships - real deep relationships - with reporters, you're fucked and going to fail (see example above)
  • If you are using email, you're missing that verbal part of whisper. It's called a whisper campaign for a reason ... it's verbal.
  • Have real information if you're doing a FUD whisper campaign, e.g. "Hey, I heard product X doesn't work from these people, you hearing the same thing?" (Look at how easy that is - AND you just depositioned the competition at the same time you were doing competitive analysis and digging!!)
  • In this age of social media, well, the rules don't really change: have relationships
Have I ever undertaken a whisper or FUD campaign while working for a client? I am not at liberty to answer that, but anyone that has been in the industry - especially technology - has done a whisper campaign of some sort. Or gone on background to a reporter at some time (and yes, fed information about competitors while on background). And if you're smart, you think of ways to position your company over the competition and feed that information to friendlies.

As for the "ethics discussions" that have sprung up around this - really, we're going to have a discussion about how the sausage is made? There's good PR, there's bad PR and then there's that gray PR. And in the PR world, it's all about gray.

If PR is upset about anything, it should be about how poorly this campaign was done. In reality, the issue isn't the campaign or even the lack of transparency. It is about how badly the campaign was executed.

For another great, balanced take on it, make sure you read Stuart Bruce's post.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My Life as a Mommy Blogger*

I'm a Mommy blogger*. I might not blog about raising a baby or poop or child-rearing issues. I might not blog about life at home, the trials and tribulations about raising a family, but I'm still a Mommy blogger.

(*Not actually a Mom (or a Dad at this time) and don't blog on Mom or Dad issues.)

But I do nurture and help others grow with my blog and working with others. So in that sense, I'm a Mom (or Dad) to others.

Even though I'm not really a Mommy blogger, I am part (and an early member) of Clever Girls Collective and I do attend the conferences that are part of that community, such as Mom 2.0 (first time attendee), BlogHer (8 time attendee) and Evo (first time attendee, when it happens). The plan is still to get to Blogalicious, Blissdom and others. In other words, I attend the conferences that really matter.

But this is about labels. This is why I embrace the Mommy blogger title. Because, well, too often, people knee-jerk and just lump all female bloggers into the "Mommy blogger" category. I experience it all the time when I try to explain to people that I don't do SXSWi but will continue to go to BlogHer ... "why do you go to that, it's only Mommy bloggers?"

It's not. And for those that think that way - ironically, usually the same social media people that sheep herd mentality go to SXSW question why I go to these conferences - well, you just don't get it.

A few weeks ago, I was at Mom 2.0 - and was able to meet up with women that are the top of their game (be it vidcasts or blogging or social media). A conference that had panels that was advanced thinking for an advanced audience, that people attended and participated and asked questions. You had a community (that's what differs at these conferences) that listened and took notes and engaged with the speakers (and the audience) and spoke about the future of media with heavy hitters across the gamut.

But that's the thing people don't get - and the problem with just looking but not seeing. These are not Mommy bloggers. These are women that write on a wide variety of topics. Through the years, I've met female bloggers that write on:
  • Food
  • Politics
  • Law
  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Romance / Love
  • Medicine / Health & Wellness
  • Money and Finance
  • Green / Eco blogging
  • Gender
  • Technology
  • Sports
  • Publishing and Media
  • And, yes, even parenting
But the joke of social media people only talking to social media ... you're missing the point. Look at any nuclear family, and it's the woman that controls the budget. In a conversation last night, I talked to a friend who is starting her Mommy blog and we talked about household budgets and who really controls it. It's the Mom - not because she has the time, but because she tends to be smarter with purchases.

Big brands, if you want to reach social media people, keep going to SXSWi and missing the point on reaching audiences that are interested in your products and have real audiences and communities.

So for all the Mommy bloggers out there that I have met over the years - and the non-Mommy females that I have met - Happy Mother's Day to you. All my love for you, what you have done with your communities, and all you have helped me with the past years (and bringing me gifts - total call out to Jennui and link love to her - and being my LA mom ... yes, that's you, Erin).

And from my other LA Mom, Kimberley Clayton Blaine, a special Mother's Day gift and love for your Mother (psst, use the M2MTV coupon code at SonyStyle.com on the T99 digital video cameras for her special Mom Day gift).


And to my own Mom, love you lots and thanks for everything. Happy Mother's Day. :)