Hopping onto the CSR Bandwagon
The Egyptian revolution did a lot for its country. It brought down a tyrannical regime, re-established hope, brought members of the community closer and opened a whole new can of worms in the form of CSR overload. With patriotism running through sour society’s veins, everybody – including the big corporations – wanted a little piece of ‘Rebuilding Egypt’. They too wanted to send out an important message at a very important time. They wanted to be seen as equally patriotic as the rest of us and there was only one way to do that! Yes, you guessed it.
Everybody jumped on the CSR bandwagon and before you knew it, hundreds of teenagers were out on the streets, with brooms in hand sweeping the dusty streets of Cairo or painting its sidewalks in black and white while donning company branded logos and overalls.
Pictures were taken and stories of these heroic companies were splashed across the newspapers. What these companies failed to acknowledge was that the impact of their efforts were only immediate and definitely not long lasting. It took less than a week before trash found its way back on to the streets and the brightly painted sidewalks were back to being grey.
Some companies didn’t bother to make any effort at all. They just plastered the Egyptian flag onto their ads with a few claims of being proud to be Egyptian and thought ‘There! I guess that should do it’. From manufacturers of crystal chandeliers to mobile service providers to fast food chains, every brand made some form of patriotic claim. The fact that the revolution was suddenly ‘in’ lured brands into becoming part of the trend and even international brands like Kenneth Cole wanted to cash in on the buzz by hijacking the Cairo hash tag on twitter and shamelessly announcing that its new Season’s collection was behind Egypt’s upheaval.
CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility is an underdeveloped concept in the Middle East, one that’s usually used interchangeably with ‘charity’ or ‘donations’. Because there is still no concrete understanding of how integrating CSR into a company’s business strategy can actually make a difference to the bottom line, CSR has taken the form of Cosmetic Social Responsibility. It has very little to do with developing communities and a lot more to do with self promotion. As one study mentions, CSR isn’t about pursuing the CEO’s pet interest or just taking your employees for a day out to the local orphanage. CSR is a much more holistic approach to business, which is designed to enhance corporate success because of its relevance, rather than because it represents something unconnected to an organization’s core business. It involves a business identifying its stakeholder groups and incorporating their needs and values within the strategic day-to-day decision-making process.
Unbeknownst to many companies, CSR can affect a company’s growth. As McWilliams and Siegel underline (2001), firms that are socially responsible are considered by consumers to have a good reputation. A further study conducted by British Telecom a year later (the interrelationship between CSR and reputation) confirmed that CSR represents 25% of the reputational asset of the company.
In a nutshell, CSR is an important business strategy because different stakeholders, from consumers to suppliers to employees and even NGOs, all want to deal with a company that they trust and respect. And by satisfying these different stakeholders, companies demonstrate their commitment to another important stakeholder – their investors – who, at the end of the day, benefit the most when the needs of these other stakeholder groups are being met.
Swiss PR industry: Surprising findings
In the autumn of 2010, we came across two studies which provide interesting findings about the Swiss PR industry. Here’s an overview of the findings in brief and we’re curious whether other countries are seeing similar trends?
Monitor: Swiss PR realities
About the study:
The first Swiss Corporate Communication and Public Relations Practice Monitor is supported by key organizations in the Swiss PR industry and supplies insights into the state of the profession. 15 percent of Swiss PR professionals took part in the February 2010 survey with the findings published in the autumn of 2010.
- Communication specialists are less influential than expected. Only one third feel themselves closely involved in strategic company decisions. Even fewer of the respondents reported that they participate in the development of the corporate brand and relations with relevant stakeholders or played a key role in sponsoring.
- The role of agencies was also surprising: Their managers rated the strategic involvement of agencies as very high. However, most customers regard the role of their contractors merely as campaign implementation.
- An especially interesting fact for ECCO: Only one in five customers is satisfied with the international capabilities and resources of Swiss agencies.
Online survey: Attitudes of Swiss PR professionals towards professional ethics
About the study:
Between May and June last year, PR consultant Yvonne Raudzus surveyed 214 Swiss PR professionals on the subject of PR professional ethics for her thesis. She also supplied recommendations on how PR professionals can strengthen their knowledge of professional ethics.
- Few know about PR standard codes of practice. For example, 38.9 percent of respondents know the Lisbon Codex well; 36.5 percent by name and 24.5 percent not at all. The author explains this by the fact that the codes of practice are very abstract and that there are few consequences if they fail to keep to them due to the low level of industry self-regulation. A poignant fact – the ethical code of practice for journalists is more well-known than the PR one.
- PR professionals have a less positive image of the state of their own profession. Nonetheless, 66.7 percent admitted they acted with total integrity at all times. By contrast, 49.3 percent stated that the professional ethics of their colleagues were merely “moderate”. The author gives this explanation: the questionable conduct of individuals can influence the internal and external image of the PR industry as a whole.
- The subject of PR professional ethics aroused a lot of interest. Respondents want increasing awareness and discussion with 73.8 percent in favour of devoting more time to training and debating the issue.
Read article (German text only)
What is your opinion on these study findings? Let us know!
Is guerrilla marketing ethical?
‘Guerrilla marketing’ is a phrase coined and defined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book Guerrilla Marketing. The term has since entered the popular vocabulary to also describe aggressive, unconventional marketing methods generally. Typically, guerrilla marketing is unexpected and surprising, where consumers are often targeted when and where they least expect it, which can make the idea, product or service that’s being marketed more memorable, generate buzz, and even spread virally.
By its very nature, guerrilla marketing demands an element of ‘surprise’. This brings an element of chaos into the marketing mix, because – as we all know – a nice surprise for some can be a nasty surprise for others. Fundamentally, guerrilla marketing is a risky business as companies large and small have found out to their cost – see here for an example. I certainly believe guerrilla marketing can be ethical, but only if it’s smart. That is – if the initial thinking is correct and accompanied by good intent, if the concept is inventive, interesting, and creative and delivered to perfection. However, the ’ethics’ of a marketing campaign can break down irreparably if the initial thinking is flawed, the intent to deceive or if the guerrilla marketing process or delivery fails in some way.
Surely what is completely unethical is when an organisation hides the truth or encourages the belief that something is real and authentic when it really isn’t. To me, that’s when guerrilla marketing can – and indeed should – damage an organisation’s reputation. An example is the story of the singer Marié Digby uncovered by Ethan Smith and Peter Lattman of the Wall Street Journal, check it out here.
Another is the case of ‘LonelyGirl15’ – YouTube phenomena, later revealed as a professional actress and represented by an agency. Don’t believe everything you see or hear – there are enough examples out there. It’s a shame because it tarnishes the reputations and otherwise really good work of the majority of marketing professionals. But with the web and social networks becoming the playground for guerrilla marketeers, online consumers are going to need to keep their wits about them.
I don’t think these examples would have been welcomed by Jay Conrad Levinson into the guerrilla marketing family because as he so rightly emphasises: the Guerrilla Marketeer must “deliver the goods”. In his ‘The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook’, he states: “In order to sell a product or a service, a company must establish a relationship with the customer. It must build trust and support. It must understand the customer’s needs, and it must provide a product that delivers the promised benefits.”
Smart thinking combined with simple marketing truths: ‘establish relationships, build trust, understand the customer and deliver the promise’. If your guerrilla marketing campaign is doing anything other than these, you’re doomed to failure.
Other blogs on this subject:
Examples of guerrilla marketing:
More links on guerrilla marketing: