Why CSR Matters: A Guide to Getting It Right

How companies can make sure their CSR strategy makes the greatest possible impact, while improving business at the same time.

by Jemima Jordan, January 9, 2018

Corporate Social Responsibility has never been more important. Originally a commitment from a business to acknowledge accountability for their impact on society, it has matured into a company’s obligation to make a measurably positive impact on society at large. Of course it matters on an ethical level, but it increasingly matters on a business level too.

Millennials dominate the consumer market and are increasingly making buying decisions based upon a company’s CSR activities. A recent and comprehensive study of Millennials by ConeComm revealed that over 9 in 10 Millennials would switch the brand they buy to one associated with a cause if they had the option, which explains the rise of business models like Tom’s, who will give a pair of shoes to a child in need every time someone buys a pair of their shoes. As Angelina Ong, president of Cohn & Wolfe Asia, says "Consumers want to associate with brands that reflect their own values. CSR is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but a ‘must-have’.” 

The demand for CSR is clear, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to get the strategy right. All too many companies seem to think that their CSR objectives can be ticked off with an annual event or by giving a cheque to a local charity. However, the reality is that consumers are too clever for that: A YouGov research poll of consumers showed that over 37% of consumers dismissed CSR initiatives as PR stunts.

So how can companies make sure their CSR strategy makes the greatest impact to society possible, while improving business at the same time? 

  1. Employee Engagement
  2. CEO Involvement
  3. Authenticity and Sustainability
  4. Outward Communication

Employee Engagement

If you can get your workforce on board with the vision of your CSR plan, not only are you creating a sustainable CSR strategy that is intertwined with the culture of the company, you are also attracting new talent. 

‘The 2020 Workplace’, found that out of a sample of 1,800 13-25 year olds, 80% wanted to work for a company that cares about how it impacts on and contributes to society. Given that this group will make up nearly 75% of the workforce by 2030, it’s about time companies really responded to this requirement by creating and instilling a compelling CSR strategy.

Another easy win when it comes to CSR is its impact upon employee-retention. It will not come as news that the new generation of workers are very open to moving companies if their current workplace isn’t suiting them, which is exactly why employers need to find new ways to keep their employees engaged. 58% of Millennials said that they would take a 15% paycut if they could work for a company with values equal to their own, so this is clearly a point which resonates even more deeply than financial return. The CSR strategy is a great way to ensure that all employees feel bought in to the values of the company, thereby encouraging loyalty.  

CEO Involvement 

It is all very well asking the company intern to go to a charity day out, but if the CEO doesn’t show up, it won’t feel like a company initiative. The main reason for the sporadic cynicism around CSR is because it is all too often considered as an afterthought, delegated to a manager as a side project for the sake of simply ticking a box. 

A decade long report by Harvard Business review recently stated “we have found that CSR programs are often initiated and run in an uncoordinated way by a variety of internal managers, frequently without the active engagement of the CEO.” If the CSR strategy is an extra-curricular task given to an ambitious middle manager, the likelihood is that it wont be getting the support, time and resources it needs in order to become sustainable and fully integrated into the company culture. All employees need to see, hear and believe that the company is committed to the strategy and in order for this, the commitment, the time and the resource has to come right from the top. 

Authenticity and Sustainability

"Companies launching into CSR initiatives need to ensure that anything they do is well aligned with their values and actions." Jean-Michel Dumont, chairman of Ruder Finn Asia.

If you are sitting there, wondering what the values of your company are, don’t worry – you are not alone. One of the most common traits of bad CSR campaigns is their total randomness and one of the most common reasons for leaving the workplace is a lack of fulfilment. It is exactly this reason why it is so important to identify the values of the company before developing the CSR strategy, and to use the strategy and all activities within it to embed and ingrain those values into the DNA of the company. 

My favourite example of this is the Always ‘Like a Girl’ campaign, which encourages women and girls everywhere to recognise how ‘like a girl’ is misused as a derogatory term in everyday life, as opposed to the proud claim it should be. The campaign was launched with an exceptionally successful film that has, thus far, received over 65.5 million views on YouTube alone. Whereas most companies would probably stop there, basking in exceeding their KPI’s, Always launched a full calendar of activities, including a ‘confidence summit’, a release of  ‘strong women’ emojis and a range of in-school workshops. 

The beauty of the idea isn’t just in the fact that the message is being spread in numerous, long-term ways, it’s the fact that the reclaiming of the term ‘Like a Girl’, so often the catalyst of shame, is so perfectly aligned to the product. All women can remember the first time they went into a pharmacy and bought sanitary towels hoping nobody would see them. The biological dictate of a woman is causing shame in both cases and should be de-stigmatised in both cases. It is truly authentic and in being so, is so much more than just a PR stunt or a fleeting campaign. It establishes the values and ethos of Always in a long-term, sustainable and authentic way.  

Tell People About It!

We have already established that consumers care about CSR. So why do we barely hear about it? As somebody who has worked in advertising, I can confirm that it is rarely spoken about in a positive way by anybody in or outside of the sector. This is confirmed by the McCarthy group, who say that 84% of Millennials say they don’t even like advertising. Given what we know about Millennials’ commitment to brands based on their values, I do not understand why companies are still so keen on selling a product, rather than helping consumers understand the values of the brand. As Carolyn Camoens, WE senior vice president for Southeast Asia says: "We know that audiences buy from brands they trust. Today this has been extended to the values a brand embodies." 

Always’ brand equity showed a strong double digit percentage increase during the course of the Like a Girl campaign referenced above, while most of its competitors saw slight declines, and absorbency wasn’t mentioned once! So why are we still talking about products? 

People cannot know about the amazing CSR initiatives of a company if that company is not telling us. Use TV advertising, use radio advertising, and stop deep-linking text-heavy pages in the darkest corners of your corporate website. CSR is helping to change the world for the better, so why not tell people about it? 

About the author


After working for 6 years in charity marketing in London, Jemima Jordan moved to Berlin to try out working agency-side. She has now allotted over 10 years of experience in Marketing, Communications and Digital, and specialises in CSR and youth marketing. She also likes to paint!

Originally published June 2, 2016