Let me tell you the secret to good CSR storytelling




Neil Bayley

I had the pleasure of chairing a Good Relations breakfast roundtable last week, discussusing the ‘secrets of CSR storytelling’ with a range of professionals from the financial services, retail, food and construction sectors. There proved to be a ‘feast’ of knowledge and experience on offer around the room.

Corporate responsibility remains an important focus in the world of business – whether you subscribe to Lord Browne’s recent view that CSR departments should be ditched or not. Yet, whilst it’s high a priority for many companies, creating the desired impact with communications remains the preserve of a few.

Regardless of the size of your business, the sector you work in or who you are communicating to, if you get your CSR story right, it can make a really strong contribution to your brand strategy and your business.

So here are a few principles highlighted by discussion around the table….

Insight is key. Just like in any good communications, audience insight is critical for successful CSR storytelling. The better you understand how your audiences think, feel or behave today, the more likely you are to engage positively and effect how they think, feel or behave tomorrow.

Strategic value must be understood. Storytelling is most effective when the strategic role of CSR in a business is clearly understood and is rooted in good insight. This helps secure support and ensures leaders value the investment. The ‘sweet spot’ for the more forward thinking organisations is where CSR stories can both enhance reputation and create business growth opportunity.

Get the right balance. CSR communications tends to comprise of stuff (i.e. activity), stats (i.e. progress against targets) and stories (i.e. involving people). Good CSR communication blends all three in a balanced way. The days of focussing on CSR reports have gone, but people still want to see commitment and progress so we need to find new ways of proving that. Like with any business case, measuring and proving the strategic value of CSR will force you to evaluate and improve.

You will need to adapt. CSR on an international scale is challenging. The things people are interested in, what they consider progress and the language they use vary considerably. Whilst you can have a common strategy, the way that plays out locally will need to adapt.

Make it matter to more than you. Like in any communication you should adapt, tailor and talk to your audience in their language. More and more we’re seeing good examples of how companies are breaking the rules on ‘how to talk CSR’. Take for example the Cannes Lions award winning ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ video, which tells a serious CSR story in a less conventional corporate way.

The best communicators are good listeners. The best type of communication is two way. With digital and social media, we have the ability to listen, communicate and respond to audience reaction. Companies prepared to invoke and work within this conversation are the ones that will ultimately create more value through their CSR communication. Interacting with your audiences allows you to gain feedback and develop deeper insight which can drive continuous improvement in your approach.

The CSR storytelling roundtable was the latest in a series of communications leadership events hosted by Good Relations for clients and industry contacts. To find out more and participate, contact Holly Dedman at hdedman@goodrelations.co.uk

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Neil Bayley photo

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