Evolving Influence, in partnership with the PRCA, recently hosted a breakfast debate to discuss Lord Browne’s new book, Connect, which is a Sunday Times bestseller.
Tommy Stadlen, entrepreneur and co-author of the book, joined Evolving Influence founder Karan Chadda and Mary Whenman, President of Women in PR to discuss one of the books most provocative conclusions: CSR is dead.
In this video, filmed immediately after the event, Tommy provides an overview of the book and its findings.
The controversial topic led to a fulsome debate with strong contributions and personal experiences shared by the panellists and audience alike. For me, there were three key points to take from the discussion:
Doing good isn’t a ‘nice to have’. Research quoted in the book has found that companies that engage with society outperform their peers by 2% annually in terms of share price performance. Moreover, that return is consistent over time. In an age where new technology, low borrowing rates and a general anti big business mood means that companies find it hard to find and maintain a position of competitive advantage, radical engagement and connected leadership offer an attractive commercial opportunity.
Calls for greater authenticity are as commonplace in PR and marketing as discussions of big data, disruption and integration. Its mention often leads to weary sighs and yet, as the whole room agreed, executives and businesses almost always speak in bland, homogenised and often meaningless language.
If it’s comfortable, you’re not doing it right.
The problem isn’t just about language. It’s about being more open, engaging in conversation your audience and, when mistakes happen, being truthful about it. Authenticity, ultimately, is about having an open culture and this can be scary for companies. As Tommy says, “if it’s comfortable, you’re not doing it right.”
Is CSR is dead?
I think the answer to this question isn’t definitive, but it is mostly “yes”.
If CSR is an add on, something done by a team that has little contact or influence on a company’s operations, then it’s definitely dead.
If, however, a CSR function influences a business. For example, if it helps reduce water usage or minimise waste. If it helps reconcile how a firm affects society, then it isn’t dead. It’s exactly what’s needed.
Many marketing, PR and brand experts will say that the latter is exactly what a modern CSR function should look like, but I’m not confident that we can say such modernity is the norm.