Are bells and whistles key, or is it what’s under the hood that counts? A recent Environmental Leader column, “CSR Reporting: Rainbows Versus ROI” by Timberland’s Alex Hausman addresses this very conundrum that companies face as they try to determine whether powerful visuals and inspirational stories are more or less warranted than hard, quantifiable data in describing a company’s responsibility efforts. The truth, as the article points out, is that it’s a combination of both. We should also recognize that the CR report is just one tool around which a company can build a broader communications strategy. As part of this strategy, Cone recommends that companies:
1. Map and prioritize stakeholder audiences: As every company faces resource constraints, this prioritization allows you to focus limited dollars on those objectives with the highest potential return.
2. Engage with stakeholders: Through meetings, surveys, e-mail and telephone feedback, find out what your stakeholders are thinking about your company's CR activities. Build in this dialogue as an ongoing part of your communications strategy.
3. Develop a CR message guide: Different stakeholders have varying degrees of CR issue knowledge and needs. By developing a comprehensive guide with key messages tailored for each stakeholder group, companies are able to deliver consistent messages that resonate with each audience.
4. Identify communications vehicles based on determined objectives: In most cases, existing vehicles may be the most appropriate way to communicate your CR commitments as stakeholders are already expecting to hear from you through those channels.
5. Execute: Communicate with multiple audiences at the same time to ensure an integrated approach. During execution, keep in close contact with the operations side of your company to make sure your company is 'walking the talk,' and you are apprised of any issues that arise, so you can respond accordingly. Use feedback from your efforts and from stakeholder engagement to evolve messaging and look for new CR opportunities.