Doctor SpinPublic RelationsCorporate CommsYour CSR is Boring — You Are Picking the Wrong Fights

Your CSR is Boring — You Are Picking the Wrong Fights

Brands must take real risks for their CSR to be taken seriously.

Your CSR activities are boring.

Zzz. Wait, what? Did anyone say “corporate social responsibility”?

CSR is when brands contribute to the greater good of society — even though they technically don’t have to do it.

Typical examples could be:

Planting rainforest in the Amazon.
Drilling for fresh water in Africa.
Donating funds to disaster relief.

All good causes, for sure.

But, as PR professionals, we know this too well: it’s a mad challenge to get public recognition for CSR activities.

Where’s all that sweet goodwill?

Table of Contents

    When 1,000 People Agree With You

    As a company serving the greater good through various CSR activities, in theory, you should be reaping at least some business rewards for doing good.

    A global brand could be allocating millions of dollars for good causes but without ever earning so much as a headline. Doing good is great but not newsworthy.

    But publicity is one thing. What about goodwill?

    Most people find CSR activities to be both important and noble. Commendable, even.

    But interesting? Not so much.

    Imagine going out on a busy street to ask 1,000 by-passers what they think about saving the rainforest. It’s not unthinkable that you would collect 1,000 “yes, that’s important” answers.

    In short: People favour your CSR endeavour, but that also makes it uninteresting from a media perspective.

    It’s counterintuitive, but people engage less with majority positions.

    Conversion Theory: The Misrepresented Minority

    In scientific literature, less engagement for majority positions is known as the Conversion Theory.

    The social psychologist Serge Moscovici found that we become more engaged if we belong to a misrepresented minority.

    If 99,9% of your peers think that the rainforest is worth saving and you agree, you don’t feel as if you belong to a wronged minority — and you’re therefore less likely to engage.

    But most CSR issues tend to be backed by sound majorities.

    Planting rainforest in the Amazon.
    Drilling for fresh water in Africa.
    Donating funds to disaster relief.

    Sorry. People engage with less intensity in majority positions.

    In terms of PR effect, the Conversion Theory is why CSR activities work best when a brand finds a smart minority to liaise with — against a stupid majority.

    How To Make Your CSR Less Boring

    Brands are generally perceived as both powerful and wealthy.

    To be accepted as the underdog, the brand must be vulnerable to deserve public acknowledgement.

    1. There must be a clearly defined enemy, and the stronger the enemy, the more interesting the story.

    If you want people to side with your brand actively, they need to know who and what you’re up against — and that the brand is putting itself at risk by taking this position.

    From a PR perspective, companies cutting down rainforests are weak. And taking a stand on behalf of the rainforest is risk-free for the brand.

    Is there a clearly defined enemy backed by a stupid majority?
    Does a smart minority back you in taking down this enemy?

    2. There must be obstacles and stakes to keep the brand accountable, and the audience engaged.

    CSR, too, obeys the fundamental laws of storytelling; not only do you need a strong enemy, but you must also accept a hero’s journey.

    You can’t expect people to trust or respect you if you don’t put your brand in harm’s way for what it believes in.

    There must be something more at risk, something that’s tangible for the brand’s bottom line. The brand must make enemies.

    What’s at stake for your company?
    In what way is the outcome for your business uncertain?

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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