Public relations agencies and corporate communications departments are busy with 2022 planning. That means the C, D, E, G, I, R and S letters on their keyboards should be getting quite a workout.
Why? CDEGIRS are the seven most important letters in the alphabet for PR pros because you cannot have a comprehensive public relations strategy without featuring CSR, DEI and ESG initiatives. These three pillars of good corporate citizenship—Corporate Social Responsibility; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and Environmental, Social & Governance—are more critical now than ever before.
A mixture of factors in recent years accelerated shifts taking place in attitudes among a wide spectrum of stakeholders. Climate change, the #MeToo movement, social media, George Floyd protests, economic inequality, political gridlock and even COVID-19 are all part of the stew. Customers, investors and employees are keenly interested in not only what companies say, but also what they do. A host of government regulators and nongovernmental organizations look closely at both the required and voluntary reporting that comes with CSR, DEI and ESG efforts to make judgment calls on the compliance commitment and ethical standards of companies large and small.
We have reached the tipping point, and these initiatives—once viewed as “good for business”—are now becoming “required to do business.” Increasingly, RFPs and purchasing agreements ask specific questions about CSR, DEI and ESG programs, including setting quantifiable goals for progress. Not having your house in order when it comes to CSR, DEI and ESG will make future growth nearly impossible and threaten your brand’s long-term survivability.
For communicators, embedding these elements into strategic plans helps to reshape perceptions of these efforts. What some might label as a feel-good distraction from the bottom line can be rightfully reshaped as mission-critical components supporting everything from brand equity to talent acquisition.
While CSR, DEI and ESG have many unique elements, they share important commonalities. Each is a form of self-regulation, while they may also encompass specific laws, regulations or contractual obligations for companies. By voluntarily disclosing both the good and the bad in these areas, companies not only showcase transparency and a willingness to make improvements, they encourage a healthy level of ownership among internal stakeholders.
It’s true that compliance with standards focused on environmental stewardship, equal opportunity employment practices and achieving community benefits through charitable efforts comes with a price. In reality, the benefits realized far outweigh the costs—especially when the programs are aligned properly with a corporate mission.
CSR, DEI and ESG are vital elements of good corporate citizenship. They’re essential to how key stakeholders and the marketplace perceive your brand. They can be effective marketing tools, but first they must be part of the organization’s ethical soul. If these north stars are nothing more than window dressing—or worse, deceptions—the people and groups that will care the most will be the first to sense the disconnect.
Too often reputation management is nothing more than code for damage control when a crisis strikes. Experienced communicators know that a corporate reputation is nurtured and promulgated best when proactive steps are taken in ways that matter to the people and organizations who matter the most. Employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, media and others all keep mental scorecards on what you say and do.
Finding a corporate conscience becomes a simpler task when an organization has defined CSR, DEI and ESG programs. Using the C, D, E, G, I, R and S keys frequently can build a stronger brand that engenders affection, relevance and trust, helping to resolve core issues in a cleaner, expedited process. That’s the superpower of these seven letters.