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CSR For Small Business – Communication
The next few articles in this series are going to focus on more tips across specific themes within the CSR agenda and include the environment, employees and workplaces, suppliers, community engagement, charities/good causes and communications.
I’m still trying to keep the management jargon to make it easier to implement and see results as quickly as possible. I will look to broaden the discussion beyond pure commercial returns and address other environmental and social benefits to explain why all businesses can and should play a role.
This week’s topic is:
I’ve bypassed environment and employees even though these are probably the two biggest areas to look at in terms of action and moved on to direct communication. The reason for this is very simple. Almost every small business (not all, there are some crooks out there!) already is ad hoc or responsive great CSR initiatives but most do not fully know or understand them. I am focusing on communication because everyone can benefit now.
To help you understand this I will take 10 minutes to ask you the following questions
Please try to write your answers on recycled paper:
1. Has your organization ever given cash or assistance to a charity or good cause? This includes allowing employees to fundraise at work hours, local junior sports clubs, churches, etc.
2. Do you recycle or have you reduced your energy use or waste in any way?
3. Has your organization ever exceeded basic legal requirements to recruit, improve productivity or retain your employees?
4. How do you choose a supplier? Is it just about the best price or do you only use local businesses or consider environmental issues?
5. Does your organization have a formal or informal list of values that you should act on a daily basis?
6. Has your organization ever helped other businesses without payment?
I’m no clairvoyant or magician but I think there are a few notes on your piece of paper.
The big question is who did you tell and how did you tell them about this great initiative? Small businesses I know don’t have marketing departments or external agencies, or in most cases even someone internally responsible for marketing. It should be everyone’s responsibility. Most marketing people don’t really understand how to use this ammunition anyway.
Rule 1 – Just do it!
So how do we avoid missing the moment, getting stung by the ‘greenwash’ label or sticking our heads too far above the parapet? My rule of thumb is, if you work with your best intentions, achieve something tangible with integrity, and you feel comfortable with it – go for it! Owners/managers/shareholders have an interest in raising the company’s profile whenever possible! It’s also great for raising the profile of a worthy cause you support.
Rule 2 – Be selfish
The first thing to do with any good news is to control yourself on your own website, Facebook page, Twitter, notice board, water cooler note – whatever. This is your news. Wouldn’t your customers want to hear it from you first, as well as backed up by other sources?
Rule 3 – Tell everyone
Don’t just focus on getting media coverage to increase sales. Make as much effort as possible to tell everyone internally (employees) and close connections (suppliers, customers). Use your newsletter (or start one), sales PowerPoint, notice board, team meeting, employee handbook – everywhere! A good tip is to identify company gossip and involve them in your own initiative!
Rule 4 – Make friends with the local media
The local paper played ‘Hello, who’s interested in this story?’ You don’t need a PR agency or marketing department to tell you. Local coverage is usually free and has great advertising. I would strongly encourage calling rather than emailing someone and making a personal connection with the best person you can at the local paper or radio – even in today’s online dominated society. It might even cost you your entire lunch. Good stories in the local press can be picked up nationally – don’t underestimate the local press! You may not get instant direct sales from this but it will start building your company’s reputation.
Rule 5 – Ask others to do your work
If you provide a project with a partner or good cause, support them on your profile They will likely have their own media opportunities and networks that you can tap into, as long as you’ve spent time building a good relationship. Charities have large databases and PR skills!
Rule 6 – The media loves bad news
Having won awards for Everton Football Club for eight years creating ground-breaking community projects, I know how difficult it can be to get press coverage for something ‘good’. Bad news unfortunately sells papers. There has to be an angle or a human interest story to hook the media. Try to be creative. Focus on an individual member of staff or person/project and their personal story instead of trying to sell a business ad every time – people (and the media especially) want to read about people. Always include basic contact details such as company name, website, logo or phone number somewhere and hopefully this will get the edit done!
Rule 7 – Word of mouth
In my opinion, this is one of the best ways of communication to build reputation. It’s not great for selling straight away but absolutely fantastic for slow burn and credibility. Your goal is to get people talking about you as much as possible. Even if it’s not your company’s big story, you need to tell people something. A small part of a big story can do wonders.
Rule 8 – Complaints are surprising
Whenever you talk about most areas of CSR you can easily stimulate passionate discussions, especially as we humans enjoy catching up with people. Conversations can turn to climate change, sweatshops, sexual harassment and many emotional topics. Grab this opportunity with both hands, don’t be afraid of it. As I said earlier, if it is a good initiative done with the best of intentions. You may find an awkward person intent on loudly disagreeing or trying to spin the story for their own purposes. Treat it like a customer complaint and engage in open, honest communication, and if handled well you could potentially end up with a great salesperson.
Well, it was probably PR like CSR for starters.
Just remember that if your business sees something tangible from your CSR initiatives, they are more likely to do it again and hopefully bigger and better, which is great news for all the issues we need help with. It’s just about identifying the best win-win situation for everyone.
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